Understanding Plant Life Cycle

As we continue through this series, we’re sharing easily digestible pieces of information juxtaposed with different exercises to help you learn more about gardening. In our last article, we challenged you to answer some basic questions about gardening and encouraged you to think about your gardening style. Continue working on that process as we introduce more information.

You may have grown up gardening or have a vague recollection of studying plants in grade school. One thing is for certain, understanding plant lifecycle is an essential part of gardening. Let’s take a closer look.

The Plant Life Cycle

Because plants are alive, they grow, reproduce and die just like other living things. They start with seeds. The seeds have an embryo full of nutrients that help them grow. Seeds have a protective coating to keep them safe as they’re picked up by the wind, rivers, animals, and humans – and end up on the ground.

When the conditions including water, temperature, oxygen, light, and soil are right, the seeds germinate or sprout. The first sign of plant life is called a seedling.

Healthy seedlings grow to maturity, build strong roots, grow leaves and flowers and make pollen. Pollen is a powdery substance that feeds the bees and makes us sneeze. Pollen is basically a plant’s sperm that sits inside the anther or male part of the plant.


When pollen lands on a plant’s stigma (female part of the plant), the receptive tip of a plant, the pollen travels down the pollen tube into the plant’s ovary which contains ovules. Each ovule develops into a seed. When newly produced seeds get dispersed, more plants grow and the cycle continues.

It sounds easy but there’s more. In order for the pollen to reach the stigma, a process called pollination – pollinators are required.

Between 75-95% of plants need help pollinating. Pollinators are animals that move the pollen to the plant’s stigma. Examples of pollinators are birds, butterflies, bats, flies, beetles, wasps, small animals, and bees. This is one reason why biodiversity is important and why we need to be careful about what we spray on our lawns and gardens. (Note: 80% of what we eat globally is dependent upon this process. That’s a big deal.)

Length of Plant Lifecycle

Now that you know a bit about the plant life cycle, it’s important to talk about its length. Why? It impacts what you choose to grow. When you show up at the garden center or buy a packet of seeds online, you’re going to see plants categorized by their life cycle.

Annuals are fast-growing, quick flowering plants. Annuals grow, flower, make new seeds and die in less than a year. Many annuals complete this lifecycle several times a year, making them a perfect choice for those who want a constant supply of flowers and vegetables. They come back again and again. The British call these flowers ‘cut and come again’. Zinnias and corn are an example of annuals.

Biennials are plants that take two years to complete their lifecycle. They grow in their first year and flower in their second year. Parsley and hollyhocks are examples of biennials. These are great plants that require a bit more patience.

Perennials are plants that come back year after year. They bloom in the spring and summer. They die back in the winter and return again when the earth warms up. Lavender and asparagus are examples of perennials. If you’re looking for relatively low maintenance plants to fill your garden, perennial plants work well.

As you can see, each choice has it’s own pro’s and cons. Do keep in mind that annuals are a great choice for learning to grow from seeds. This why our next article will teach you How to Grow Plants from Seeds. It’s good to think and practice while you’re learning.

That’s all for now. Keep working on identifying your gardening style. Pin pictures of colors, styles, and layouts that you’ll love. Your work will come in handy later.

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Have a great day!

Prior Articles in this Series:

  1. Gardening for Beginners: An Introduction
  2. Basic Questions for Beginning Gardeners
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