In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Annual dianthus has green leaves while its perennial cousin has silvery gray foliage.

Annual or Perennial?

Do you consider salvia to be an annual or a perennial? How about hibiscus and dianthus? What are they and who cares?

Defining Terms
Gardeners who want to grow their best need to know the difference between annuals and perennials. Annual plants grow from seed to flower and seed again in one season. Perennials can last for years in the garden. To further vex us, in our region some annuals will live through the winter, or reseed so it seems they are perennial.

Alike Yet Different
Annual salvia is a neat little plant, popular but with somewhat limited potential here. Use it in containers or as a front edge plant, but avoid locations with late-afternoon sun. Perennial salvias are workhorses in southern coast gardens. Mostly in shades of blue and purple, they are a staple in hummingbird gardens.

Hibiscus can hail from tropical regions or from regions with conditions like ours. The tropicals have shiny leaves and are much less hardy than the matte-leaved perennials. Dianthus works both ways. Its annual forms -- especially the 'Telstar' series, with green leaves and light fragrance -- will often overwinter for several years. But the perennial forms have silvery gray leaves in low mounds and flowers whose fragrance some describe as cloying. Both forms have a place in the garden, preferably in a well-drained, lightly shaded bed.

What Really Matters
When it comes to caring for these plant types, knowing how they grow tells you what to do. Since annuals are done for once they set seed, keep cutting the old flowers off to encourage more. Fertilize them frequently, even weekly, with soluble fertilizer to keep up with their fast growth rate.

Perennials, on the other hand, depend on their crowns to sustain them from year to year, so this part of the plant must be the gardener's focus. Keep the crowns at ground level or slightly above to prevent water collecting in the crown and rotting it. Likewise, mulch up to but not over the top of the crown to maintain good air circulation around it.


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