Echinacea (Coneflower) and Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are two popular perennial wildflowers.Echinacea (Coneflower) and Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are two popular perennial wildflowers.

Plant Life Cycles 101: What's The Difference Between Annuals, Perennials, & Biennials? 

Understanding the life cycle of your wildflowers is an important step toward growing a meadow successfully! Annual, perennial, and biennial wildflowers have different timelines for growth and flowering, each contributing to the vitality of your local ecosystem. We believe that planting a wildflower meadow (aka Meadowscaping) is more than just sowing seeds. It is the process of envisioning, cultivating, and fostering a naturalistic planting, anywhere. Inspired by nature, meadows transform our lives, yards, and the world for the better.

Read on to learn about each type of wildflower life cycle, and how they can work together to create a thriving garden or meadow.

Annual and Perennial Life Cycles

Annual Wildflowers

  • Annual wildflowers have a one-year life cycle, and bloom just weeks after planting to provide bright color in the first season.
  • After planting, you’ll see annual seedlings in 2-3 weeks and blooms in 2-3 months.
  • Annual wildflowers are a great choice for cut flowers, too, since their flowers are long-lived. Cutting often encourages more blooms. Planting individual annual wildflowers each year also gives you the freedom to experiment with new flower varieties each year.
  • They grow quickly, and die at the end of their first year.
  • Annuals don’t reliably reseed, but they can under certain conditions.

Perennial Wildflowers

  • Perennials return year after year, blooming in the second season and for many years to come.
  • They grow more slowly, and in the first season focus the most energy on establishing strong roots, so they typically don't bloom until their second year.
  • Each year, they die back over winter, and return from the same roots, forming larger plants and more colorful flowers each year.
  • Some perennials are longer-lived than others.
  • Perennials planted in spring or summer will typically only grow leaves before winter. These plants are establishing root growth during their entire first growing season - after all, these root systems are going to have to survive through the winter, unlike annuals!
  • For example, a daisy will grow only 2-to-3-inch leaves near the ground in its first year; in the second year, it bounds out of the ground with big glossy leaves and beautiful flowers!

Biennial Wildflowers

  • Biennials are much less common, but still important!
  • These plants have a two-year life cycle, growing foliage and roots in the first season, and blooming only in the second season.
  • Some biennials may reseed and return in your garden or meadow, under the right conditions.
Sunflowers, Cosmos, Zinnias, and Scarlet Flax, and Plains Coreopsis are all colorful annual wildflowers. Sunflowers, Cosmos, Zinnias, and Scarlet Flax, and Plains Coreopsis are all colorful annual wildflowers.
Sunflowers, Cosmos, Zinnias, Scarlet Flax, and Plains Coreopsis are all colorful annual wildflowers.

Blooming Time For Established Plants

What most gardeners are looking for in their wildflower meadow: color that lasts as long as possible!

  • The average annual flower blooms for 2 to 3 months or longer, typically until frost, in the first growing season.
  • The average perennial flower plant blooms for 2 to 3 weeks, sometimes longer, typically starting in season 2 and coming back for years after.
  • Like annuals, biennials bloom for 2-3 months or until frost, but only in their second season.

When comparing individual plants, in the course of one season, annual wildflowers add longer-lasting color than perfectly grown, mature perennial wildflowers. Perennials mature into larger groupings of flowers each year, however, they are typically in bloom for less time than annuals.

Our Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix, shown here blooming in its first season. Annual wildflowers including Poppies, Bachelor's Buttons, and Plains Coreopsis are blooming. Photo by Mike Flynn.Our Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix, shown here blooming in its first season. Annual wildflowers including Poppies, Bachelor's Buttons, and Plains Coreopsis are blooming. Photo by Mike Flynn.
Our Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix, shown here blooming in its first season. Annual wildflowers including Poppies, Bachelor's Buttons, and Plains Coreopsis are blooming. Photo by Mike Flynn.

How Annuals, Perennials & Biennials Work Together

When you plant a wildflower seed mix that contains annual, perennial, and biennial wildflower species, like many of our mixes from American Meadows, here is what you can expect from the life cycle of your meadow.

Year  1

  • Annual wildflowers deliver bold and colorful blooms the first year.
  • Perennials typically just grow foliage and establish a root system.
  • Annuals are there for more than color! Since the Perennials in the mix make small growth in the first season, annual plants fill in your meadow in the first season, warding off weeds during the first year. (After all, anywhere you leave open soil, nature will quickly plant a weed.)

Year 2

  • Then during your second spring, the annual wildflowers that filled the spaces are most likely gone. (You may see some annuals reseed in your meadow and bloom in the second or subsequent seasons.)
  • Perennials will return from their established root system. Some will be ready to bloom, but others may not be fully mature and blooming at full potential. This can sometimes be known as the "Sophomore Slump" in a meadow. That's where biennials come in for support - they'll also return from their established root systems and fill in your meadow with color in the second season. 
  • You can also top seed with some annuals in the second and successive years to add a pop of color to the bare spots of your meadow. Just rough up the soil and lightly sow (don’t overseed!) with annuals, and compress the soil like you did the year prior. Your annuals will fill in the spots where the perennials haven’t yet matured. 

Year 3 & Beyond...

  • By year 3, the perennials will be taking over and reaching their full potential, offering shifting colors and abundant blooms all season!
  • Some annuals and biennials may have reseeded, but most have probably passed.
  • Over time, if you want to layer in additional color, you always have the option to plant new annual wildflower seeds into your established perennial meadow or garden.
Our Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix, shown here blooming in its second season. Perennial Rudbeckia and Daisies are blooming, and you can see where some Annual Poppies reseeded to bloom for a second season. Photo by Mike Flynn.Our Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix, shown here blooming in its second season. Perennial Rudbeckia and Daisies are blooming, and you can see where some Annual Poppies reseeded to bloom for a second season. Photo by Mike Flynn.
Our Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix, shown here blooming in its second season. Perennial Rudbeckia and Daisies are blooming, and you can see where some Annual Poppies reseeded to bloom for a second season. Photo by Mike Flynn.

Finding The Perfect Mix

That's where we can help! American Meadows has become famous for our wildflower seed mixes. With more than 40 years of experience, we carefully craft our wildflower seed mixes to make it easy for you to grow a wildflower meadow that offers season-long color, year after year. 

There are many factors to consider when creating or choosing, a wildflower seed mix. A fine wildflower seed mix is artfully blended to bloom over the entire growing season, from spring to fall. Even better, since no one is cutting back dying flowers, a carefully crafted mix will include various species that bloom roughly from shortest flowers to tallest; that way, new, fresh, taller flowers will cover the fading shorter flowers as the meadow evolves through the year. Furthermore, most gardeners are looking for a wildflower meadow that can be planted once and offer colorful flowers for years to come! 

The majority of our wildflower seed mixes include a balance of annual, perennial, and biennial wildflower varieties to take advantage of the benefits of each type of plant.

 

All Annuals

Some gardeners prefer to plant Annual wildflowers each season. Planting an Annual wildflower seed mix ensures a meadow bursting with colorful fresh flowers all season long. Annual wildflowers are a great choice for cut flowers, too, since their flowers are long-lived. Cutting often encourages more blooms. Planting individual annual wildflowers each year also gives you the freedom to experiment with new flower varieties each year. Learn More: Creating Temporary Gardens With Annual Wildflowers

 

Annual Sunflower, Cosmos & Sulphur CosmosAnnual Sunflower, Cosmos & Sulphur Cosmos
Annual Sunflower, Cosmos & Sulphur Cosmos

Annual Wildflower Seeds

Remember: Annual wildflowers have a one-year life cycle, and bloom just weeks after planting to provide bright color in the first season.

Perennial Lupines & DaisiesPerennial Lupines & Daisies
Perennial Lupines & Daisies

Perennial Wildflower Seeds

Remember: Perennial wildflowers return year after year, blooming in the second season and for many years to come.

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Wildflower Testimonials 

Wildflower Meadow and BirdhouseWildflower Meadow and Birdhouse

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