Have you ever noticed that some flowers need to be planted each spring, while others pop up all by themselves year after year? That’s because some of them are annual plants and some are perennial plants.

Annual plants are plants with a life cycle that lasts only one year. They grow from seed, bloom, produce seeds and die in one growing season. They then need to be replanted each spring.

Most annuals bloom for a long time. They provide beautiful colors from spring through fall and are popular with flower gardeners. Some favorite annuals are petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

Perennial plants live for more than two years. They return year after year and continue growing until they reach maturity, which varies by plant but averages three to five years.

The term “perennial” refers to herbaceous (“green”) plants since woody plants, such as trees, are perennial by definition.

Unlike annuals, perennials tend to bloom for just a short time — one to three weeks — each year. Examples of popular perennial flowers include tulips, asters, black-eyed susans and lilies.

Perennials generally do not have to be replanted each year. However, some gardeners choose to replace certain perennials, such as the perennial flowers mentioned above, every three to five years if they start to decline.

Hardier perennials might return year after year for 20 years or more. Perennials have structures, such as bulbs and rhizomes, that allow them to survive for many years.

Perennials can be divided into two categories. Deciduous perennials, such as the perennial flowers mentioned above, grow part of the year and fall dormant the rest of the year. Evergreen perennials, such as pine trees, grow year round.

Some people have a hard time remembering the proper term for each type of plant. Because annual means “yearly,” some people think annual plants keep coming back each year on their own. Annual plants actually get their name because they only have a one-year life span.

Perennials, on the other hand, come back year after year. Since they don’t have to be planted each year, they’re more permanent. Some people remember perennials by remembering that they’re more permanent!

Just when you think you understand the difference between annuals and perennials, though, you should know that there’s yet another classification! Biennial plants have a two-year life cycle.

They grow as green plants their first year, survive the winter and then bloom the following year. After they bloom and produce seeds, biennial plants then die. Examples of biennial plants include foxgloves and hollyhocks.

Some plants that are perennials in their native region may be considered annuals in other regions. For example, snapdragon is a plant that may be a perennial in a warm climate where it can survive the winter but may be an annual in colder climates where it dies in the winter.

These types of plants are sometimes called “half-hardy annuals” or “frost-tender perennials.”


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    • Hello, Kerrick Elementary 2nd/EBD class! Thank you SO MUCH for visiting Wonderopolis and letting us know what you thought about today’s video!

      Sometimes we select videos that explain the Wonder of the Day® a little more or work to expand thinking and creativity. Sometimes we choose videos that simply show kids (and adults) doing something fun related to that Wonder’s topic. Those young gardeners looked like they were having lots of fun planting those beautiful flowers! :-)

  1. Just found your “Wonderful” site and want to share it with my teachers, however, Vimeo is blocked by our state filter therefore, they will not be able to view the attached video. There are workarounds of course, but it would be so much easier to access here. Thanks for your site, I have placed your widget on my blog.

    • Thanks for sharing this comment today, Jusin! You are a SUPER Wonder Friend and we really like hearing the things you like and learn from different Wonders of the Day! :-)

    • Thanks so much for telling us about what you learned, Jade! The gladiolus flower is beautiful, and there are so many different species! We Wonder if you have a garden of your own? :)

    • Hi bernice! Thanks for WONDERing with us! We are not sure where to buy those flowers, but maybe you could do more research to find out. We are glad you enjoyed this WONDER! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What’s the difference between annuals and perennials?
  • What are biennial plants?
  • How can you remember the difference between annuals and perennials?

Wonder Gallery

mother and daughter working in garden_shutterstock_71162299Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to bloom? Ask a parent or relative for some help planting your own garden in the backyard!

First, take a short field trip to a local botanical garden or gardening center. If you love plants and flowers, you’ll love seeing all sorts of different types of annuals and perennials.

It’s also fun to learn about them from the experts that work at the gardens! Feel free to ask a lot of questions.

What types of flowers grow best in your area? Which are annuals, and which are perennials? Do they need a lot of sun, or do they prefer shade? Do you need to do anything special to prepare the soil?

Don’t forget to buy any supplies you may need. These could include seeds, flowers, plants and gardening tools or gloves.

Next, pick out a spot in your backyard. Make sure it’s an area where your flowers or plants will receive the right amount of water and sunlight.

Follow any directions that came with the seeds or plants. You’ll likely need to prepare the soil, dig a hole and water your new garden.

If you have questions about gardens, check out Kids Gardening for all sorts of helpful information and tips to get your garden growing the right way!

Flowers are beautiful, of course, but you might also want to plant vegetables that you can eat instead. If so, you need to ask yourself: What Would You Plant in Your Garden?

If the weather outside is frightful, don’t worry. You can garden inside!

With just a few simple materials, you can create your own container gardens in the garage, on the porch or in the kitchen!


Still Wondering

Visit National Geographic Xpeditions’ Designing a Native Plants Garden lesson to find out how to use the Internet to learn about native plants in your area and design gardens with local plants.


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