Plant terminology 101: Sabrina Hahn explains words that may feel challenging or confusing

For novice gardeners, navigating through plant terminology can be challenging or confusing, leading to disappointment when a plant seems to disappear or die after 12 months.

Understanding the difference between perennials and annuals will help gardeners gain a better understanding of their plant’s capabilities and growth cycle.


Annuals are plants that have a limited life span, usually up to a year, and will flower profusely for the majority of that year then die at the end of the season. They will germinate, flower, set seed, and die all in one year.

There are annuals for all seasons, some flower in winter, others in summer and spring.

An example of annuals are the flowering seedlings you buy in punnets such as petunia, lobelia, sweet peas, calibrachoa, marigold, cineraria, primula and many vegetables.

Flowering annuals are bred to perform, they are in the category of ‘live fast, die young’ and require light pruning (deadheading) and liquid fertilising to keep pumping out flowers. They may be short lived, but you certainly get your money’s worth.

At the end of each flowering flush, lightly prune back and foliar fertilise with HwH Grow up to intensify the flower colour and build up chlorophyl in the leaves.

Close-up image of the beautiful summer flowering, pale blue Delphinium flowers in soft sunshine.
Camera IconClose-up image of the beautiful summer flowering, pale blue Delphinium flowers in soft sunshine. Credit: Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images


These are plants that live for many years and have seasonal flowering.

Some perennials have a dormant period where they die down to the ground and others remain evergreen and flower usually twice or more a year.

Examples of evergreen perennials are salvia, rudbeckia, stock, penstemon, hydrangea and candytuft. Examples of perennials that go into dormancy include dahlias, hellebore, polyanthus, heuchera and sedum. Helleborus flower during winter and go into dormancy over summer, sedum die down in winter and emerge for spring flowering.

Many a gardener has pulled out perennials that have a dormant period believing them to be dead and have just wasted their money.

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