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All About Perennials - Urban Farmer's Guide

Home > Gardener's Guide > All About Perennials

All About Perennials

A perennial is any plant that lives for two years or more years when grown under the right conditions. When used by gardeners  this term applies specifically to perennial herbaceous plants. Scientifically, woody plants like shrubs and trees are also perennial in their habit. Unlike trees and shrubs, herbaceous plants have soft, fleshy stems.

Perennials that hail from cold climates usually retreat to a winter nap, called a period of dormancy. During this period of dormancy, the perennial wilts to the ground allowing the stem and foliage to die. Everything above ground is truly dead, while the roots are alive and well. In fact, the roots may be growing while the above ground foliage is dead! In more moderate temperatures, most herbaceous plants don't need a dormant period because they don't need to escape extreme temperatures.

Life Cycle
Perennial plants can be live only a couple years or they can live for over 4,000 years (trees). Perennials will vary in height from only a few millimeters to over 100 meters tall. They include a wide assortment of plant groups from ferns and liverworts to the highly diverse flowering plants like Orchids and Grasses.

Perennials usually grow structures that allow them to adapt to living for many years through a form of vegetative reproduction rather than seeding. Many of these structures include bulbs, tubers, woody crowns, rhizomes plus others. They might have specialized stems or crowns that allow them to survive periods of dormancy over cold or dry seasons during the year. Most perennials will produce large seeds, which help compete with other plants because larger seeds tend to germinate more quickly.

Growth and Location
In warmer climates, perennials will grow continuously. In cooler climates, their growth is limited to the growing season. Regrowth is from existing stem tissue. In some species, perennials retain their foliage all year round; these are evergreen perennials.

Knowing your planting zone is a very useful tool when you are planning your garden and flower bed areas. Gardeners should compare their garden climates with the climate where a plant is known to grow well. Most plants are marked with a zone number which on a map show where various plants can adapt. Using our Zone Finder is really simple and will help you find your zone location by looking at the map key. That number designates the zone in which you live and therefore the plant that will survive at that location. You might find a range of zones, the lower of the zone numbers tells you the lowest recommended zone in which that plant can survive. It is possible that a plant might thrive outside a labeled zone area.