13 February, 2013

GARDENING ADVENTURES {annuals, perennials, biennials}

In the first installment of GARDENING ADVENTURES I've talked about three things to consider before starting a garden.  Now that you've figured out your plant hardiness zone, decided on how much time and space you will devote to your garden and maybe cleaned up a corner for your seed starting experiments, you will need to think about what to plant. All plants, including trees, shrubs, vegetables and herbs, could be separated into perennials, annuals, and biennials.


Annual plants are the easiest to "understand". An annual starts as a seed at the beginning of the season, turns into a plant, flowers, produces seeds of its own, and then dies off at the end of the season. The lifespan of an annual plant is one year and no matter how amazing your conditions would be you can not revive it after.


Perennial plants have a much longer lifespan. Some can live for 10 years or longer (think of trees that live over 100 years). Each spring a perennial plant opens new leaves, in summer it produces flowers, and comes Fall it is usually ready to go dormant, unless it's an evergreen that does not loose its leaves.  All of this, however, is only true when the conditions are right for the plant.  If the winter is too cold the plant might die rather than go dormant and if the summer is too hot, the plant might not be able to survive either.
This is when plant hardiness zones, mentioned in the previous GARDENING ADVENTURES post, become important.  When you look at the description of a perennial plant you will usually see a zone (or a range of zones) indicating optimal conditions for the plant.

If, like me, you live in zone 5 you want to get perennials that are hardy to zone 5 or lower (zone 4 or zone 3).  Zone 8 perennials will not survive our cold winter.  The inverse is true as well and you might not be able to provide enough cool whether and thus dormant period for zone 4 plant if you would plant it in zone 8.

However, it is quite common to plant warm-weather perennials as annuals in cooler climates.  One common example is coleus - a beautiful decorative plant that is often sold as an annual here in Montreal.  As Fall days get shorter and cooler, coleus looses its leaves and dies off, but when planted in warmer climates it continues its life cycle for several years.  In fact, you can "trick" coleus by bringing it indoors for the cooler time of the year; it would continue growing if provided adequate temperature and light.

Lantana is another tropical perennial plant that is often used as a decorative annual in cooler zones.  Overwintering it could be a bit trickier but not impossible.  The plant would still go dormant, when brought indoors, but would get new set of green leaves and flowers comes Summer.

Not all perennials could be treated like annuals.  Some plants need several years to fully develop or they might need extremely warm or dry conditions.


The last group of plants - biennials - have a 2-year lifespan.  Most of the time a biennial plant will need a cold time period before it produces flowers.  And just like perennials, some biennials are being grown as annuals in cooler climates.

So here you have it: annuals, perennials, and biennials are not that complex after all.  It is now time to decide which ones you will be buying as seedlings/small plants and which ones you would like to start from seeds.  We'll discuss this next week - stay tuned for more GARDENING ADVENTURES!

P.S. Please do not hesitate to email me if you have any questions.  Or better, let's discuss your gardening plans right here in the comments!

Two years ago: 14 DAYS OF VALENTINE ... DAY13

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