What Are Perennial Plants?

Overview

Perennial plants are aesthetically pleasing, easy to care for and economical. They range from small, low-growing groundcover plants to tall, majestic stalks with multiple blooms. They include the ornamental grasses and their faithful return every year bring much pride and joy to the dedicated gardener. For a few dollars and a few hours of work, gardeners can enjoy a continuous garden that will also supply fresh cut flowers for floral arrangements and centerpieces on a regular basis.

Types

Evergreen perennials come in a variety of shapes and sizes and perform when other perennials are dormant or not in bloom. These plants add interest to the winter garden and some plants function well as a low-maintenance groundcover. Examples of evergreen perennials include lavender and hyssop. Deciduous perennials, such as goldenrod and mint, are the typical flowering plants that grow and bloom over the spring and summer and then die back every autumn and winter. These plants return in the spring from their dormant root-stock. Monocarpic perennials (agave and some species of streptocarpus) flower once with the death of the plant immediately following. These plants are rare but spectacular, only gracing the garden for a short period of time. Woody perennials include shrubs and trees. These plants are classified by their "effective foraging space" or EFS. The EFS of a plant is based on the space of its root activity.

Time Frame

Most perennials have a long life span, returning faithfully year after year. These plants are versatile and can change with the seasons. Specific growing periods generally last about one to six weeks, depending on the species. Gardeners can create an ever-blooming garden by selecting plants with a variety of flowering times. Some plants, such as Johnny jump-up (viola tri-color) are cold hardy and often flower in winter in Zones 4 to 10. The popular summer perennial black-eyed Susan (goldstrum) flowers from mid-July to mid-September and lasts for several years in the garden.

Features

Perennials don't have to be replanted every year like so many other plants. Although the majority of these plants lose their foliage and die back at the onset of cold weather, the plant's root system remains alive and begins to grow again once the winter has passed. A perennial plant generally does not bloom during its first season but will continue to grow, strengthening its root system. Once the plant is established, it will bloom and continue to come back year after year. Some species will thrive for decades.

Reproduction

Perennials adapt to living from one year to the next through vegetative reproduction rather than seeding. This reproduction can take the form of several different structures which include bulbs, tubers, woody crowns and rhizomes. These structures have specialized parts that allow them to survive periods of dormancy over cold or dry seasons during the year. Perennial plants usually do not flower until after a few years of growth. Although a slow process, the seeds that are produced through flowering can be used to grow new plants.

Considerations

Perennials include a vast group of outdoor plants, but gardeners and frugal homeowners are learning the benefits of container gardening with perennials. Container growing enables plant growing in areas with limited space. Planting perennials in containers also allows for a flowering garden indoors. Gardeners have many plants to choose from and container growing can offer an alternative to fresh cut vase flowers. You can start perennial plants indoors in preparation for the spring planting season. You can also bring them indoors for safekeeping during the winter months. Planting in containers can make it easier to treat diseased plants without disturbing healthy, thriving plants.

Keywords: perennial plants, container planting, evergreen plants, groundcover planting, vegetative reproduction

About this Author

Loraine Degraff has been a writer and educator since 1999. She recently began focusing on topics pertaining to health and environmental issues. She is published in "Healthy Life Place" and "Humdinger" and also writes for Suite101. Degraff holds a Master's degree in Communications Design from Pratt Institute.