Landscape Terminology: Perennials & Annuals

Perennials                           Mixing up the terminology between perennials and annuals is a common mistake.  And as with most things, there seem to be exceptions to the defined rules, which make identifying plants as either annuals or perennials tricky.  Here are the basics.  Perennials live at least 2 years, many of them much longer.  Technically trees and shrubs are perennials- but most of the time, this term refers to herbaceous (soft-stemmed) plants.  Geranium, Yarrow, Daylily, and Beardtongue all fall into this category.  

Beardtongue


Here’s where it can get confusing:  there are deciduous perennials that die back every winter.  Fountain Grasses (Pennisetum) and False Spiraea (Astilbe) are deciduous perennials.  They appear to die in winter, which might cause some frustration with your landscape designer, but not to worry.  They’ll be back!   We also have an advantage, plant-wise, in the Bay Area- there are plants that we can grow as perennials here that behave as annuals elsewhere because of colder weather.  Yet another reason that the Bay Area is superior living!

Fountain Grass


Annuals                                                Annuals live their whole life cycle (germination, growth of shoots and leaves, flowering, seeding, and death) in a year or less.  They can be some of the most colorful, fastest growing, and most exciting plants in your garden, but unlike perennials, they won’t necessarily make a return visit to your garden unless you allow them to seed.  If you cut annuals all the way back before they have a chance to ‘set seed’, you may not see them the next year.  This can be kind of a bummer, because you have to resist the urge to prune plants that look, well, dead.  But you can deadhead them (cut off just the blooms) over the course of their season- this not only keeps the garden looking neater, it encourages the annuals to flower more in order to produce seed.  This is survival of the fittest, people.  Plants will find a way to reproduce!!  There are both cool and warm season annuals . . . we’ll get into that later.  Plants that fall into the annual category?  Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena), California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica), and Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnata).    These are easily grown from seed, or for those of you that enjoy strolling around a nursery, head to Annie’s Annuals in Richmond for 4” pot starts- the selection is spectacular.

California Poppy