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Perennials vs. annuals

JOHN LONGHILL
special to the daily
Special to the DailyMixing annuals with perennials can give a garden the diversity it needs to really stand out.
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Should I plant perennials or annuals and what is the difference? These questions can easily be answered once you know what you are looking for in your design. Do you want a plant that persists and comes back every year, or do you want a splash of color for one year and the option of something different the following year?

The gardener’s definition of a perennial is an herbaceous plant that lives for more than two years. Trees and shrubs are also considered perennial because they persist year to year, but they are woody and not herbaceous (meaning soft stems).

However, depending on the native habitat and where it is planted, a plant may be a perennial in one location and an annual in another. There are garden mums (Chrysanthemum sp.) that are perennial in Denver, but when planted here in the high country they become annuals, because they cannot stand the winter temperatures that we have. It is important to note what planting zone a plant is adapted to before deciding how you want to use it.

Examples of some perennials adapted or native to Summit County are yarrow (Achillea sp.), delphiniums, colombine (Aquilegia sp.), and bell flower (Campanula sp.), just to name a few. A good resource book is “Best Perennials for the Rocky Mountains and High Plains.” It is available thorough the CSU Cooperative Extension office. There are literally thousands of herbaceous perennials. I highly recommend doing the research to determine which perennials have the color, growth habit and cultural requirements that you are looking for, before deciding which ones you will use.

An annual plant is a plant that usually germinates, flowers, and dies in one year. True annuals will only live longer than a year if they are prevented from setting seed. Some seedless plants can also be considered annuals even though they do not grow a flower. In gardening, “annual” often refers to a plant grown outdoors in the spring and summer and surviving just for one growing season.

Annuals that do well in the high country include pansies, petunias, begonias, alyssum, and hundreds more. These plants are usually used in hanging baskets or in areas where a seasonal splash of color that will only last for one season. Annuals tend to be much more showy than perennials, providing dramatic and attention getting floral displays.

A great source for being able to see what a plant looks like is to get on the Internet and use Google Images search engine to look up the plant you are interested in. I recommend using the scientific name rather than the common name when searching because common names can be the same for many different plants.

Annuals and herbaceous perennials are important additions to any garden and can add beauty and interest to a dull and repetitive landscape. If it seems overwhelming because of the amount of choices available, just make a commitment to decide on six or less choices and pick out the ones you like the best.

Please e-mail your comments and

questions to

askjohn@john-landscapearchitect.com.


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