What are Perennial Plants?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Perennial plants are plants which will continue growing year after year, rather than dying off after a season or a year like annuals do. There are a number of different kinds of perennial plants, with gardeners using perennials as permanent fixtures in their gardens. Gardening stores and nurseries typically stock a range of perennial options, most of which are suitable for the climate the store is located in, and it is also possible to order specific perennials.

Perennials, like the tulips that blossom near the U.S. Capitol Building, regrow every year.
Perennials, like the tulips that blossom near the U.S. Capitol Building, regrow every year.

Most gardeners define perennial plants as plants which live for more than two years. Some perennials will live indefinitely as long as they are well cared-for, while others will start to look scraggly and die off within a few years. Because perennial plants return, they usually require more intensive care than annuals, which can be planted and essentially ignored beyond basic watering. Perennials usually require shaping, soil conditioning, and other extra care to thrive.

The lenten rose, which flowers in early spring, is a type of perennial flowering plant.
The lenten rose, which flowers in early spring, is a type of perennial flowering plant.

Some perennials are low-lying herbaceous plants which can be used as groundcovers, hedges, and so forth. Others develop into small shrubs, and some can grow quite large. Many perennials are very woody, with well-established networks of roots, and they put up fresh shoots every year from their rootstock. Propagation of perennials can be accomplished with seeds, cuttings, or splittings of root balls, with many nurseries preferring to divide their perennials once they are established to ensure that their plants are clones.

Perennials may be evergreen or deciduous, with some producing showy flowers and fruit while others are grown specifically for foliage. A range of foliage hues are available, from silvery-green leaves to dark green evergreens, and flowers can be big or small, bright and bold or subdued, and everything in between. Some plants are annuals in certain climates, and perennials in others, with gardeners deciding whether to grow the plants as annuals or to invest some energy in ensuring that they come back in the following year.

There are a number of benefits to growing perennials. Perennial plants help to retain the soil in the garden, by locking it into place with their roots so that it cannot blow away or be dislodged in flooding. The use of perennial plants in landscaping and gardening also ensures that the garden always has some color and greenery going on, even after showy annual flowers have faded, and once perennials are established, they can reduce garden maintenance by putting out leaves and flowering reliably.

Lomandra longifolia is an example of a perennial.
Lomandra longifolia is an example of a perennial.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Are bulbs considered to be a kind of hardy perennial plant? I’m an avid gardener, I suppose you could say, but I’m just an expert in making the plants grow!

I don’t necessarily have in depth knowledge about the biology of plants, but I understand quite well what thrives in my area and how to make it last for seasons at the time.

However, I’ve never really understood particularly which category bulbs fell into. They come back year after year, but they still aren’t quite the same as most perennial plants and shrubs.

On that same token, they often have beautiful flowers like an annual. Yet, they obviously aren't annuals either!


Most of the perennial plants and flowers that I have are not really showy plants, but they make a great way to add some extra oomph to your garden!

For instance, I have lantana which started out as one little, itty bitty plant. Now it is a really good backdrop for the annuals that I plant in front of it each year!

I prefer to use my perennials in that particular way – not normally a focal point but more of a beautiful backdrop for my garden theater!

After all, just like with any theatrical performance, the scenery helps to make the play. It’s the same way with any well-loved and well-tended garden!

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