The best flower buy appears obvious, the difference of 50 cents each or $6.00. But sometimes the cheapest choice is not the most frugal.
First, let's define "annual" and "perennial".
An annual plant is one that grows from seed, flowers, produces seed, and dies - all in one growing season.
A perennial plant grows from seed, possibly does not bloom the first year, but (as long as it is grown in it's preferred climate) will live through the winter to bloom in subsequent years.
The purchase of a perennial plant, as long as it does not die for various reasons, is a one time purchase. Some perennials are short lived and have a normal life span of 3-5 years but many perennials, with proper care, may outlive the one who planted them.
Frugal options for acquiring perennials
- Beg from friends. If you have a friend with a perennial flower bed, they probably have plants to share. I love when a friend compliments a flower and asks to have a piece. The other week, I got together with two friends and shared the extras from our gardens. Many of the plants in my bed hold memories of the friend who shared them with me.
- Price check. Even when purchasing plants from a garden center, prices vary widely. I noticed that one greenhouse in our area asks double the price for similar sized perennials. It pays to check out a few greenhouses before buying. (For those in the local area, I don't think I'm prejudiced to mention that the greenhouse where I worked before marriage has the best prices and selection of any place I've found.)
- Divide. The garden designers always say to plant in groupings of three or more. But I never buy more then one of a particular plant. It may take some patience but in a year or so, you'll be able to divide your first perennial into several plants. The only exception would be woody shrubby type perennials like lavender or caryopteris that is impossible to divide.
- Buy small. Garden centers often have various sizes of perennials. Purchasing smaller pots will not only be cheaper but smaller plants sometimes adjust better to transplanting. An exception would be if you can buy a larger pot and divide it right away into several plants.
- Start from seed. I would rarely suggest starting perennials from seed. Most of the best perennials, especially some of the newer long blooming perennials, are propagated by cuttings and not seed. For example, years ago, I wanted some shasta daisies. I bought a pack of seeds and successfully started about a dozen shasta daisies. They grew tall and beautiful, until they bloomed. The flowers lasted all of about a week and the stalks fell over into the dirt. I dug out all those plants and threw them into the compost pile. Then I tried a new shasta daisy called "Becky". This one cost about $5.00 for a large pot. "Becky" has a strong stem, it never needs staking, and it blooms most of the summer. That one $5.00 plant was divided and transplanted to several spots in my mom's yard. When I married, it came with me to this house where it formed several huge clumps. I have divided it many times and given plants to many friends and it is still growing lush. After stating the reasons NOT to grow perennials from seed, I would recommend it in some cases. Columbine, delphinium, and lupine all start well from seed. Since these three are also shorter lived perennials, it makes sense to start these from seed.