The 16 Best Perennials & Annuals for Your Garden

Adriana Velez | Jun 12, 2014 Home & Garden
The 16 Best Perennials & Annuals for Your Garden

picture of a woman gardening
Walk into any garden store and you may notice something: Most plants are divided into two groups, annuals and perennials. So what's the difference between the two? Is one better than the other? And with so many different kinds of flowers, how on Earth do you pick any?

The main difference between the two groups are as follows: Perennials usually come back every spring or summer without having to be replanted. Annuals usually die once temperatures drop in the fall or winter. There are some exceptions -- an annual in a cooler region may be a perennial in a warmer region. Plants come with tags that tell you what to expect.

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Something else to keep in mind is that annuals work best in planters, flower boxes, and border flower beds. Perennials are for big spaces -- your larger flower beds. Because they come back every year, they'll usually keep getting larger and larger.

picture of flowers in a garden

Here are a few of our favorites -- the easiest to care for -- from each.

Images © (top) and © (bottom)

  • Annual: Impatiens


    Impatiens come in all shades of pink, coral, and red. They like mostly sun with a little shade.

  • Perennial: Black-Eyed Susan


    Jeff Turner/Flickr

    Sunflowers are big and dramatic, but for something less giant but every bit as charming, try black-eyed Susan.

  • Annual: Celosia


    Mike Sutton/Flickr

    Also known as Cock's Comb, some varieties of celosia look like fuzzy brains. These add texture and drama to your garden. They like full sun.

  • Perennial: Astilbe


    Maja Dumat/Flickr

    Fuzzy astilbe does for perennial gardens what celosia does for annuals -- they add texture. Astilbe comes in white, pink, red, and purple.

  • Annual: Sweet Alyssum


    Sean A O'Hara/Flickr

    These tiny white or light purple flowers like to spread around -- and they really do smell sweet.

  • Perennial: Coreopsis


    Tim Lenz/Flickr

    Coreopsis loves the sun and comes in solid yellow or yellow with rust centers.

  • Annual: Pansy


    The pansy comes in all combinations of purple, white, and sometimes yellow. They like to spend about half the day in shade and they'll do most of their blooming in the spring and the fall, so if they seem to slow down in the summer, don't worry. Pull off the dead blossoms regularly to keep them blooming.

  • Perennial: Bleeding Heart



    If you have any shade at all, you have to plant bleeding hearts -- I mean, look at them! They only bloom in the spring, but the plants themselves are beautiful even without the blossoms. Technically, bleeding hearts are tubers, which are not strictly perennials. But they should come back year after year in most temperate regions.

  • Annual: Petunia


    Fuzzy petunias love full sun and look great in baskets and planters, especially. They come in all kinds of colors. I just saw some purple ones so dark they were almost black -- sensational.

  • Perennial: Hosta



    Hostas produce large, sometimes variegated leaves and send up shoots of tiny white or purple flowers. They thrive in shade but bloom more if they get some sun, too. They will endure terrible winters and generally kick ass -- I have some that are at least 15 years old. They are also technically tubers.

  • Annual: Coleus


    Coleus comes in shades of green, purple, red, and yellow -- it's a great way to add color without flowers. Some varieties prefer shade.

  • Perennial: Geranium


    Some geraniums are annuals, and others are perennials, so always check. The perennial variety are about the most happy-go-lucky flower you could ever ask for. They seem to prefer planters to beds, though.

  • Annual: Marigold


    Good luck killing off these flowers. Marigolds go strong all summer long and they love the sun. The only thing you have to worry about is they do like to spread their seeds quickly.

  • Perennial: Ornamental Grasses


    Angie Garrett/Flickr

    Many ornamental grasses are annuals. But there are some great perennial grasses, like this fountaingrass, that can really fill in your garden in a lovely way.

  • Annual: Dahlia


    Hello big, gorgeous blooms! Dahlias are one of my favorites.

  • Perennial: Peony


    Liz West/Flickr

    Peonies are the belle of the ball. With so many gorgeous varieties, how do you pick just one? They're also disease- and pest-resistant. Oh please plant some peonies! They are just the best.


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