Perennials, Bi-Annuals and Annuals.

Like most things, gardening has its own language and once you know that language, you can better understand how to garden well. A knowledge of Latin is useful, since many of the plant names have their origins in Latin. Even new varieties are using Latin in their names. However, this is not necessary since you don’t really need to know the meaning of the names to decide whether they are suitable for your garden and whether you like them. Some words, however are peculiar to gardening aand you need to know what they mean. Perennials, Bi=annuals and Annuals are three such words. Bi-Annuals are also often called Biennials.

Perennials are simply plants which will grow year after year. They generally refer to ornamental plants. When it come to flowers, there are perennials which die down to the ground every winter and shoot from the ground again in spring. These are known as ‘herbacious perennials’. You can cut these down as soon as they die back, if you wish. This makes your garden look tidier. Hoever, some seed heads (such as Poppies) look very attractive in winter when the frost settles on them. and some will feed birds. So you need to think about what you want to cut down and what you want to keep. A few years back, the general advice was to cut them all back since they can harbour pests and diseases. This is true. They can harbour pests and diseases and if the plant looks unwell, cut the dead foliage off. However, we now know that not all bugs are harmful so some  hiding places are good for your garden. I generally leave dead foliage for the worst of the winter. It protects young shots from frost and snow, then I cut it back when the worst of the winter is over.

Some of the most useful of the perennials are those which are either green over winter or even flower. I have had Polyanthus flowering all winter, even in the snow. It lifts my heart to see them. Pansies have also been bred to flower during the winter and these also provide colour when we most need it. Some plants naturally flower in the winter, such as Hellebore. You will find that generally, plants which flower in winter have very little or no scent as they are not trying to attract pollinating insects by scent.

Bi-annuals are plants which only flower in their second year and then die. However, some plants which we know as bi-annuals are really short-lived perennials and will flower a second, third and even a fourth time if we treat then right. Antirhinums are one of these plants, as are sweet william. After they have finished flowering, cut them back to three or four inches. They will flower then the following year. The problem is that they will become poorer in flower quality and will also become very woody, eventually  becoming unatractive plants. Some plants such as foxgloves have been bred so that they are true perennials rather than bi-annuals, although the original wild foxglove is, of course, still a bi-annual. Although bi-annuals , traditionally, grow the first year and flower the second, if you sow them early enough, you can persuade them to flower in their first year (and then they die).

Annuals are plants which grow, flower  and die all in one year. This group of plants include some of the most showy of our garden flowers, those plants we call ‘bedding plants’ and plants we call Half-hardy. This means that they will not live through frosts, so we need to sow the seed in a frost free place and wait until the frosts are over before planting them out. Some of the annuals (known as hardy annuals) can be sown where they are going to flower. Indeed, some plants need to be sown where they flower. These include many of the Poppies. This is because they do not like their roots being disturbed.

As you can see, different types of plants need different treatment, so you need to know what type of plants you are dealing with and treat them acordingly. That way you will get the best results from your seeds and plants.


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