With so many different types of grass seed on the market, it’s often hard for homeowners to decide what style works best for their yard and climate zone.
If you’re not sure of the difference between annual and perennial grass seeds, we’ll walk you through all of their differences and similarities and ultimately help you decide which is right for you.
The main difference between annual and perennial grass seeds is their growing cycle. Annual grasses complete an entire life cycle within a single year. In contrast, perennial grasses have longer life cycles and will return for several years without replanting (usually anywhere from 2 to 5 years).
Read on to learn about the more nuanced differences between these two types of grass seeds.
What’s the Difference Between Annual And Perennial Grass Seed?
Check out this table for the main differences between the two, and then look at the rest of the section for more details.
|Element||Annual Grasses||Perennial Grasses|
|Lifespan||One year||3-5 years|
|Reproduction||Seeds only||Seeds and Vegetation|
|Cost||Higher to replace every year||Saves money over time|
|Maintenance||Requires work to plant and save||Hands off once planted|
|Speed Of Growth||Fast||Slow|
As we briefly mentioned above, the most significant differences between annual and perennial seeds mainly have to do with the lengths of their growth cycles and the plants’ reproduction methods.
As their name suggests, annual seeds have a life cycle of only a single year.
This means you have to plant them during a specific season (usually in the spring or early summer), allow them to germinate and grow.
Then they die off permanently (usually in the following late winter or early spring) once their life cycle is complete.
Annual seeds must be replanted yearly if you want to maintain them for an extended period.
On the other hand, perennial seeds generally have a life cycle of anywhere from around 2 to 5 years.
This means you plant them during a particular season, they germinate and grow, and they return each year after a somewhat dormant period.
You don’t necessarily have to replant perennial seeds yearly, though many people opt to replant them every 2 to 3 years because, over time, the seeds’ yields sometimes diminish.
This means your perennial grass might not look as lush or vibrant in year three as it did in year one.
Some people will even combine annual and perennial grasses, using annual grasses to cover up some of the sparse spots as perennials become less vibrant over the years.
Another less noticeable difference between the two is how the seeds reproduce.
Annual seeds are only able to reproduce via seeds, while perennial seeds have two ways to reproduce: by seed and vegetatively.
Vegetative reproduction is a type of asexual reproduction where a plant can regrow from a small fragment or piece of its parent plant.
This type of reproduction is especially beneficial for perennial grasses, as they will produce more grass of identical quality as the original grass year after year.
Cost And Maintenance
Another critical difference between annual and perennial grasses is the financial cost of maintaining them.
Generally, perennial grasses are cheaper to grow and maintain, as you only need to replant them every few years.
However, they also grow a lot slower than annual grasses, so keep this in mind if you’re looking to quickly and easily fill in sparse areas in your yard.
There are both warm and cool-season perennial and annual grass seeds, so you should be able to find something which suits both your climate zone and personal preferences.
For example, if you live in a warmer climate, great perennial warm-season grasses, such as bermudagrass and Bahia grass.
Still, a couple of annuals grow just as well, such as annual ryegrass and crabgrass.
Should You Use Annual Or Perennial Grass Seed?
You now know some of the fundamental differences between annual and perennial grass seeds, but you might still be on the fence when it comes to which one you want to use for your lawn.
There are plenty of questions you should ask yourself as far as upkeep, cost, appearance, where you live, and more.
First, consider the cost of annual versus perennial grass seed.
Overall, annual grasses are usually a lot cheaper in the short term, as they are intended to only last for a single season.
However, it’s usually worth the extra initial investment for perennial seeds in the long term since they can grow back for anywhere from 2 to as many as 5 years.
Next, think about the amount of upkeep you’re willing to put into your lawn.
While any beautiful lawn takes a bit of maintenance, perennial grasses are best if you’re not looking to put time and effort into replanting the seeds every single year.
Annual grasses take much more upkeep to maintain since, they only last one year.
Additionally, are you looking for a grass that will grow very quickly, or are you willing to wait a bit longer for the seeds to germinate and fully mature in?
Since annual seeds have a far more rapid growth rate overall, they are best if you want to fill in drab and wilted areas of your lawn as quickly as possible.
However, if time isn’t an issue, perennial grass is probably a better choice.
Finally, another factor to keep in mind as far as maintenance goes is the grass’s hardiness, disease resistance, and drought tolerance.
In general, annual seeds are hardier, and many types of perennial grasses won’t grow well in cold northern regions with cold winters.
At the end of the day, which grass type you choose will depend on your answers to the above questions and which factors are most important.
Generally, though, we recommend perennial grasses if you’re willing to invest in less upkeep, while annual grasses are a bit better if you want to put in more maintenance and effort for a lower cost.
Best Types Of Annual Grasses
When it comes to annual grasses, you don’t have quite as many choices as perennial grasses, as most grasses are perennials.
However, the best options are the annual species of ryegrass and annual bluegrass.
Annual ryegrass tolerates a wide range of temperatures, though it won’t tolerate extreme heatwaves above 100° degrees Fahrenheit (38°C) or so very well.
It fares well in the winter before it reaches the end of its life cycle the following spring, growing very quickly.
Annual ryegrass also looks great and has a rich, bright green color.
Annual bluegrass is a similarly great choice, as it spreads very quickly, produces a lot of seeds, and has a vibrant light green color which looks great for most lawns.
It’s also very hardy, though this hardiness will be an issue if you ever want to remove it, as it is quite persistent for an annual grass.
Best Types Of Perennial Grasses
As far as perennial grasses go, you’re going to have many more choices than the annual grass varieties mentioned above.
Some of the best options here are bermuda grass, zoysia grass, and centipede grass for warm areas, while tall fescue, the perennial type of ryegrass, and bromegrass are great for cooler zones.
Bermuda grass is excellent for warm, humid regions thanks to its vibrant appearance, soft texture, and extreme heat tolerance in hot summers.
Something like zoysia is a bit better if you live in a still warm but slightly more temperate region since it tolerates cooler winters and the direct sunlight during hot summer months very well.
Alternatively, if you live in a very cold region, tall fescue (and most other types of fescue in general) is possibly one of your best options, as it is more hardy and able to handle harsh winters in northern climates fairly well.
If you want something great to walk on, check out our article on the best grass for bare feet.
Does Perennial Grass Seed Come Back Every Year?
Perennial grasses will usually grow back for at least two or three years, though many types can return for up to five years!
Some types will grow constantly throughout the season and will barely slow down in the winter.
Perennial grasses also tend to spread and fill in large spaces more easily and quickly since they have two reproduction methods compared to annual grasses’ single method.
However, as we briefly mentioned above, some people opt to replace their perennial grasses after only two years.
Over time, their overall yields will decrease, resulting in weaker, less colorful, and more sparse grass each consecutive year.
Is Perennial Or Annual Grass Seed More Hardy?
In general, perennial grasses tend to be hardier since they are meant to tolerate harsher winters, damage such as heavy foot traffic, and an overall wider range of temperatures.
After all, they return year after year.
On the other hand, Annuals are slightly more prone to climate damage and lawn diseases than perennial grass species because they aren’t meant to last more than one year with a fairly short growth cycle.
However, this will vary slightly depending on the specific type of grass you select.
Some annual grasses are fairly hardy, while certain perennials don’t tolerate certain climates very well.
The hardiness of your grass seed will primarily be tied to the type of grass and if it is compatible with your climate region rather than whether it is a perennial or an annual.
Again, you always have the option of using a blend of grass, both perennial and annual, to fill in certain areas while one is regrowing or dormant.