“Annual” vs.” Perennial”: What’s The Difference?

dark teal text on light teal background: "perennial vs. annual" ["vs." in white font]

Confused about annual vs. perennial plants? You’re not alone—it’s especially difficult to remember which is which because they sound like they might mean the same thing. To make matters worse, there’s also a third confusing term: biennial.

Join us as we root out the differences and give examples of perennials, annuals, and biennials so you’ll always remember which is which.

Quick summary

Plants that live for only one growing season are called annuals. In contrast, plants that regrow on their own every season are called perennials. Plants that live for two growing seasons are called biennials.

What are perennials?

The word perennial is applied to a plant that lives for multiple growing seasons—at least more than two years. Perennials typically flower and bloom in the spring. Around autumn, the top part of the plant withers, but the root remains. The next spring, the root sends out a brand new shoot, and the cycle continues. In other words, planting perennials in a garden means that they don’t need to be replanted each year—they come back on their own (at least for three years).

Perennials usually only bloom for a few weeks, and may take longer to fully mature. Popular perennials include daylilies, lilacs, and lavender, as well as most fruit trees, berry bushes, and herbs.

What are annual plants?

The word annual is applied to a plant that lives for only one growing season. Annuals typically flower and bloom in the spring and then wither and die around autumn. Unlike perennials, annuals do not regrow the next season—at least not from the same root. Instead, annuals must be replanted each year—or, in some cases, the seeds left behind may successfully sprout new plants.

Annuals usually bloom the whole season, and their blooms are often more extravagant than perennials. Popular annuals include petunias, marigolds, zinnias, watermelons, corn, beans, and potatoes.

Did you know that many of your favorite fireworks are named after flowers? Read about them.

What is a biennial plant?

The term biennial is applied to a plant that lives for two growing seasons. The first season, the plant starts out small. The second season, it grows bigger and produces flowers. After this, the plant’s life cycle is complete, and it dies in the autumn just like an annual. Some well-known plants categorized as biennials include foxglove, pansies, poppies, forget-me-nots, and many vegetables, such as cabbage, beets, onions, and carrots.

annual vs. perennial vs. biennial

Here’s how you can remember the difference:

  • In general, the word perennial means “continuing” or “perpetual,” and perennials continue to regrow without being replanted.
  • The word annual means yearly, and annuals must be replanted every year.
  • The bi- in biennial means “two,” and biennials have a life cycle of two growing seasons.

Although these terms could technically be applied to any plants, they’re especially used of flowering and culinary plants—the kind of plants commonly found in gardens and on farms.

There is some overlap in what can be considered an annual versus a perennial. Some annuals can be perennials when planted in warmer climates, since there’s no frost to kill them, and some perennials are not capable of surviving the winter in colder climates. Certain flowers can also be annual in one variety and perennial in another.

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Examples of annual and perennial plants

In this section, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about whether certain plants are annuals or perennials.

Are mums perennials or annuals?

Garden mums are typically treated as annuals, even though they can be perennials in the right climate. There are also hardier varieties of mums that are typically grown as perennials in many climates.

Are dahlias perennials or annuals?

Dahlias can be either, depending on the growing region. They are native to warm regions in Guatemala and Mexico. In colder climes, they are treated as annuals, but it’s possible to bring them back each year if the tubers are dug up and dried out in the winter.

Are tulips perennials or annuals?

Tulips are perennials. In certain climates, however, they may behave like annuals.

Are hydrangeas perennials or annuals?

Hydrangeas are perennials. Again, however, this is only true when grown in climates where they can survive the winter.

Go straight to the root of the difference between fruits and vegetables.

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