Technically speaking, perennials are plants that live and bloom for more than 2 years. This is in contrast to annuals, such as petunias, that live for one year and then die. Some varieties of perennials are short-lived (lasting 3-4 years) but many are very long lived. Peonies have been known to live 100 years or more!
When we think of perennials, we typically think of ornamental plants like the daisies or daylilies we have in our gardens. Perennials come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
One of the best things about perennials is that you only have to plant them once and then they come back bigger and better every year. Many perennials can be divided every 3-4 years, so you’ll have plenty to plant in other parts of your garden or share with friends. What a great investment! But watch out--Perennial gardening can be addictive!
An important distinction between annuals and perennials is that most perennials need to be vernalized (exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time) in order to bloom every year. Most perennials bloom once per season, but some rebloom again in late summer or fall. Relatively recent advancements in hybridizing have yielded a growing number of perennials that bloom continuously for many months at a time. Other perennials, such as hostas and ferns, are grown for their beautifully decorative foliage rather than flowers.
There are lots of ways to use perennials in the landscape. Mixed gardens are very popular, combining annuals, perennials, and woody plants all together. Sometimes a single variety of perennial is planted in a large drift alongside a driveway or fence line. Decorative planters filled with a mix of annuals and perennials are increasingly common in modern landscapes.
Of the thousands of perennials available today, there are some suitable to all kinds of growing environments: sun, shade, hot & dry, cold & wet, and everything in between. An easy way to find perennials that suit your needs is to browse the Perennial Encyclopedia on this website. Search by characteristics such as hardiness zone, exposure, soil conditions, available moisture, and much more.