The Basics Of Perennial Gardening

As opposed to an annual, which is a flowering plant that lives for just one year, a perennial is a plant that can live for longer than two years when grown in its native climate. Though in science the term “perennial” applies to trees and shrubs as well as flowering plants, in gardening, “perennials” refers solely to herbaceous flowering perennials— flowering perennials with soft, rather than woody, stems.

The Perennial Life Cycle


Before you grow perennials in your garden, it helps to under­stand how perennials live through the year.

Perennials in Regions with Cold Winters

Perennials that live in regions with below-freezing winter temperatures tend to follow a particular life cycle:

  • Spring and summer: The plants grow stems and foliage, flower, and produce seeds.
  • Autumn: The plants die back, which means that their stems and foliage die away.
  • Winter: The plants spend the winter in a state of dormancy. Though a dormant plant may not be visible from above ground at all, or may appear as just a few dead stems, the plant’s roots are alive and often even growing during dormancy.

Though most perennials in regions with cold winters follow this life cycle, a few follow a reverse pattern and go dormant during the summer.

Perennials in Regions with Mild Winters

Perennials that live in areas with warm climates and little or no winter usually don’t go into dormancy. Instead, the plants stay green all year round, though they tend to flower only at specific times during the year.

Why Grow Perennials?

Perennials are a popular choice for gardens because of their:

  • Flowers: Perennials produce beautiful blooms in a wide variety of colors and shapes.
  • Foliage: Perennials often provide foliage for a greater portion of the year than annuals, helping to give a garden texture and body.
  • Ease: Whereas annuals have to be replanted every year, perennials only have to be planted once. After that, they will sprout and bloom year after year.