Okay newbies and old hands at gardening, the gardening decoding is continuing. If you haven’t been including this type of plant in your garden, you really need to reconsider. They may like to reseed in unplanned spots but, their amazing traits can make up for their spontaneous ways.
Biennials are a funny group. They live a little bit longer than annuals and in two years, generally, complete their life cycles. The first year is spent growing short and wide. They like to take up as much space as they can. They soak up the sun all summer making a large root system and getting ready for the next year. The next year they shoot up as high as they can to attract the bees to help them pollinate. This method helps them push it out their competition and produce a large amount of seeds.
Some of the most stunning flowers in the garden are biennials. Unfortunately, most newbies buy these flowering plants in its second year and of course it’s like an annual it will die that year. Also, because they are grown in a one gallon pot, they really don’t reach their full potential in height. They could instead buy a six-pack of “First Years” and the next year they would have six plants blooming for half the cost of one gallon size plant from the nursery. As long as the can live through the winter. So know your zone. Zone map link here.
If you have the exact zone requirement for biennials, they can be grown from seed easily. If you live in an area such as the northwest, where Foxgloves grow in the ditches, they will reseed and grow fantastic in your garden. This is because you have very wet springs and dryer summers, but they struggle in the inland areas. They need more water and a cooler climate that the inland areas don’t have naturally. An experienced gardener will help them by watering them more and planting them where they receive afternoon sun but, they will never be easy to grow away from their home stomping grounds.
So how can a newbie conquer biennials? Well ask your neighbors, a garden center/club or the internet. Another good resource is a university agricultural extension and they should have the lowdown on the easiest biennials for your area.
I live in a colder area, zone 4, and my go-to biennial is the sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) it’s in the mustard family. If you can grow mustard weeds you can grow sweet rockets with a little bit more water. It reseeds readily, shoots up 2-3 ft., gives way to perennials, has pretty purple blooms, and you will receive tons of complements. All this from getting them started from a pack of seeds and not deadheading all of them at the end of their bloom time. They are a real workhorse for dryer climates. Unfortunately, they can be invasive in wetter areas and some States don’t like them.
You will also need to plant biennials two years in a row if you want some in your garden every spring or summer. Some will be flowering their second year and some will be on their first year growing big and fat getting ready for flowering the next year.
Yes, if you want biennials to reseed you have to leave some of the plants alone to complete their lifecycle. Gosh, such tough work. You can encourage them to reseed where you want. In the early fall break off the tops with the seed and putting a ½ to 1 inch of soil (or none check to see if they need light to germinate) and a rock to keep them from blowing away on it where you want new plants to start next year.
Now some biennials can hang on a 3rd and 4th year but they are tiny and struggling. You can just leave them or pull them, it’s up to you. This trait gives way to the controversy of “is it a short lived perennial or a biennial?” For growing purposes it easier to think of them as biennials.
Here are some biennials worth looking into:
Foxgloves (digitalis purpurea f. albiflora)
Sweet William (dianthus barbatus)
Some Hollyhocks (alcea)
Canterbury bells (campanula medium)
Black Eyed Susans (rudbeckia subtomentosa)
Queen Anne’s Lace (daucus carota)
So if the plant you bought didn’t flower last year and just sat around getting fat; it might be a biennial. Look it up.
How to keep biennials straight from annuals? Remember, in school, annuals only come out once a year. Think of Biennials as a very small school, so small, that they save time and money and only come out with one every two years. Every other year, with a big beautiful display for the bi-annual yearbook.
Don’t forget I’m truly happy to field any question just send me a pic and sharing is caring. There is a pin-able image below.
Get out there and get some flavor in your life and do something nutty!