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Welcome to Episode 7 of our Signs of Spring Series!  In this episode, Project GROWS has collaborated with the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind (VSDB) to share a video that will help you learn the differences between annual, perennial, and biennial plants!

What will I learn in this episode?

Emily Row gives us a tour of the perennial plants at the VSDB gardens and farm!

Have you noticed that some plants come back year after year without having to replant them, while other plants die after just one growing season? Well, all living things have a life cycle, including plants. A life cycle is the process of being alive, and eventually dying off.  In this episode, Emily Row, CROPS program instructor at VSDB, explains that plants, however, each take different amounts of time to complete their life cycles. In fact, a plant can be categorized based on this characteristic. Perennials die back at the end of a growing season, but remain alive during a period of dormancy. Then they return to leaf out, flower, and put out fruit year after year!  Annuals complete their life cycle in one year, or growing season, and die off completely at the end of that season. The least common category is a biennial. Biennial plants complete their life cycle in two growing seasons. During the first year of primary growth, the plant produces leaves, stem, and roots, then enters a period of dormancy during the colder months. During the second year, the plant flowers, producing seeds and fruit, before dying off completely.

ANNUALS: Our collards are a great example of a common spring annual.

Why does it matter if a plant is a perennial, annual, or biennial?

As it turns out, this is very useful information for a range of activities, from backyard gardening to farming to simple identification of the plants you see outside every day.

Perennial plants will survive between growing seasons by storing energy in their roots, and don’t require much of your care between seasons!  Perennials can also multiply and spread across the area they are planted. This may be good for you because you get more plants without spending money and effort, but it may also mean time spent pruning the plant or dividing the plant as it requires more and more room each year. Planting perennials also means less flexibility to switch between plants each growing season.

Annual plants will not survive after the growing season is over.  So, if you want the same plant the following year, you have to plant a new seed or seedling. This can be expensive and requires more time, but it can also be fun to spend more time planting!  Annuals allow you to switch up what you grow every year and try new varieties and veggie flavors! Biennial plants like carrots and kale are often mistaken for annuals because what we want to get out of the plant (often the leaves, stem, and/or root) grows during the first year and then we rip out the plant and start again.

PERENNIALS: Many culinary herbs like oregano are perennial plants.

How can I FIND and IDENTIFY perennials, annuals, and biennials?

There are some common plants that fall under each category listed above.  Many flowers, almost all trees, some herbs, and a few vegetables are perennials. You can discover this by observing plants coming back to life that were planted before the start of the current growing season. If you are observing in a place you go to often, you may remember that the plant was there last year and looked healthy.  Most vegetable plants and some flowers are annuals. You may have also seen the seed or plant go into the ground this spring, or seen that the plant died, wilted, and did not return this year.

To practice identifying perennial and annual plants on your own, download the activity instructions (español) and start exploring!

Thanks for tuning in to this Week’s Signs of Spring Episode! Be sure to check out our other Signs of Spring videos linked on our blog and on our Youtube channel

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