What Are Biennial Plants? Here's Everything to Know About Them

Plus, the benefits of sometimes choosing biennials over annuals.

<p>Kinek00/Getty Images</p>

Kinek00/Getty Images

Even if you're a beginner gardener, you probably know about annuals and perennials. Biennial plants, however, might be less familiar, and they fall somewhere in between the other two categories. While annuals die off after one growing season and perennials come back every year, biennials have a two-year lifespan. The first year of a biennial plant's life cycle is more foundational: It grows roots, a stem, and foliage, but it doesn't bloom. In the second year, biennials bloom, produce seeds, then die.

While the purpose of choosing biennial plants vs. annuals or perennials may not be immediately clear, these plants also have their time and place—and it's worth getting to know more about them. There may even be some plants that you didn't realize were biennials. Below, find out more about the benefits of biennial plants and some common examples.

Related: When to Use Annual vs. Perennial Plants in Your Garden

Benefits of biennial plants

If you're looking to enjoy flowers in your garden right away, annuals may seem like an obvious choice over biennials. Why wait for the second year to see your flowers bloom when you could choose ones that bloom in the first year? And, if you're looking for flowers with a longer lifespan, perennials—which live for at least three years—may seem like the obvious choice over biennials, which die off in two years, after just one season of flowering.

However, there are other factors to consider that can sometimes make biennial plants the better choice—or, at least, a great choice to add among the other perennials or annuals in your garden.

For starters, biennials have a unique growth pattern that can add interest to your garden in both years of their life cycles. While flowers won't bloom in the first year, you'll still be able to enjoy the greenery—and biennials tend to tolerate the cold better than annuals, so you can enjoy the plant for longer.

Vegetables that are biennials, on the other hand, can be harvested in the first year and usually aren't edible in the second year. For this reason, many people grow these vegetables as annuals, harvesting and removing them from the ground after the first year. However, biennial vegetables can be beneficial to keep around in the second year, as they can still attract pollinators and produce seeds.

The self-sowing properties of biennial plants may also mean that you may not need to actually replant certain flowers. While the original flowers you planted will be gone after two years, the seeds they leave behind may mean that you'll have new ones in the following years—without any extra work on your part.

Examples of Biennial Plants

Most biennials are either vegetables or flowers. Here are some common plants that you may not have realized are actually biennials.

  • Parsley

  • Broccoli

  • Beets

  • Carrots

  • Onion

  • Foxglove

  • Sweet William

  • Evening Primrose

  • Black-Eyed Susan

  • Hollyhock

  • Forget-Me-Not

  • Money plant

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