Are Annuals More Expensive Than Perennials?

Black-and-Blue-Salvia

A post I did recently, Pep Up the Perennials – Use Annuals, generated a comment mentioning annuals as “pricy”. I deal with a lot of nurseries in my job …

and I never want them to get the idea I am disparaging any plant group or having preferential treatment either since they carry the full extent of plants for our area.

Tulip-ForgetMeNots-Flax

Flax will self-seed and is great for meadows.

This got me thinking are they really that pricy?

It made me think a bit why this may be untrue. Sure if you compost them after the season rather than baby them indoors until next year (geraniums come back larger and with fuller bloom saved – I saved one for 5 years and it was the size of a large shrub) they might become a total loss. If you bed them out, it will cost you a bundle. If you mix them in a perennial bed like I said last post or is shown in this post, I can give you ideas how to cut the cost.

Blue-Frost-Salvia

Salvia Blue Frost with Phlox subulata and Pasque Flower

Or if you use a pre-emergent weed preventive that inhibits seed growth you may reconsider pricy annuals. Initially, annuals are cheaper since you can get a big tray of annuals often for the price of a one gallon container perennial. That would be numerous plants to just one. Is that a fair comparison?

Orange-Poppy

Eschscholzia ‘California Poppy’

Why yes it is…

Some annuals will self-sow after a season. Free plants!!!!  Who does not like free plants? So that rivals a perennial being divided after a few years to make more plants. Some plants seed quite a bit too and will keep a non-believer from wondering, “Why should I plant a flower that is just going to die?”. So you can just collect the seed for next year, or let it drop to self-seed, your choice.

Angelonia-angustifolia

Angelonia angustifolia

Annual seed can be purchased for seed sown in spring too, then you can get some interesting varieties for imaginative combinations. You have availability when purchasing seed too, so many to pick from and so many plants grow from one pack of seeds. The only disadvantage to seeding is having to do it yearly if the varieties don’t self-seed.

Pansy-JohnnyJumpUps

The group below of perennial and annual plants will all self-seed. Sure they may not pop up where you want them, but when weeding the garden, they are easily removed. I suggest pulling most Myosotis after the big bloom flush because you will not want them everywhere. Leave a few plants for next year.

All the pansy seed doesn’t make our hard winters, so let them all go to seed so you get a decent show. Just supplement them with a tray of new starts if you just get a smattering. I had to do that this year since the winter was so brutal and we had a cold spring with late frost. Buying more allowed me to put some pansies in pots like shown above.

Myosotis-Iberis-Pansy

Myosotis, Iberis and Pansy

Versatile Annuals

Annuals are pretty darn useful in the garden because they can be planted in so many different ways, borders, containers, baskets, in sun, shade, just about anywhere. I pop them in just like I would a perennial. I even pop them in with perennials, either in the garden bed or in a container in a garden bed.

Muscari

They make the perennials even prettier.

'Choca-Mocha'-Cosmo

‘Choca Mocha’ Cosmo

Perennials can also be planted in the same places as noted, but containers look rather bleak after the perennials finish blooming, so adding annuals is a wise move. And annuals don’t have to be just petunias and geraniums either. That red Cosmo above is small, but stands tall and airy and will have many identical friends as the season wears on.

Petunia-and-Verbena

Cosmos are great self-seeders. Having petunia in the garden does add a lot of color though, planted with spreading verbena, it makes a nice colorful partnering. Petunia has self-seeded in my garden, but never in any abundance. It takes it too long to grow large, by then the season is over. Below, the Felicia Daisy is also an airy plant. Later in the year, you will see these annuals in full bloom.

Felicia-Daisy-'Cape-Town-Blue'

Felicia Daisy ‘Cape Town Blue’

Some perennials I am using this year in containers have no bloom.

Torenia-SummerWave

Torenia SummerWave

I added blue hosta and Japanese Painted Fern to a mophead hydrangea with the annual, Summer Wave Blue Torenia – an annual for shade (above). Should be a quite cool combo when the hydrangea blooms. Great for shady spots.

Salvia-and-Angelonia

Salvia and Angelonia

New Annuals Always Coming to Market

One very neat thing about annuals, new annuals are always coming to the trade and you never have to see the same flowers in the garden if you choose. I like to experiment with unusual annuals for both the wildlife and how well they partner with perennials. Used this way, it is hard to differentiate an annual from a perennial, especially if they are not commonly used annuals. That is why I especially like the tall sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Blue Frost’.

Salvia-farinacea

Salvia farinacea, collect seed and store for next year.

Are Annuals More Work?

There’s no work dividing or pruning with annuals. Perennials need dividing, otherwise they’ll get too big and unruly. They may need pruning for healthy growth. Some annuals are self-cleaning and don’t need dead-heading, lessening a garden chore. Annuals just might give you more time to enjoy your garden, not just work in it.

Cosmos

Cosmos, white and pink

Annuals are bright and colorful, partly because blooms need to attract as many pollinators as possible to reproduce before season’s end. Annuals can be placed in the garden earlier than when perennials come into bloom to feed those early pollinators. Salvia ‘Black and Blue’, below, is a great pollinator plant with so many species visiting.

Salvia-Black-and-Blue

Trial Gardens Are Where New Plants are Tested

I always look forward to the annual trials in Buffalo each year to see what plants are or will be new to the trade. I also look forward to shopping for annuals with clients and friends. It is fun pulling together so many designs for many gardens. I get to try all sorts of annuals that will make their way to garden designs next year.

NYS zone Map

Caution There…

Just remember, I live in zone 6B and you probably don’t. I have a micro-climate in my garden with all the masonry and stone which bumps me up to 7A in certain beds, so conditions will vary on all the annuals and their ability to self-seed. I am always cautionary recommending plants because if you read the post on soil you will understand that conditions vary even only miles away. Too many gardeners think if a plant is fine for their zone, they can just pop it in the ground.  It just may rebel or sulk to where you put it. So when you read plant profiles, think of all the things I talk about here on GWGT. It will save you money and maybe even the life of the plant.

Calibrachoa

Calibrachoa, a new variety, Compact Orange. Only 10″ high for the front of beds.

Papaver-Summer-Breeze

Papaver Summer Breeze – Really is a great small plant (12″) for the front of beds or rock gardens if you want more of them. It is blooming now and will be for a bit longer.

And some annuals for pollinators are:

Butterflies like:

  • alyssum
  • cosmos
  • marigolds
  • nasturtium
  • verbena
  • zinnia

Petunia-and-Million-Bells

Bees like:

  • cosmos
  • flax
  • four o’clock
  • geranium
  • poppy
  • sunflower
  • verbena
  • wallflower
  • zinnia

And of course you want the list of self-seeding annuals right? Let’s just call them Flowers that Plant Themselves. Why profile one plant when you can sing the praises of two plant groups together? I hope I gave you some ideas of how to better use annuals. Better gardening is using all that is available! Why not make your garden sing all season long?

  • Asclepias speciosa
  • Alyssum seeds easily.
  • Amaranthus caudalus
  • Calendula
  • California Poppy
  • Calendula
  • Chamomile
  • Centaurea cyanus
  • Clemome spinosa
  • Coneflower
  • Cosmo
  • Coreopsis
  • Delphinium ajacis Larkspur
  • Feverfew
  • Four o’clock
  • Foxglove – A biennial like a perennial. Re-seeds well. Flowers every two years.
  • Gaillardia
  • Gloriosa daisy
  • Impatiens
  • Johnny Jump-Ups
  • Lavatera
  • Morning Glory
  • Nigella
  • Rudbeckia hirta reseeds, R. fulgida ‘Goldstrun’ is perennial and spreads aggressively.
  • Silene armeria
  • Sweet Pea
  • Sweet William flowers from seed following year.
  • Snapdragon
  • Verbena bonariensis Re-seeds readily and loved by Tiger Swallowtails.
  • Zinnia, but I never had them do that in my garden. I add them because they do self seed.
Garden Late August

Verbena bonariensis, tall self-seeder. Leave seed drop for bloom next year.

In the previous post, I mentioned how many annuals are useful in hot and drier climates. Not all annuals are fussy or are water hogs. You just might try a few if you have a colorful cottage garden.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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17 Responses to Are Annuals More Expensive Than Perennials?

  1. Since I was the one who commented on annuals being pricey, I appreciate all this thoughtful advice! I guess when I was thinking of annuals, I was thinking of those plants you have to buy every year, they die, and you throw them on the compost pile. Some of them really are perennials elsewhere in the world, but we treat them as annuals here. And while I know that those plants that reseed themselves in my garden are scientifically annuals, in my head I guess I think of them as, well, if not as perennials, at least as “permanent.” And it’s a good point that many of these can easily be started from seed. Whether you buy the seed or save it from year to year, that’s a big savings. I probably should do more of that.

  2. Lula says:

    Donna, this is quite a Master class!! I agree completely with you form my experience with a country garden sometime ago. Thanks for organizing so well information and suggestions, it’s really useful.

  3. catmint says:

    great post, Donna. I can’t imagine not having annuals in the garden. I love it when they self seed and decide to plant themselves often in wonderful naturalistic drifts that I wouldn’t think of myself. They bring an element of unpredictability to the garden.

  4. Roger Brook says:

    Perhaps Limnanthes douglasii and Nemophila ‘Penny Black” are too invasive in your climate. They are thugs here but I love them!
    They don’t obey the ordinary rules as they germinate in August/ September and make a nice green carpet overwinter and flower in May/June and die in July. I won’t bore you why I regard them as annuals and not biennials.
    In my talks I argue that because of their all year round presence they are more perennial than the perennials!
    I get into trouble from my partner Brenda for letting Nigella seed all over the place. It has different rhythms as to when it germinates which varies with when it self sowed itself- or lay there dormant waiting.. In my case its there all the year round and I just love it.

  5. Annuals definitely have their place and I love the ones that self sow. However, I seem to always want the annuals that cost $6 in a 4″ pot which is no deal!

  6. Loretta says:

    What a wonderful, colorful post, and thanks for all that information on annuals :).

  7. Great post! Thanks for the thoughtfulness and information you put into it. I’m a great believer in both annuals and perennials though I plant more perennials. Though I’ll splurge occasionally on something new or that I really want to add to my garden, I usually wait for sales when it comes to perennials. The past few years our local regional garden center had (has) a wonderful selection of natives at $4.99 for quart containers; a few weeks ago they had them half price and I picked up a good variety of them. I know they’ll all come back year after year and many of them spread by root or seed. And they’re so easy to divide and transplant that before long you have more than you need! As for annuals, I try to purchase those that can make it through our winters for two or three years, such as dianthus and Senecio cineraria (Dusty Miller). I’ve carried some of them over winter, outdoors, going on three or four years now. I also sow seed each year for both perennials and annuals. Most annuals that drop seed are allowed to grow year to year, such as Centaurea cyanus (Bachelor’s Button) and Eschscholzia californica (California poppy), which I’ve had good luck with this year. They’re rather sparse, but hopefully they’ll reseed and form larger patches. Coreopsis is a great reseeding annual that comes back for me year after year. I see both sides of the issue, but because of our hot, dry climate I usually go more for native perennials and know that I’m spending my money wisely because I’ll get a return on my investment year in and year out!

  8. Lily Lau says:

    Thanks for this useful post, Donna! I’ll definitely share it 🙂

  9. I couldn’t agree more which is why I bought so many annual seeds and am planting more from seed each year…hoping many will self-seed too!

  10. I need to plant more from seed. I supplement my perennials every year with annuals and accept that there is an expense but it’s also entertainment that lasts all year long. Gorgeous pictures!

  11. Annette says:

    Marvellous post with lots of inspiration, Donna, and food for thought. Perennials are quite expensive in France, annuals less so, depends on the type. I grow some from seed or cuttings and can’t understand why people don’t like plants that’ll die after a season as it’s so much fun to experiment and a lot of beauty can only be found in ephemeral things.

  12. bittster says:

    I don’t care if annuals are expensive. Sometimes I want a fling, not a relationship, and a few hot and colorful weeks with a new annual are just what you need before you commit to a reliable perennial. 🙂

  13. I direct sowed California poppies this spring and they’re coming up now. I’m really looking forward to seeing them bloom, and I hope they self-sow.

  14. Denise says:

    In my garden there is no room for annuals. I don’t think they fit in. But on my balcony everything is allowed. There I like different cheerful annuals each year.

  15. Indie says:

    I also very rarely buy annual plants due to the price. I do buy a fair number of annual seeds though. Having just transplanted a large number of alyssum seedlings that popped up to where I wanted them, I’m not in love with reseeding plants at the moment, but all in all, I do love free plants! In a more cottage garden, having a number of reseeding annuals would be lovely.

  16. Les says:

    I couldn’t garden without annuals. With our summer heat we rely on annuals (and tropicals) to provide color through the worst of the summer, until it is time to plant pansies/violas in October. Ironically, I was recently asked by a reporter about replanting palm trees at the oceantfront that were lost due to the cold winter. The city uses a them to create atmosphere along the boardwalk, but they run about $500 apiece installed, and this spring they spent close to $35K. Even though the species they use are not native, they are usually hardy for us, just not this year or last. I jokingly referred to them as expensive annuals, which was the only thing the reporter managed to print. but without the humor.

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