What your (L)atitude Determines

Your latitude determines how long your growing season is.

Now, why is that important?

You are going to have to wait 28 days from the time you plant a radish seed to get to eat a radish.  Spinach takes about 45 days before you can pick it.  If you are hungry for watermelon, you will have to wait at least 80-90 days, and more likely 100-110 days.  You have to wait for the ground to be warm before you can even plant the seeds.

It is very important that you understand how long your season is and how much time you have left to grow your watermelon.  Timing is everything.

So how do you figure this out?

I’m going to tell you!

First you need to hunt down your last expected spring frost date.  The long standing tradition is to check the good Old Farmer’s Almanac.  You can also check another almanac, Farmer’s Almanac.

I had a hard time finding one link for the National Weather Service, but you can poke around and probably find some more accurate information there.

This will take you to a page that lists the last date for spring frost for your state.  Just click on your state and it will list several large cities.  It also lists the first date for autumn frost for your state  The difference between the two gives you an idea of how long your growing season will be.

I put in my zip code in Missouri and the Old Farmer’s Almanac shows this:

TRUMAN DAM & RSVR, MO Apr 19 Oct 19 182 days

I’m going to estimate my first fall frost as 10/30 and my last spring frost as 4/19.

This last spring frost date seems a little off to me.  I have completely lost my first planting of tomatos to a hard frost on May 2nd.  So I will probably wait past April 19 to put in my warm loving seeds.  You just have to guess depending on what your weather is doing each year.

Based on my records, if I wait and plant after May 2,  I still have plenty of time to grow watermelons, or popcorn, or just about any regular vegetable.

Now for places farther north, like where my mom was from, White Bear Lake, Minnesota.  It lists St. Paul frost dates:

ST PAUL, MN May 5 Oct 2 149 days

Last and first frost dates are 30% probability. Calculated using 1981-2010 Climate No

If you live there, you have to give your soil a little longer to warm up, which means you are going to be rushing to get 100 or 110 days out of your growing season.  You will have to plan very well and look for shorter season varieties to make sure you can sink your teeth in a juicy watermelon of your own making!

Calculating planting dates for Fall planting.

Now, if you want to plant a fall crop of lettuce or spinach, all you need is your first fall frost date.  Count back from that to know when is a good time to think about planting.

For Missouri, I would use 10/30 and count back 45 days.  That puts me about the middle of September.  That sounds about right.  It is finally starting to cool down some then.

If it looks like it will frost closer to the estimated date of 10/19, I can protect my plants on the cool nights by covering with a sheet or some frost fabric.  That will help me extend my harvest into the first part of November.  I know most nights are still warm enough not to freeze those cold hardy crops.

Would you like a worksheet to help you figure out where you are in the growing season and what you have time to plant now?  Sign up for my newsletter below to get the perfect worksheet!

 

 

 

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Best Seed Starting Temperature

Are you a newbie gardener and don't know what the BEST SEED STARTING TEMPERATURE is for your new seeds?

Have I got the PERFECT thing for you.

I made a list that shows the best seed starting temperature, or my fancy title, Optimum Germination Temperatures, for the most common veggies!

pile of green bean seeds

 

Are you excited?  Confused?  What does this mean for you?

This means that you can follow the weather where you live.

It doesn't matter if you are in Minnesota, California, South Carolina, or Timbuktu.  YOU will know exactly when is the best time to put your precious seeds in the ground.

Now are you excited?

I made my list in alphabetical order...maybe I should make another by temperature instead (note to self.  You will have to remind me because I will forget where I put the note.)

pen with reminder note

 

 

You will see some seeds prefer cooler temperatures.  These are the traditional spring crops like lettuce, kale, and spinach.  They can also be planted in the fall when temperatures cool down.  With the Optimum Germination Temperature list, you will be able to know the exact times to plant.

Some seeds need a sweater in those conditions.  They will have a very hard, if not impossible time, getting started.  I'm thinking of the summer crops like tomatoes and peppers.  Green beans, cucumbers and corn all fall in that range too.

So check it out!  You will be signing up for my email list where you will learn how to get a sample of FREE SEEDS so you can get started right away.

I ask for the two letter abbreviation of what state you are in so I will know what your weather is.  I can then customize what updates you get for where you are.

Now are you excited?

 

Optimum Germination Temperature

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GOOD BUG vs. BAD BUG – March installment

I hope you caught the earlier editions of this new series, GOOD BUG vs. BAD BUG.  If not, you can catch up here:  January Good Bug vs Bad Bug

February Good Bug vs Bad Bug

Bug vs Bug, Cabbage looper vs Parasitic Wasp

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The way to play is I will show you two pictures.  One is a “good” bug, one is a “bad” bug.  If you are not familiar with my attitude towards bugs, you can read my disclaimer here:  April’s Bug Beliefs’

You try to guess which one is good, and which one is bad….just by looking at the pictures.

Cabbage looper

Parasitic wasp by Esin Ustur.

BAD BUG – Cabbage looper #1

This is what I commonly think of as an inch worm.  They really don’t look very threatening, do they?  But you normally do not just have one.  You have 101 of these little buggers on your cabbage plant.   Each moth can lay 25-50 eggs per day.

When they hatch, they start munching on your cabbage, broccoli, or even kale plant.   They mostly zero in on cruciferous or brassica plants.

I think they are kinda cute looking, so I don’t have much bad to say about this BAD BUG.

GOOD BUG – Parasitic Wasp #2

Parasitic wasp does not sound very promising, does it?  Sounds downright creepy to me.  But they are very, very useful in the garden.  You should be happy every time you see them buzzing around.

The way these benefit you is they look for host insects to either lay their eggs in or on.  The eggs hatch and have an instant buffet available.

Some parasitic wasps are very specific and only attack spiders.  I bet some of you are cheering right now!

When I was looking for the pictures I wanted to use, I ran into a SUPER cool article about how after a wasp lays eggs in a caterpillar, the caterpillar’s saliva changes.

The difference in the saliva affects the plant and makes it less attractive to other moths.  This is FASCINATING stuff…and goes to show you that there is always more going on than we have a clue about.  You can check out this Science Daily article yourself.

Know someone else that needs to grow their own food?  Shoot them an email telling them about me, please!

 

Posted by BSGApril in BUG vs. BUG, Bugs, 0 comments

GOOD BUG vs. BAD BUG – Feb Installment

I hope you caught the January edition of this new series, GOOD BUG vs. BAD BUG.  If not, you can catch up here:  January Good Bug vs Bad bug

Bug vs Bug, Tomato Hornworm vs Monarch

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The way to play is I will show you two pictures.  One is a “good” bug, one is a “bad” bug.  If you are not familiar with my attitude towards bugs, you can read my disclaimer here:  April’s Bug Beliefs

On to the game – take a good look.

Bad Bug Tomato Hornworm

Good Bug Monarch caterpillar

Here are two caterpillars

The first one is a Manduca quinquemaculata.  The second is a Danaus plexippus.  Kinda hard to tell without the common names, isn’t it.  Sorry.  The common name will make it tooooo easy.

No. 1 is a tomato hornworm.  No. 2 is the larvae for the monarch butterfly.

BAD BUG – Tomato hornworm

The hornworm can strip a tomato plant very rapidly of almost all of the leaves.  So for this instance, I am calling the hornworm the BAD BUGYou don’t notice it until you find some leaves half gone.   I have to really look and look to find them.

After you find the first one, your eyes become more accustomed to them, and it gets easier.  The hornworm blends in fantastically with the stems of the tomato.

The hornworms are full grown in three to four weeks.  The larvae drop off the plant and burrow into the soil to pupate.  Neat, huh?

I’m not scared of bugs, but I don’t really like touching these caterpillars.  Especially when they get about the size of my pinky.  But I do touch them.  I pick them off and fling them as far as I can.  It’s not the recommended method.  The usual recommendation is to plop them into soapy water.  That is probably the humane way.  Learn more about tomato hornworms here.

When I find them, I don’t have a soapy bucket of water handy.  I’m usually hot and cranky by the time I find that hidden sucker and it goes flying!  Then the next and the next.  Not very lady like of me, I know.  The words coming out of my mouth aren’t very lady like either.

I don’t have the heart to outright kill the caterpillars because they turn into the Five spotted hawk moth.

Five spotted hawk moth in a handThese moths fly around at night and feed on flower nectar.  This moth pollinates different plants, so it is also a GOOD BUG, kindof.   I have a love/hate relationship with this bug.

GOOD BUG – Monarch

In this example the monarch turns out to be the GOOD BUG. It behaves in basically the same way as the hornworm.  It eats and eats and eats until it becomes a butterfly.  The difference is it likes to eat milkweed.  I don’t.  So we don’t argue.

The monarch has become sort of famous recently, but not in a good way.  The North American population has been dwindling. 

I’m proud to say Missouri has partnered with Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota and Texas to make Interstate 35 the Monarch Highway. Many state departments, city governments and private organizations are working to plant milkweed and other pollinator friendly gardens to help the monarch on it’s migration to Mexico every year where the butterflies cover hectares of land.  One hectare equals almost 2.5 acres.  So for the 2016-2017 winter season, there were approximately seven acres of butterflies.

monarch population by year

The monarch butterfly acts as a pollinator for many different varieties of wild and domestic flowers.  So they are important to gardening also.

Do you want to help the Monarchs?

Monarch Watch.org is a good resource to start at.  I subscribe to their email list and get updates on monarch migration and happenings in the monarch world.  They have links to buy plants to draw monarchs to your yard.  Give it a look!

Posted by BSGApril in BUG vs. BUG, Bugs, 0 comments

How to Become a Seed Catalog Expert

You can become a seed catalog expert.  You have to apply yourself for hours and hours.  It can be butt deadening work, but someone has to do it!

How your training starts

January 1st marks the beginning of the new year.  It’s a time for fresh starts.  There is expectation and hope around the corner.  It is a time for dreaming and scheming.

But for my partner, it is the time of awkward abandonment.  The time of long silence and cold suppers.

Seed catalogs start rolling in.  I take this part of the year VERY SERIOUSLY.  I am not playing.

After gardening as many years as I have, new things are exciting.  I have always been drawn to the weird and unusual.  I want to try something different.  Maybe this will be the year to try growing cardoon?

In my normal life, I run kind of willy-nilly.  There is not much of a rhyme or reason.  I am not a big fan of schedules or rules.

BUT… at seed catalog time, that all changes!  I get my colored highlighters (got to have all the colors), sticky notes and mini notepads all organized.  This is serious shit!

I write in the catalogs.  I circle all the specimens that sound promising.  Later I will come back and analyze the descriptions to figure out if each prospective new addition really is as good as it sounds.  Or do I call bullshit?  It is tricky work.

I take this sooooo serious.  I get teased and cajoled to leave my self-imposed homework, but I cannot be swayed.  Time is a-wastin!  One common compliant is,  “Haven’t you looked at that already three times?”

Here is my EXACT method to become a seed catalog expert:

1.  Order new catalogs AS SOON AS YOU LEARN ABOUT THEM, or you might forget.

2.  Gather all supplies and catalogs together in a basket so you are perfectly mobile.  You can work in any room of your house, your mother’s house, the library or the car.

3.  Read through the seed catalogs one at a time.

It is perfectly acceptable to skip the varieties you have already tried.  Analyze descriptions of items that are new or previously ignored because last year you didn’t like spinach.

4.  Highlight any significant words you are looking for.  Heat tolerant, cold tolerant, slow to bolt, low water, high sugar content, especially delicious…these are a few that I can think of.

5.  Circle any descriptions that sound promising.  This is fast and messy.  It is not the final determination.  You are just singling out the promising ones.

6.  Use sticky notes as a tab to mark pages that you want to start your ordering with.  I recommend the early season varieties, or maybe you are a tomato lover.  The most important ones for your taste.

7.  Now it gets tricky…look at your budget.  First of all, what do you have to work with?  I don’t smoke, or drink.  Gardening is my vice and I have to give myself a budget.

This is a lie.  I have been known to go kinda crazy in the seed aisle at any and all stores I go into.

If they have unusual flower seeds, I have no control.  They are only a couple of dollars, but if you have 30 of them clutched to your chest like Your Precious, well, then, that’s $100.

Because of this, I make a detailed list of priorities.  The early season cr0ps get listed first.  I draw stars by the ones I can’t live without.

You do not have to order all your seeds at once.  I very many times have divided my orders up between paychecks.

The earlier you can order, the better off you will be.  By March and April, the seed companies are SUPER busy, and it will take longer to get your orders.

Make a plan, and stick to your plan.  Almost all seed catalogs allow you to order online to speed up the process.

8.  Now sit back, relax, and wait for goodies in the mail!  Everyone loves goodies in the mail.  And for gosh sakes, cook some dinner!

Perhaps I should publish the new things that make the cut.  We could all try the newbies out together and compare our notes.

Let me know if you would like to be in on that list!

 

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GOOD BUG vs. BAD BUG – January installment

Learn if the bug in your garden is a good bug or a bad bug.

When you are new to gardening, how do you know if that pretty little green bug whirling around your head is a GOOD BUG or a BAD BUG?

Aphid vs. Ladybug Which is the good bug and which is the bad bug?

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I have very few BAD BUGS in my area that I worry about except the dreaded SQUASH BUG.  But that is a story for this summer.

When you are just starting to garden, you want to protect your cute little sprouts from every bad thing.  Sometimes the bad things are bugs. No bug is really bad.  We just don’t like some of their behavior.

Today I am going to show you a couple of pictures.  See if you can guess which is the GOOD BUG and which is the BAD BUG.

Good Bug Ladybug on a habernero plantBad Bug Single Aphid by Andy Murray

The red bug is a classic ladybug. The green bug is an aphid.  This is an extreme closeup of an aphid.

BAD BUG – Aphid

Normally you will see aphids in groups.  Aphids will suck the life out of your precious plants.  They are also called plant lice. (Yuck)

Part of the reason aphids create so many problems is they are able to reproduce very quickly sexually and asexually.  You can read more here about these pesky pests.

Group of aphids

Now when you see this on your plant, you will know it’s time to take some measures to save your plants.  As with everything in nature, it will correct itself in time.

To help things along you can squirt some soapy water on them.  Just dilute a few teaspoons of dish soap in a small bucket of lukewarm water and use a sponge or spray bottle to coat them.  You are trying for a 2-3% solution.  A little dab will do you.  Do not coat the entire plant.  Just spray where you see the bugs.  The sudsy water has to make contact.

GOOD BUG – Ladybug

In this example, the ladybug is the GOOD BUG.  They actually eat aphids.   Ladybugs will even lay their eggs in a colony of aphids to ensure the ladybug babies have something to eat.

They are called ladybirds in Britain and occur all over the world.  Not all ladybugs are red and some can actually damage plants.  Here is some more info about ladybugs.

The natural approach would be to wait until ladybugs show up.  You can also purchase ladybugs to release in your garden.

Yay, ladybugs!

Stay tuned for the next installment of GOOD BUG vs. BAD BUG.

Do you know anyone else that is interested in learning to grow their own food?  Please send this to them!

Posted by BSGApril in BUG vs. BUG, Bugs, 0 comments

A Flower Freak is born – or how I started gardening.

Stick with me here.  I need to set the scene.

It all began in San Fransisco, 1965.  A Minnesota woman and a Missouri man.

This is the year it first became legal for married couples to use contraception.   Think about that for a minute.  I didn’t even know it was ever illegal.  I know the pill came into being in the 60’s, but I didn’t know it was actually illegal.

Civil rights were being fought for.  Men walked in space for the first time.  The Vietnam war was starting.  The mini skirt made it’s debut. The world was in upheaval.

That time period in California was for expanding consciousness and loving everyone.  San Fransisco was the incubator for HIPPIES!

My dad believed it was the beginning of the period of drugs, sex, and rock and roll.  No place to be raising kids.

My mom, well she loved my dad.  So around the time I was four, off to Missouri we moved.

My dad supported his family when we got to Missouri as a hog farmer until about 1972.  The bottom dropped out of the market and my dad went back to surveying.  He worked for someone else, then eventually struck out on his own surveying around Truman Lake.

Surveying is a rugged profession.  You are out in the weather in Missouri.  There is blistering heat in the summer with outrageous humidity.  The winters are not much fun either.  Snow doesn’t usually last but a couple of days, then it melts.

But if you aren’t out in it, you aren’t getting paid.  So there are lots of days in long underwear and stocking hats with your nose running continuously.

The point of all this is my dad was what you would call a man’s man.  He was rugged and enjoyed man things.  He loved to build things.  He was an avid fisherman, tying his own flies.  We watched every mountain-man movie there was. Oh, and John Wayne.  My dad still loves every old western that comes on.

I know my dad kept a garden most of the time I was growing up.  I don’t remember being around that much.  I’m sure there were short stints where I was supposed to hoe, or I wouldn’t avoid it so much!  But actual memories of participating in planting or weeding or harvesting?  Not so much.

There was no little April on his knee learning planting with the moon wisdom.  No sage advise from an elder.   I never sat on the porch snapping beans with a grandmother.

My mother kept some house plants, but no interest in being out in the yard growing vegetables or flowers.

What I do remember is being in the bathroom looking at my dad’s choice of reading material.   There were Mother Earth News magazines and Organic Gardening.  Yep.  They have been around that long!  And these were the original Mother Earth News from the early days.   The cool ones!  Tons of information crammed in on newsprint type paper.

In researching this post, I discovered that Organic Gardening magazine does not exist anymore.  I am sad to learn that.  Rodale, the publisher, rebranded in  2015.  The new name is Rodale’s Organic Life.

I never questioned my dad’s interest in these magazines until I was an adult.   It is hard to reconcile my blue-collared dad subscribing to back-to-the-land hippy literature.  It was pretty unconventional in agricultural Missouri to be reading that organic stuff in the 70’s.

So I was not indoctrinated into gardening at a young age.  I tried my hand at house plants as a young mother, but was convinced I had a black thumb.  I would tell people that.  I was horrible at remembering to water my plants.

It all started with some concrete blocks my dad had.  I was living in a older trailer and I was trying to spiff things up.  He said I could use his concrete blocks and suggested I line them down my covered porch and plant flowers in them.  I was up for the challenge!

Those things are heavy!  I don’t remember where the dirt came from to fill them.  I guarantee I didn’t buy any.  By this time I had 3 kids and there wasn’t extra money for dirt.  I’m sure I bought the flowers in stages.

I lucked out and chose something that worked in shade.  It was a miracle, because I didn’t know ANYTHING!  I started with impatiens.  Pink impatiensWhich is funny now cuz they describe me to a T.  That may be why I chose them, for their funny name.

They are a shade-loving flower that are tough as rocks as long as you remember to water them.  I had a variety of colors and they brightened everything up.  Those flowers made me smile every time I pulled into the driveway of that ragtag trailer.

And awakened a gardening addiction.  An addiction that is nearly as bad as any drug problem or gambling addiction.  I cannot drive by a greenhouse without checking it out.  I buy seeds and horde them.

The next year we built a couple of raised beds and I planted some roses.  I tried growing some flowers from seed.  It was the 80’s and dried flowers were making a come-back.  So I grew straw flowers and statice.  You hardly ever see them anymore.

I wasn’t really too interested in growing vegetables until after my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  Then an alarm went off in my heart and I needed to make sure my kids didn’t eat all the chemicals that went into their store bought food.

Shortly after she passed away, we bought a small house and moved.  My dad also sold everything to help pay for her expenses and moved to Wyoming to be with the cowboys and mountain men.

I was super excited about having a garden in the back yard.  For my birthday in April, my husband rented a tiller and tilled up the whole back yard.

I had gigantic plans.  I also had gigantic trees lining both sides of our narrow yard that leafed out in May.  I tried valiantly to grow tomatoes and peppers in the shade.  Take it from me, it doesn’t work near as well as I wanted it to.

After that, I moved my garden to the front yard.  Now it is more common.  But in the 90’s in middle America, I raised some eyebrows.  But I didn’t care.  Gardening makes my soul glow.  Try and stop me!

I’ve since moved on and gardened in more backyards, side yards, and front yards.  I’ve battled deer, racoon, groundhogs, squirrels, birds,  and turtles.  Yes, turtles.  And they all won.

And I have cried, and cussed.  Oh my goodness, I have cussed.  Still, there is nothing more I would rather do.  The next day I am out there with my hands in the dirt and my ears full of bird song.

My wish is that you try it too!  Like every other thing out there that’s worth doing, it ain’t easy.  But it is soooo worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by BSGApril, 0 comments

July is a GREAT time to start gardening!

Whhhhaaat?

July is the beginning of high summer heat and humidity here in the Midwest.  July is probably pretty warm everywhere.  So why do I think it is a good month to start gardening?

Now is the time when most gardeners give up, or at least slow down a whole lot.  Garden shops and departments are slowing down.  Most greenhouses have shut down.  How are you supposed to start gardening?

I’m talking SALES here, people!!!

Garden departments are at the end of their season.  They want to get rid of everything so they can stay in the air conditioning and sip iced tea.  Tools do not usually go on sale, but you can be stocking up on potting soil, compost and other amendments.

Perennial flowers are past their prime and looking pretty scraggly and are deeply discounted.  You can bring them back from death’s doorstep with some love and care.

Now is also a good time to look for bird baths, pots, and garden art.

If tools are what you need, I would suggest auctions and yard sales.  If you were trying to buy long handled tools like shovels, hoes and rakes in the spring, the prices can run high.  But now, the July heat muddles peoples senses and they don’t care if that shovel just sold for $1.

July is also the time to start thinking of prepping your new garden plot.  Scope out a site with at least 6 hours of sunshine.

You need to kill the grass.  Here in Missouri the grass is getting dry and withering from lack of rain.  This should make it easier to finish it off.  Gather all the cardboard you can scrounge and place it where you want your garden.  The more layers, the better.  You can start with one layer now, and add more as you find it. 

You need to weight the cardboard down so the wind doesn’t carry it away.  You can use rocks, concrete blocks, trash cans, logs, old toys.  What ever is available.  Here we are using fence posts.

Next spring you will have a really nice place to grow your fresh veggies!!!

Oh, and keep your eyes out around Halloween.  All those straw bales your neighbors are using for decorations?  Let them know you will be happy to haul those off for them.  Straw makes excellent mulch to save you from watering so much.  It will save you time and money.  Cha-ching!

 

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Should you know your plant hardiness zone?

Sounds like a pretty important thing, doesn’t it?

It depends on what you are planning on growing.

Growing a vegetable garden is completed in one growing season.  Plant hardiness is only an issue if you are keeping plants over the winter.  This is one less thing you have to worry about when you are just getting started.

The plant hardiness zone map, shown below, is important for determining if the perennial you are planting will survive the winter where you live.  The PERENNIAL you are planting.

Plant hardiness map

Temperature zones

Now, if you want to come over to the dark side, and see if you can resist the power of flowers, click the map to go to the USDA plant hardiness website and find your zone.

Not sure of your zone?  What if you are on the line of two zones?

Then you should join the rest of the tribe in The Gardening Circle.

 

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How to remember what a perennial is.

There are so many questions for a new gardener.  One of my main was what is a perennial and why do I care?

I remember them this way…Perennials Provide Plenty of Plants.   Say it a couple of times.

Annuals – one and done.

The benefits of annuals are that for a couple of bucks you can have a whole row of yummy goodness.  They produce seeds that you can use for years to come.  Not a bad investment.

The benefits of perennials are that you get a head start on your harvest, whether it is flowers or vegetables.  They can cost anywhere from two to seven or eight times as much as a pack of seeds and you only get one plant.  But next year it will be bigger, or there will be two or more if you are taking good care of them.

Vegetables are mainly annuals.  You will have to start new plants every year.  The main perennial vegetables are asparagus and rhubarb.  You do a good job planting these and they will reward you for years to come.

There are three generally recognized plant groups.

  1.  Annuals – Plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season.  They produce a flower and then a seed.  You gather the seed, store them, and then plant them the following year.
  2. Bienniels – Plants that grow for one season and spend the winter sleeping.  They wait until the second season to produce their flower and produce seeds.  My favorite of these is foxglove.  There are newer varieties that will flower the first year, but I have not tried them yet.
  3. Perennials – Plants that survive the weather in winter and come back from an original planting for many years.  They will produce babies or spread their roots so you will gradually build up more and more plants.  They also produce seeds that you can grow plants from so you get a double whammy!

Do you want to dig in deeper?  Here is what Wikipedia has to say.

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