Annual, Perennial, Biennial: Do I Even Care?

If you can’t keep your Symplocarpus foetidus straight from your sphagnum, you’re in good company.

The gardening lexicon ranges from obscure Latin names to the I-should-probably-know-that-but-I-don’t, and whether you’re looking to start a backyard veggie garden or convert a green lawn to a drought-tolerant landscape, you’re likely to come across some vocabulary that needs defining.

Some of the most common gardening terms are those related to plant type: annual, biennial, and perennial. And while the words themselves are ubiquitous, they’re not always commonly understood – as in, “Hmm, is ’bi’ twice a year or every other year?’

Here, a quick review of these oft-seen gardening terms:


Annual: One and done! Everything about this plant happens in a single season, from its initial growth and taking root below to its producing and flowering on top. Lots of vegetables, like corn, peas, and lettuce qualify, as well as flowers like marigolds, geraniums, and zinnia.


Biennial: It takes two – seasons, that is. The lifecycle of a biennial plant will begin to flourish in its first planting season, and complete in its second. After the growth and flowering in season two, the plants will die. Common examples? Parsley, carrots, cabbage, and Black-eyed Susans. (Check out this quick and helpful video from MIGardener to see how onions are a great example of a biannual – and for a good review of all three terms!)


Perennial: Keep on keepin’ on. These plants – like Peruvian lilies, roses, oregano, blueberries, bananas, and avocados – bloom, appear to die in winter, and make an appearance again the next season (and the one after that!). One thing to note with perennials: they can be sensitive to climate zones. So, a perennial plant that fares well on the West Coast may, in fact, need to be replanted seasonally by a gardener in Wisconsin.

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