A Guide to Plant Lifespans

A Guide to Plant Lifespans

A Guide to Plant Lifespans

Every plant has a unique lifespan determined by its biology. Some only live for a couple of months, while others can live for thousands of years. Different terminologies exist to describe these lifespans but typically include the following;

+ Annuals
+ Biennials
+ Short-lived perennials
+ Long-lived perennials

Within each of these classifications there may be further categories that horticulturalists and botanists use to describe a particular growth tendency. In this article, we will discuss a bit about these lifespans and the plants that fall into these categories

Clarifying The Terminology

In simple terms, annuals grow for one year, biennials for two years, and perennials grow for more than 2 years. While these terms are straightforward, they may not always be so clean-cut and may vary depending on the context. For example, tomatoes are typically cultivated as annuals in temperate climates, while in tropical climates they can be cultivated as biennials or short-lived perennials.

It’s also important to consider that in some contexts these terms are used to describe the lifespans of these plants in cultivation. For example, potatoes are perennial in nature and can survive in a single place for years without issue. Even still, potatoes are considered an “annual crop” because of the way they are cultivated.

Annuals and Biennials

Annuals

Annuals are short-lived and only grown for one season. This can range from lifespans as short as 45 days to 9-12 months. This really depends on the plant species and climate. Tender annuals are usually planted in the spring or summer and harvested before the last frost. Hardy annuals are frost tolerant and can grow through the winter season. Some plants like corn may take 9 months in cooler climates while in a warm climate can complete their life cycle in 3-4 months.

Biennials

Biennials are plants that require 2 growing seasons to reach maturity and produce seeds. Many plants are biennials in nature but grow as “annual crops”. Biennials are typically planted in the spring, grow during winter, and then will produce seed the following spring or summer. If you want to save seed from biennials then you must consider that it takes two seasons! This may mean not picking the crop when it would otherwise be ideal for consumption and letting it grow until it produces seed.

Perennials

Perennials can be classified in a number of ways. When describing their lifespans the terms “short-lived” and “long-lived” are typically used. When describing their growth pattern “woody perennials” and “herbaceous perennials” are used.

+ Woody Perennials are plants that develop woody stems. These typically get larger year after year and do not die back to an underground rhizome, tuber, or bulb. All trees and most shrubs are woody perennials.

+ Herbaceous Perennials do not develop woody stems and typically die back to an underground rhizome, tuber, or bulb. In temperate climates, these plants usually die back during the winter. For tropical species (occasionally for temperate species) there are a number of plants, like those in the ginger family, that may die back once plants are ready to harvest.

Short-Lived Perennials

Short-lived perennials are typically classified as plants that grow from 3-10 years of age. The lifespans of these plants can vary depending on the climate and care given to the plant. Many short-lived perennials greatly reduce their productivity towards the end of their lives and may become susceptible to disease. Most growers and gardeners remove these plants once productivity drops to reduce the incidence of diseases.

Long-Lived Perennials

Given proper conditions, long-lived perennials can live for decades and in some cases even centuries. Almost all tree species are long-lived perennials, although there are also countless shrubs and herbaceous plants that are long-lived. Proper care is important to ensuring productivity with these species and many will lose productivity with time.

Fruits & Vegetables Lifespan Time Till Harvest Additional Notes
Radishes Annual 40-50 Days
Squash Annual 60-90 Days
Lettuce Annual 50-70 Days
Cucumbers Annual 60-70 Days
Okra Annual 45-60 Days
Beans Annual 60-90 Days
Tomatoes Annual 85 Days

Can be grown as a short-lived perennial in tropical climates

Corn Annual 90-120 Days

 

Potatoes Annual 90-120 Days Technically a perennial, but usually grown as an annual crop.
Spinach Annual 90-120 Days
Eggplants Annual 100-120 Days Can be grown as a short-lived perennials in tropical climates.
Beets Biennial 50-60 Days
Carrots Biennial 80-100 Days
Kale Biennial 60-90 Days
Kohlrabi Biennial 60-90 Days
Onions Biennial 120 Days
Parsley Biennial 60-75 Days
Endive Biennial 75-90 Days
Turnips Biennial 100 Days
Rhubarb Short-Lived Perennial +1 Year
Asparagus Short-Lived Perennial +1 Year
Chives Short-Lived Perennial  120 Days
Jerusalem Artichoke Short-Lived Perennial 90-120 Days
Horseradish Short-Lived Perennial 90-120 Days
Oranges Long-Lived Perennial 3-5 Years
Apples Long-Lived Perennial 5-8 Years
Avocado Long-Lived Perennial 5-7 Years
Lime Long-Lived Perennial 3-5 Years
Pear Long-Lived Perennial 5-8 Years
Ginger Long-Lived Perennial 8-10 Months
Grapes Long-Lived Perennial 2-3 Years
Blueberries Long-Lived Perennial 2-3 Years
Apricot Long-Lived Perennial 3-5 Years

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