Selecting Annuals or Perennials for Your Ornamental Bed

Selecting Annuals or Perennials for Your Ornamental Bed

By Kelly Masterson

Student in

The choice is yours!

With the right information and knowledge from Niagara College’s Greenhouse Technician Program, you can design, implement and watch your garden grow. Each garden bed planted whether on a commercial property or for a residential garden is a unique and visually appealing piece of art. “Good landscaping can add up to 28% to overall home value, says landscape economist John Harris. Even taking your landscaping from “good” to “excellent,” in terms of design, condition, and placement, can add 6% to 7% to a home’s value, according to a Clemson University study of homes in Greenville, S.C.” (1). Gardens are designed for the purpose of aesthetics, hiding imperfections in structures, highlighting structures like balconies and decks, creating moods for peaceful study at a college or creating serenity in your backyard. Gardens are shared with the community or kept hidden for your eyes only creating a world of privacy. Knowing the purpose of your garden bed makes it that much easier to design, implement and enjoy. Start your research by choosing a selection of your favourite annuals, perennials or a mixture of both.

When selecting plants — whether annuals or perennials — keep in mind the overall needs of the plants for a successful growing season. The height of the plants including the foliage and finished bloom height, water requirements, hardiness zone for proper climate restrictions, colour, light requirements and nutritional requirements are the necessities to research for each variety of plants chosen.

If you visit a nursery to help with your selection, tags are available in each pot with the descriptions of growing conditions. Some of the information is tricky to understand such as height. The height of the plant usually includes the full height of the bloom. For instance, a 36” daylily will reach approximately that height but will remain at 24” after bloom time. After the blooms have faded the daylily might be lost in the garden not taking advantage of the water falling foliage. Colours on the tags might be faded not giving an accurate description from red to pink changing the overall theme of your garden completely. Light requirements can also be misleading labelled improperly or not descriptive enough. For instance, a plant that requires morning sun and afternoon shade might be labelled as partial sun or partial shade. Double check your findings with reputable greenhouse websites or research material before opening your wallet.

Annuals are “Plants that perform their entire life cycle from seed to flower to seed within a single growing season. All roots, stems and leaves of the plant die annually. Only the dormant seed bridges the gap between one generation and the next” (2). Annuals are generally less expensive than ornamental perennials. From spring to fall, annuals with fill the space with non-stop colour as long as the watering, lighting and temperature requirements are met. Make sure the garden beds are amended with a porous, light sandy soil full of organic material. Annual roots are soft and supple and will not grow to their potential in a dense clay. They normally do not need any attention, little deadheading with the new varieties and will never over crowd your garden beds. Garden centres sell thousands of annuals per year just for the low maintenance to the buyer. Leave them in the garden to till in the following season or rip them out in the fall to prepare the gardens for next year’s new design. Better yet, change the beds for themed gardens for holidays and celebrations. For Canada Day weekend add red and white annuals or add the colours of fall for the celebrations of Thanksgiving and Halloween. The selection of annuals grow rapidly each year with big box stores selling the latest and greatest. Research is constantly being done for brighter colours, larger blooms, and more blooms. Buyers beware.
“Perennials are plants that persist for many growing seasons. Generally the top portion of the plant dies back each winter and regrows the following spring from the same root system (e.g. Purple Coneflower). Many perennial plants do keep their leaves year round and offer attractive borders and groundcover (e.g. Tickseed, Shasta and Ox-Eyed Daisy). NOTE: WHEN STARTING PERENNIAL PLANTS FROM SEED, BLOOMS WILL BE OBSERVED IN EITHER THE SPRING OR SUMMER OF THE SECOND YEAR AND EACH YEAR THEREAFTER (e.g. Ox-Eyed Daisy planted in the spring of 1996 will not bloom until the spring of 1997)” (2).

Perennials in a garden centre tend to sell for ten times the price of annuals. To keep costs lower, seeds are always an option, understanding they will take up to 3 years to mature. Perennial beds done right the first time will supply a lifetime of colour and waves of bloom throughout all of the seasons including winter interest. Perennials need more attention during the growing season. In the spring, they need to be cleared of any lasting debris from the following season to be rid of overwintering pests and diseases. The garden beds need to be amended with compost, preferably natural fertilizers like fish emulsion, Epson salts, blood meal, bone meal, the list goes on. To keep maintenance low adding mycorrhizae each season helps build up the porosity, necessity for watering, and limits the amounts of fertilizer needed. Mycorrhizae do the majority of work for you, breaking down nutrients and bringing them to the root surface. Perennials attract wildlife, beneficial insects, reduce rain run off on the property and raise the value of your property exponentially. They fill every humanly sense: the fragrance of the rose, the beauty of mother nature’s muted and complicated colour structure, the touch of silk caressing the pedals in your palm, the taste of heaven when growing flowering herbs and spices. Lastly the sound of nature whistling through the blades of grass with birds chirping in harmony. In the fall, the garden needs to be closed up, the roses hilled and layers of protection from the bitterly cold winter. To witness the spring arrival and watch the plants awaken from their deep sleep is a wonder in its own.

To maximize your garden space and keep the maintenance to a minimal the choice is always available to incorporate perennials as well as annuals in your garden bed. Niagara College students from the Horticulture Programs are taught every year what, where and how the annuals are planted in the mass planting in and around the college for each season. Filling in empty spots with bright colourful blooms of annuals when the perennials are done their lifecycle with only foliage remaining. The possibilities are endless. The shapes, colours and designs are as good as the imagination of the artist themselves. Regardless your choice, building a garden bed is a satisfying accomplishment for your family, friends, neighbors, or clients to enjoy with each visitation. Research, preparation and physical hard work is necessary but in the end worth every muscle ache and drop of sweat. So this spring don’t be sour grow some flowers. The choice is yours!




  1. Does House Landscaping Increase Home Value? | Retaining … (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016, from
  2. What Is An Annual, Perennial, Biennial? (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016, from