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Perennial Substitutes for Your Favorite Annual Flowers

Gardeners love annual flowers! You know, the ones that you plant every year and they look great all summer long. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with annual flowers. Believe me I have a ton of favorites and I plant a ton every year. However, if you are done with spending lots of money for flowers that you are going to ditch at the end of the season, this is the article for you – 10 Perennial Substitutes for Your Favorite Annual Flowers.

Once perennials become established, they just get bigger and better every year. Will perennial flowers bloom as long as annual flowers? Well, no, probably not. However, if you plant a combination of perennial plants, you can get continuous color throughout the season. Plus, after the initial purchase and planting, perennials are lower maintenance and more budget friendly.

Image of a Perennial Garden

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What is the Difference Between Annuals, Perennials and Biennials?

For those of you that need it, first of all as a refresher.

  • A perennial is a plant that lives longer than 2 years.
  • An annual is a plant that only lives one season. Some annual flowers can reseed themselves and you might get surprises the next year. What is considered an annual in colder gardening zones, may be considered an perennial in warmer gardening zones.
  • A Biennial is a plant that only lives 2 years. Generally with a biennial, you have  just a plant the first year and the second year the plant will grow flowers.

 Perennial Flowers vs. Annual Flowers

  • You plant perennials once and they just get bigger and better every year. Annuals have to be replanted every year.
  • At the end of every gardening season, annual plants have to be pulled up. If you planted lots of annual flowers, this can be quite the task. Perennials stay put, but will need to be cut back at some point.
  • Over the long haul, it’s more expensive to buy new annual flowers for your garden every year.
  • Once perennial plants are well established, for the most part they require less maintenance than annual flowers.

I realize we are talking about perennial substitutes for your favorite annual flowers, but let’s discuss the benefits of annuals over perennial flowers. I want you to be well informed before you make the switch to perennials.

  • Annual flowers bloom longer than perennials.
  • Annuals grow faster than perennial flowers.
  • Annual flowers are better for container gardening than perennials.

Grow These Perennials Instead of These Annual Flowers and Never Plant Again

Plant Coreopsis instead of Marigolds. Not all coreopsis varieties look like marigolds, but many do. See the similarities of the pictures below. I have a golden sphere coreopsis in my garden and many have mistaken it for marigolds.  And the best part about coreopsis is that once it starts blooming, it blooms the entire summer. Coreopsis is a very long blooming perennial and once established requires little maintenance.

Image of Coreopsis and Marigold

Do you love spike-type flowers like Stock or Snapdragons? Perennial substitutes for these annuals are delphinium, liatris or penstemon. Penstemons have tubular flowers on tall spikes (sounds just like a description of snapdragons, right). There are many different varieties of penstemon and I’ll bet you can find one that will thrive in your gardens. Many varieties of penstemon will bloom for several weeks in the summer, and will likely rebloom if deadheaded.

Liatris is also a spike-type flower, or more like a bottle brush. They are very popular as cut flowers. Unlike many spike-type flowers, they start blooming at the top of the spike first.

Comparison of snapdragons to penstemon

Who doesn’t love Sunflowers. They are a classic, cheery annual flower loved by birds, squirrels and humans alike. I got tired of dealing with squirrels climbing the sunflowers in my garden and breaking the stems, so I started growing perennial Heliopsis (a/k/a False Sunflower). There are many varieties of the perennial Heliopsis to choose from. And while there aren’t any varieties that have huge annual sunflower heads, there are many varieties that look just like smaller or miniature sunflowers. Heliopsis is another long-blooming perennial.

Comparison photo of perennial false sunflowers to annual sunflowers

Perennial Blanket Flower (a/k/a Gaillardia) looks very similar to the annual flower, Gazania. They have the same color varieties and flower shape. When Blanket Flowers start blooming, they bloom the entire summer and well into Fall. Bees (and me) adore Blanket Flower!

Images of blanket flower and gazania

Although the foliage isn’t similar, the flower of the Japanese Anemone (Anemone Robustissima) plant looks just like annual Cosmos flowers. Actually, in my opinion, the overall look of the Japanese Anemone is much prettier.

Images of cosmos and anemone flowers

Many Annual Flower Varieties Have A Perennial Cousin

There are about 300 different varieties of Dianthus (a/k/a Pinks, Carnations and Sweet William). Some varieties are annual, some perennial and some are biennial (like Sweet William). Although annual dianthus will sometimes make a reappearance in my gardens the following year, it is never as pretty as the first year. You can get loads of front of the border perennial color with perennial dianthus (a/k/a Pinks). Plus, perennial dianthus will pretty much bloom the entire summer season. Different varieties of perennial dianthus bloom for different time periods, so look for long-blooming varieties.

Comparison of annual dianthus to perennial dianthus

It’s a no-brainer to replace annual salvia like blue victoria variety with a variety of perennial salvia. Perennial salvia starts blooming in late spring. After their initial bloom, I shear the spent blooms off and they immediately start re-growing more blooms. I can get 3 or 4 bloom periods out of perennial salvia.

Images of annual salvia and perennial salvia

Annual larkspur can be replaced with it’s perennial cousin, delphinium. Delphinium is a beautiful, stately, spike-type perennial flower. They are stunning planted in mass and make beautiful additions to cut flower bouquets. Delphinium is suited best in full sun.

Comparison of Delphinium to Larkspur

Annual Asters can be replaced with Perennial Asters. Often times my tall annual asters get floppy and have to be staked. Not at all the case with perennial Asters. Perennial Asters start putting on a show in the late summer into fall when many other flower are fading in the garden. I think asters are a perennial garden must have for you and the bees.

Comparison of annual asters to perennial asters

More Perennial Substitutes for Annual Flowers

Replace those annual chrysanthemums with perennial mums. I realize in many gardens, annual mums will return year after year. Not the case here in my zone 4b garden. We specifically have to look for hardy perennial mums, but they are so worth the search. Nothing says fall like having bright colored mums adorning your gardens.

There are lots of Daisy type annual flowers like zinnias, gerbera daisies, osteospermum or annual rudbeckia that can be replaced with perennial flowers like Shasta daisies, black-eyed Susan or coneflowers.

Images of Black-eyed Susan, Shasta Daisies & Coneflowers

Replace low-growing flowers that form clumps, like petunia, vinca (not to be confused with vinca vine) or ageratum with balloon flowers or blue clip campanula. Both of these perennials have very long bloom times in the summer. 

How to Get the Longest Bloom From Perennial Flowers

The secret with getting the longest bloom from perennials is to go ahead and clip off the spent flower blooms. You can extend the bloom time of perennials, or get a rebloom, just by deadheading.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite annual flower that you replaced with a perennial? Leave a comment to share with all of us and we can just keep growing this list of perennial substitutes for your favorite annual flowers.

Where to Order Perennials Plants Online

I prefer shopping at local nurseries, but I have had some great experiences ordering from Bluestone Perennials and Oakes Daylilies. The last couple of years, I’ve also ordered live perennial plants from growers on Etsy. Be sure to read reviews and make sure the grower is licensed. LacyCreekGrowers is a favorite of mine.

Want to learn more about getting continuous color in your perennial garden from spring through fall? Gingham Gardens has an awesome workbook/guide to help you plan and plant your dream 3-season perennial garden. To learn more about the workbook/guide, check is out here: Designing with Perennials for 3 Seasons of Bloom.

To learn more about perennials for your flower garden, check out these posts:

Classic Perennials (That Every Flower Garden Needs)
20 Perennials for Shade to Jazz Up Your Gardens
Designing with Perennials for 3 Seasons of Bloom
Underused and Uncommon Perennials
14 Plants Not to Grow in Your Garden (Even if they are Free)

Thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens today. I hope you’re enjoying your visit and are coming up with perennial substitutes for your favorite annual flowers. Can you think of any I missed? If so, please share in the comments section below.

Happy Gardening,
Joanna

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9 Comments

  1. I love this article. Black eyed Susan’s flourish in my protected garden and spread like crazy. I am in coneflower frenzy these days, have several varieties just starting out the last couple of years. I am down near the Nebraska/Kansas border. I love my lilies of any kind also. Enjoy your articles so much.

    1. Hi Dawne – thanks so much for stopping by Gingham Gardens. I love my lilies and black-eyed susans too. Happy gardening, Joanna

  2. Thanks so much for this thought-provoking article!
    I have been trying to replace annuals with perennials as well, and you have given me some ideas for my zone 5 garden in coastal Maine. Parts of the garden have to be salt spray-resistant, and other parts are just sunny and dry. Watering is a challenge.

    1. Hello Sue – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens. I’m toying around with writing a piece about perennials that can take anything nature gives and still thrive. Good luck and happy gardening, Joanna

  3. Great article. I just planted some salomon seal in my new sunny flower bed that I dug up from my last home. I love the variegated leaves that stay nice all season. I also planted it on the east side of the garage in a bottomless pot and buried the pot in the landscape rocks. I haven’t done this before but hoping it will work. Have you done this with perennials and had any luck.

    1. Hi Julie – I love variegated solomon’s seal. I’m not sure what gardening zone you are in, but here in my zone 4 garden, yes, a perennial will survive our winter in a pot if it is buried. This fall, you might want to give it some extra protection with leaves. Good luck and happy gardening, Joanna

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