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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Some plants survive just one year, others come back for decades

Foxgloves are a biennial that grows a cluster of grayish green leaves its first year followed by a tall stalk of tubular flowers its second year. Let the flower stalk dry on the plant and scatter the seeds to perpetuate the planting.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
Foxgloves are a biennial that grows a cluster of grayish green leaves its first year followed by a tall stalk of tubular flowers its second year. Let the flower stalk dry on the plant and scatter the seeds to perpetuate the planting. (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

The terms, annual, biennial and perennial can be confusing to new gardeners.

Annuals are plants that grow their leaves, flower and then die completely in the fall. They may produce seed that will sprout the next summer, but it is unpredictable at best. Plants that might be perennial in warmer climates are often grown here as annuals and will have to be replaced every year.

Perennials are plants that are cold hardy and come back every spring. Some perennials have life spans into decades while others are a bit more short-lived and die out after a few years. This might mean a little garden planning, but most good gardening books and databases can tell you which ones will fall in which category.

Biennials are plants that grow leaves and roots the first year, go dormant over the winter and then flower their second summer and die. Many of these plants will produce viable seed at the end of their flowering which falls to the ground and sprouts the next spring. Over time, this cycle will perpetuate the plants in the garden.

So, what are some of the most common biennials we often plant in our gardens?

Foxglove or digitalis starts out the first year as a bushy rosette of soft, fuzzy, grayish green leaves. The second year, it will send up a three- to four-flower spike with long, drooping, tubular flowers. The flowers come in shades of red, pink, yellow, white and purple. The inside lip of the flower is often speckled with a darker color. Foxgloves thrive in full sun to part shade. To perpetuate the planting cut the flower stalks in the fall and shake the seeds out onto the ground. Don’t try to cover them with soil, the winter freeze and thaw cycles will take care of that.

Money plant or honesty was very popular during the early part of the 1900s. In the older parts of Spokane’s South Hill, drifts of money plant can still be found as leftovers from the city’s early estate gardens. Like foxglove, money plant sends up its flower stalk of dainty purple flowers. The seed pod produced after flowering is a flat disc that dries to a silvery papery appearance, hence the name money plant. The seed heads can be rubbed after they dry to scatter the seed. The dried seed pods can also be used in arrangements.

Hollyhocks are another old favorite of Victorian gardens. Their second year they send up a 4-to-6-foot flower stalk with rows of ruffled, flat flowers in shades of blue, pink, purple, red, white, yellow and even black. There are some taller varieties that can get to 9 feet tall. One variety is even called outhouse hollyhock because it was used to camouflage the outhouse. Again, scatter the seeds in the fall.

Most of the biennials you find in the nurseries will be in their second year, so scatter seed and buy more plants next spring to have flowers every year.

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Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com

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