Confused about the longevity of the plants in your garden? You're not the only one! Here's your guide to understanding the difference between annuals, biennials, and perennials in North Dakota.

Understanding the Difference Between Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials

Have you ever given a new plant a prime place in the garden, only to be disappointed when it completely dies back? Or have you picked up a plant thinking it would last only the summer, only to be pleasantly surprised when it pops back up the next spring? Don't worry; you're not alone! It's important to make sure you're aware of a plant's life expectancy before taking it home from the garden center, as this can dictate care requirements and influence where you might place it. Take a look at the difference between annuals, biennials, and perennials, and what that means for your Bismarck garden.

Annual Plants

Annuals are plants that live out their entire lifecycle-from seed to flower-in the run of just a single growing season. At the end of the season, everything from the flower to the roots will die back and must be removed from the garden. Annuals are here for a good time, not a long time (especially if the sun doesn't shine every day!). Annuals are prized for their particularly big, bright, conspicuous blooms, often used for decorating container gardens and flower beds.


Annuals have a reputation for being high-maintenance and finicky, and while there's certainly some truth behind it, it shouldn't scare you away from growing them. Sure, they require ample sunshine, extra-rich soils, fertilizers, and lots of water to sustain their rapid growth and showy blooms, but their exceptional displays are well worth the effort. With just one season to bloom and inspire awe, it's all or nothing-we can't blame them for being little divas! Wondering about planting and caring for these short-lived beauties? Check out our blog on how to keep your annuals looking great all season long!
Here are some of our favorite annuals here in North Dakota:

  • Petunias
  • Marigolds
  • Impatiens
  • Lantanas
  • Sunflowers

Biennial Plants
We often refer to plants as either annuals or perennials, but did you know there's an in-between, called biennials? They're similar to annuals, but their life cycle takes two years to complete rather than just one. Unfortunately, this doesn't usually mean you'll get two years of blooms out of them-they spend the first year growing their roots, stems, and leaves, followed by winter dormancy and the formation of flowers, fruits, and seeds during their second and final year. Biennials require this cold period of dormancy, also called vernalization, before they will bloom. Be careful not to expose biennials to the cold too early, as this may result in early vernalization and an even shorter lifespan.
You may not even realize that certain flowers are biennial, because the biennial plants you buy from the garden center may already be in their second year and ready to bloom. Many vegetables, such as beets, carrots, onions, and lettuce are biennials. Here are some common biennials for the garden:
  • Pansies
  • Forget-Me-Nots
  • Foxglove
  • Hollyhock
  • Sweet William




It's worth noting that some annuals and biennials leave behind seeds that you can collect and plant again next year, or that might even survive the winter and take root themselves! If you notice one of these guys "returning" in the spring, it's not because last year's roots and stems survived on their own, but rather because they were able to spread via new seeds. Regardless, it's always a nice springtime surprise!

Perennial Plants
Every type of plant has a place in the garden, but we view perennials as the backbone of the landscape. They return year after year, offering reliable beauty to our gardens with minimal maintenance.

The reason perennials are so beloved is that they're able to adapt to our region's climate and growing conditions quite well. While many of them do have beautiful blooms, they're often a little more subtle than short-lived plants-and the local birds and wildlife love them! In general, as long as perennials are planted in the proper location, with sun and drainage requirements in mind, they'll flourish with minimal interference on our part.
When you're looking for new additions to your garden, it's essential to keep this in mind: whether something is annual or perennial can be influenced by your region and USDA hardiness zone. Tender perennials, which are plants that behave as perennials in the warm southern climates, may only survive as annuals here in Bismarck.
We've already covered some of our favorite perennials for the landscape in a previous post, but you can check out our full selection of perennial plants here.

When it comes to choosing between annuals, biennials, and perennials, there really is no "right" choice-you're going to want a mix of all three! A beautiful, well-balanced garden will have some reliable interest that carries on year after year (like your fruit tree, hedges, or accent shrubs), mixed with some aspects that you can change often (like your flower beds and front porch containers). If you're looking for annual, biennial, or perennial plants in Bismarck, visit us at Plant Perfect-our team is always happy to assist!

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