Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Annuals vs. Perennials

Purple Peppers, Purple basil, Mary Stone of Garden Dilemmas

Purple Peppers mixed with Purple Basil.
Ellie looks on in approval!

Hello fellow readers,

We are officially through our risk of frost so it’s time to shop for annuals. Many nurseries sell perennials in flats as well. Bob from Hackettstown was brave enough to ask what the difference between annuals and perennials is.

I am certain it is confusing to many much like horizontal versus vertical is to me. Someone advised a good way to remember is horizontal runs the same way as the horizon – left to right.  Vertical lines run from top to bottom. Then there’s fiction versus nonfiction.  Fiction is make-believe while non-fiction is true which seems opposite of what their words imply. Same is true of annuals which live for one growing season rather than come up annually as perennials do.

Annual flowers typically bloom from spring until frost providing season-long color but must be replanted each year (annually, hence the name). Some do self-seed such as Four o’clocks /Mirabilis jalapa, Tobacco Plants /Nicotiana, Ageratums and Snapdragons /Antirrhinum. Perennials grow for three or more years and tend to have a relatively short season of bloom.  By combining several kinds of perennials however, you can create a season full of color.

Let’s not forget about Biennials which are plants that require two years to complete their life cycle such as Foxgloves / Digitalis and Hollyhocks / Alcea rosa. Although according to Connecticut-based grower Sunny Border, Hollyhocks will act more as a perennial if the flower spikes are cut back before they develop mature seeds; allowing one or two flower spikes to mature and seeds to drop to ensure a succession of plants. Yes Bob it can be confusing!

Don’t hesitate to mix perennials, annuals and even edibles such as tomatoes, peppers (love the purple ones) and herbs into your flower gardens and pots. After all veggies are beautiful as plants, in flower and when in fruit so why not look beyond their edible function?  Cutting gardens mixed with vegetables are called Kitchen Gardens also known as a Potager. Aren’t you trendy! Garden dilemmas?


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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