understanding types of plants and seeds
If you are new to gardening then understanding the different types of plants will really help you get to grips with planning what to sow, plant and grow in your garden. Here are some handy definitions that should help you choose the best types of plants and get the most from your garden.
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An annual is a plant which roots, forms leaves, flowers, sets seed and dies all within the space of a year. Annuals are defined as hardy or half-hardy:
Hardy annuals can withstand the frosts and are often planted in the autumn or early spring. They tend to be easy to grow in our northern climate, where they form the backbone of the vegetable and cutting gardens – without them, your patch would be half empty.
Hardy annuals are happiest in the ground outside, rather than in containers, and plants that have had time to adjust to increasingly cold weather will be hardier than those that suddenly encounter it. If in doubt, you can always cover your seedlings with fleece during the worst of the winter weather.
If growing from seed, hardy annuals are happy sown straight into the ground outside from the middle of spring, and will germinate and start growing well before the frosts finish in May. You can sow in March if you want an earlier crop in May, but the soil in the garden at this time of year is often too cold and wet for decent germination – you should sow them inside as you would for half-hardy annuals (below).
Half-hardy plants cannot withstand winter wet and cold, and will be killed by the frosts. However you don't need to wait until the warmer weather to get going – sow your seeds or grow your seedlings in a light, frost-free place, protecting them under cover until the frosts are over. You’ll then have decent sized plants out in the garden at the end of spring, but the plants will be zapped by the frosts in the autumn.
Biennials are plants whose lifecycle spans two years, so they flower, produce seeds and die in their second year. If you are lucky, you may find they self-seed.
When grown from seed, biennials are usually sown between May and July.
Perennials are plants that stay in the garden from one year to the next. They make a brilliant investment and addition to your patch.
Perennials can sometimes be further defined:
These can live substantially longer than two years and can survive frost.
Herbaceous plants are non-woody plants that die back to rootstock each autumn and regrow the following spring.
Tender perennials will not survive frosts and so must be brought indoors during the winter.
These perennials will flower in their first and second years (similar to biennials and annuals), but may struggle after that and most generally die after a few years. Therefore you may find these described as 'grown as a hardy annual' or similar.
Most short-lived perennials self-seed, so often the plant will replace itself.