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Perennial vs Annual

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Orange Torch Lilies (Kniphofia rooperi) Sonia Hunt/Photolibrary/Getty Images
Definition:

Perennials have a life cycle of 3+ years, as opposed to "annual plants" (1 year) and "biennials" (2 years). Using life cycle as a criterion dispels 3 myths about what makes plants perennials:

  • Myth #1: Perennials are hardy.
  • Myth #2: They die back in winter but return in spring.
  • Myth #3: They are the plants you see year after year in your garden.

Myth #1 About Perennials

It's true that, if you're successful at growing certain perennial flowers in your region as perennials (i.e., they live 3 years or longer), then they must be hardy in your zone. But if you live where it gets cold in winter, many plants from warm climates that are properly classified as perennials will not last more than a year for you. When speaking of such plants, we often say they are "treated as annuals" in regions such as yours.

But this doesn't change their classification as perennials. They are merely perennials whose life cycle has been cut short.

Myth #2 About Perennials

Some perennials do die back in winter and return in spring. But that characteristic is not, per se, what makes them perennials. Only one category (albeit a very large one) of perennials follows this pattern: the herbaceous category.

However, there is another category of perennials: the woody perennials. Woody perennials do not behave in this manner.

Myth #3 About Perennials

Just because you see "the same" plants in your garden year after year, they're not necessarily perennials. They could simply be re-seeding, as some annuals do.

Common Misspellings: Frequently misspelled, with either the R doubled and/or one N dropped.
Examples:
Lantanas are perennials intended for the tropics and sub-tropics, but they are treated as annuals elsewhere, where they are popular in hanging baskets.
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