Annuals and Perennials

perennial kale plants growing tall during a second season in the climate victory garden

Plants fall into two categories: annuals and perennials. Many of the most common garden plants are annuals, meaning they have to be replanted every year or season. They have short life cycles and mature and die (or are harvested for you to eat) within the course of a single season. Annuals include crops like peas, corn, basil, and carrots. There’s too many to list here, but the back of your seed packet will tell you whether your plant is an annual or perennial.

Perennials are plants that grow and provide harvests for multiple growing seasons. You plant them once, and depending on the crop, they can live for two years up to decades. Perennials that are commonly planted in and around gardens include berry bushes, rhubarb, rosemary, asparagus, and fruit/nut trees. Depending on where you live, some perennials—like kale—are grown as an annual crop because it’s not able to survive the winter.

While perennials can be more expensive upfront, they can save you money over the years because you don’t have to buy new seeds or seedlings each year. They also require quite a bit of attention the first year, but are quite sturdy and self-sufficient after that.


The added benefits of perennials

Perennials play an important role in the soil health of your Climate Victory Garden. Because they don’t need to be replanted each year, soil disturbance is minimized and soil organisms thrive. These healthy soils hold carbon and grow vigorous crops. The plants themselves take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in their trunks, stems, and leaves—as well as in their deep root systems that ultimately feed the soil microbiome. Perennials have extensive root systems, with the added benefit of storing carbon deeper in the soil where it is more stable. When above-ground parts of a perennial plant are harvested, the plant sheds its deep roots (and the carbon they’re made up of) but retain enough to grow back the following season.

Beyond carbon sequestration and climate benefits, perennial plants can help increase the water holding capacity and reduce the erosion of soils; reduce time, labor, inputs; and improve habitats for invertebrates and small mammals. 

Diversity above ground encourages diversity in the soil. Growing a variety of crops—a combination of annual and perennial plants—supports healthy, carbon-sequestering soils because it encourages diverse soil communities and distributes carbon at varying depths underground. Diverse gardens are better able to resist weather extremes and are more resilient in the face of droughts, floods, and other impacts of the climate crisis. They have greater ability to withstand some pests, which reduces the need for pesticides. And, having a variety of crops also improves the diversity of diets and food security for consumers and local communities.