The Importance of Annual and Perennial Wildflowers

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

Understanding the life cycle of your wildflowers is an important step toward growing a meadow successfully! Annual and  Perennial wildflowers have different timelines for growth and flowering. Read on to learn about each type of wildflower, and how they can work together to create a thriving garden or meadow.

Definitions Of Annual and Perennial Life Cycles

  • Annuals have a one year life cycle, and bloom just weeks after planting to provide bright color in the first season. They grow quickly, and die at the end of their first year. Under the right conditions, annual wildflowers regrow each year by reseeding; some annuals reseed and spread more readily than others.

  • 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 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. 

  • Biennials are much less common, but still worth mentioning! 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.

When you plant the seed of an annual, normally it's up and growing in a week or less. In ideal conditions, many annual wildflowers will bloom in as little as 6 weeks. Most annual flower plants will be full grown and in full bloom within 3 months.

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! A seed of a daisy, for example, will grow only 2-to-3-inch leaves near the ground its first year. Then, when spring arrived in the second year, it bounds out of the ground with big glossy leaves and stalks with beautiful flowers up to 24" tall! 

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, and Scarlet Flax, and Plains Coreopsis are all colorful annual wildflowers.

Blooming Seasons 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.
  • The average perennial flower plant blooms for 2 to 3 weeks.

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.

How Annuals and Perennials Work Together

We almost always recommend planting a mix of Annual and Perennial wildflowers together for a colorful, low-maintenance meadow.

Annual wildflowers deliver bold and colorful blooms the first year. However, Annuals are there for more than color! Since the Perennials in the mix make very small growth in the first season, the 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.)

Then during your second spring, the Annual wildflowers that filled the spaces are gone, and the Perennials are ready to burst into large plants, filling in the spaces saved for them. (You may see some Annuals reseed in your meadow and bloom in the second or subsequent seasons.) 

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 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.

Finding The Perfect Mix

That's where we can help! American Meadows has become famous for our wildflower seed mixes. With more than 35 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.

Some gardeners prefer to plant Annual widlflowers 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. What gardener doesn't thrill to a shimmering sheet of color like the show of bright red poppies, or a dazzling drift of deep blue cornflowers? In late summer and fall, what gardener doesn't love to see flowers like wild cosmos tall and beautiful, waving in the wind? Learn More: Creating Temporary Gardens With Annual Wildflowers

 

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.

Explore Annual Wildflower Seeds

  1. Pink and Red and White Cosmos Seeds, Cosmos bipinnatus

    Cosmos lights up the garden or meadow in midsummer with pink, crimson and white flowers that hold until frost on tall plants. Attractive to both butterflies and hummingbirds, its col...

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    Cosmos Seeds Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus
    As low as $12.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Cosmos lights up the garden or meadow in midsummer with pink, crimson and white flowers that hold until frost on tall plants. Attractive to both butterflies and hummingbirds, its colorful and abundant blooms are easy to grow in any region. Cosmos is a popular cutting flower with ferny foliage and strong stems and looks lovely planted along a fenceline. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
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  2. Texas Bluebonnet, Lupine

    Limited Quantities Available!Texas Bluebonnet is a true-blue beauty and one of the worlds most well-known wildflowers. Famous for creating carpets of sweeping indigo color mid-season...

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    Texas Bluebonnet Seeds Texas Bluebonnet Lupinus texensis
    As low as $12.95
    Per 1 Ounce
    Limited Quantities Available!Texas Bluebonnet is a true-blue beauty and one of the worlds most well-known wildflowers. Famous for creating carpets of sweeping indigo color mid-season in meadows throughout the country, this variety prefers sandy, loamy and well-draining soils, as well as a minimum of six hours of sun per day. In warmer areas, Texas Bluebonnets act as perennials, coming back year after year, but in colder areas, they act as annuals. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Annual.
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  3. Red Poppy, Papaver rhoeas

    Red Poppy, also known as Flanders Poppy, is famed around the world for the carpet of red beauty it creates when in full bloom. A must-have for any wildflower meadow or garden, this e...

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    Red Poppy Seeds Red Poppy, Corn Poppy, Flanders Poppy, Shirley Poppy Papaver rhoeas
    As low as $16.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Red Poppy, also known as Flanders Poppy, is famed around the world for the carpet of red beauty it creates when in full bloom. A must-have for any wildflower meadow or garden, this easy-to-grow annual delights with bright blooms throughout the summer season. Deer resistant and attractive to pollinators, Red Poppies can be planted in any region of the US. We're proud to sell only 100% pure, non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free seeds. Guaranteed to grow.
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  4. Zinnia Seeds Cut and Come Again Mix, Zinnia elegans

    Blooming in a rainbow of colors, the Cut and Come Again Mixture provides endless Zinnias from mid-summer all the way until frost, giving you plenty of blooms to cut and bring indoors...

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    Zinnia Seeds Cut and Come Again Mix Cut and Come Again Zinnia Zinnia elegans
    As low as $9.95 Sale $9.46
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Blooming in a rainbow of colors, the Cut and Come Again Mixture provides endless Zinnias from mid-summer all the way until frost, giving you plenty of blooms to cut and bring indoors. Like all Zinnia, this mixture is extremely easy to grow, deer resistant and attracts pollinators to the garden. Can be grown in any region. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Annual.
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Explore Perennial Wildflower Seeds

  1. Perennial Lupine Seeds

    A field of Lupine is an amazing sight, with spiky blooms of saturated indigo-blue that last from late spring to summer. Combine them with later-blooming flowers (like Shasta Daisy an...

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    Perennial Lupine Seeds Perennial Lupine Lupinus perennis
    As low as $15.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    A field of Lupine is an amazing sight, with spiky blooms of saturated indigo-blue that last from late spring to summer. Combine them with later-blooming flowers (like Shasta Daisy and Rudbeckia) for an extended season of color. Growing to be about 12-36” tall, Lupine is a great choice for the front of the meadow or garden bed. Extremely easy to grow and deer resistant, this perennial flower blooms year after year. Seeds are 100% pure, non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
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  2. White Shasta Daisy Seeds, Chrysanthemum maximum

    Shasta Daisies boast huge white blooms, sunny yellow center disks and glossy green foliage and best of all, they flower for the entire summer season. Perky and cheerful, Shasta Daisi...

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    Shasta Daisy Seeds Shasta Daisy Chrysanthemum maximum
    As low as $19.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Shasta Daisies boast huge white blooms, sunny yellow center disks and glossy green foliage and best of all, they flower for the entire summer season. Perky and cheerful, Shasta Daisies are spectacular in a meadow, wildflower garden, or when cut for bouquets. Long-lived perennials, these wildflowers will return with enthusiasm each year. All of the seed we offer at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
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  3. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and swallowtail butterfly

    Purple Coneflower, also called Echinacea, is famous across the country for its stunning purple flowers and golden center cones. A perennial butterfly and bee magnet, this native wild...

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    Purple Coneflower Seeds Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
    As low as $19.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Purple Coneflower, also called Echinacea, is famous across the country for its stunning purple flowers and golden center cones. A perennial butterfly and bee magnet, this native wildflower is extremely easy to grow and looks equally at home in the garden, meadow, or vase. Leave your Purple Coneflower planting in place over the winter to attract goldfinches and other songbirds. 100% pure, non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free seeds are guaranteed to grow.
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  4. Yellow Black Eyed Susan Seeds, Rudbeckia hirta

    Versatile, drought-tolerant and easy-to-grow, Black Eyed Susan adds a cheerful splash of color to the summer landscape. A native plant that attracts a variety of pollinators, Black E...

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    Black Eyed Susan Seeds Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
    As low as $12.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Versatile, drought-tolerant and easy-to-grow, Black Eyed Susan adds a cheerful splash of color to the summer landscape. A native plant that attracts a variety of pollinators, Black Eyed Susan pairs beautifully with other prairie favorites like Purple Coneflower and Butterfly Weed. Its adapatable nature makes it a great choice for poor soils and tough conditions. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Biennial.
    Learn More

Original Ray Allen Content:

At American Meadows, between our people and online resources, we have been helping, literally, millions of meadow gardeners for over 20 years. And there are about 5 critical subjects that everyone needs to understand fully to maximize the pleasure from a wildflower meadow.

1. Definitions

Annuals are the ones that grow and bloom quickly from seed, then die at the end of their first year. However, they often drop seed and return to some degree as new plants.

Perennials are the ones that grow more slowly, don't bloom until their second year, and then return year after year from the same roots, forming larger and larger clumps.

2. How the two differ in growth

When you plant the seed of an annual, normally it's up and growing in a week or less. Many are in bloom within 4 or 5 more weeks. Most all annual flower plants are full grown and in full bloom within 3 months.

Perennials? Plant the seed in spring or summer (it doesn't matter when, as long as it has some time to grow) and all you'll see is small leaf growth before winter. It's because these seeds are making root growth during their entire first growing season…after all, they are gong to have to go through the winter, unlike annuals. Don't expect flowers.

A seed of a daisy plant, for example, makes only 2 or 3-inch leaves near the ground its first year. Then the second year, in spring, it bounds out of the ground with big glossy leaves, and stalks with beautiful flowers up to 24" tall! That's how a perennial plant develops from seed—totally different from an annual.

3. How long do the two types bloom, once they're established?

When it comes to color in a meadow, the thing most meadow gardeners want more than anything else: The average annual flower plant blooms for 2 to 3 months. The average perennial flower plant blooms for 2 to 3 weeks.

Annuals, plant for plant, add about 4 times the color to your meadow in a given year than perfectly grown, mature perennials. (Of course, as perennials become large clumps, they add more flowers, but their bloom period is always short, compared to annuals.)

4. Why our regional mixes contain about 50% of each:

A fine wildflower seed mixture is artfully blended to create bloom for the gardener over the entire growing season, spring to fall. Also, since no one is cutting back dying flowers, as in a perennial border, the various species should bloom roughly from shortest flowers to tallest. That way, new, fresh taller flowers will cover the fading shorter ones as the meadow evolves through the year. What's more, most meadow gardeners want this ongoing color the first year and also the second and beyond.

Good bloom the first year is easy, since the mixtures contain about 50% annuals. And the annual seeds are there for more than color. They're there for a "good gardening reason" as well. Since the perennials in the mix do not bloom, and make very small growth, the spreading annual plants tend to "fill the ground", warding off weeds during the first year. (After all, as everyone knows, anywhere you leave an open space in the soil, nature will quickly plant a weed.) Then during your second spring, your annual plants that filled the spaces are dead and gone, and the perennials are ready to burst into large plants filling the spaces saved for them.

5. The problem with "Perennials Only"

We understand gardeners' love affair with perennials. It's based on "Why plant something that lasts only one year?" But it's based on building perennial gardens, not wildflower meadows. We explain in number 4 (above) about all the contributions annuals make in a wild meadow.

If you plant only perennials in a wildflower garden, you gain some things, but we feel, you lose much more. Yes, it will be more permanent. But you'll have no color at all your first year, and you'll be battling plenty of weeds your second. In some ways, a perennial meadow imitates nature more closely, although annuals are common in nature, too. And if you want your meadow in good, colorful bloom all season long, you simply won't be able to accomplish that without the long-blooming annuals.

Purists carp about how annuals "run out" after their first year, and that's true. The same thing happens in the wild. And after all, this is your meadow. Minding the natural run-out of annual flowers is like minding the fact that a box of chocolates runs out after you've eaten them. All that enjoyment-who says it has to be permanent? You can add more annuals whenever you like. (And buy more chocolates, too.)

In a meadow garden, most homeowners are not trying to imitate nature. In fact, most don't want to. Because natural meadows in the wild have long periods of browning after any heavy bloom-do you want that in your backyard? So it's important to realize that what you're creating is a meadow garden that you can control, not a "natural" meadow. It takes work, and as it evolves; the work does not end.

The biggest loss with all perennials in a meadow is definitely pleasure. What gardener doesn't thrill to a shimmering sheet of color like the show of bright red poppies, or a dazzling drift of deep blue cornflowers? In late summer and fall, what gardener doesn't love to see flowers like wild cosmos tall and beautiful, waving in the wind. These are all impossible scenes without the wild annuals. Grow them, and enjoy them for what they are.

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