First Year Sleep

As I help my customers in the perennial section of the garden center, people often have questions about size and rate of growth. “I planted this last year and it didn’t do a thing!” is a comment I hear frequently.

miscanthusOn such occasions I am reminded of when I was a novice gardener starting a flowerbed. When I was ready to plant, I went to the nursery and picked out several perennials. On returning home, I read the labels to determine how high my selections would grow. Because their tags said they would reach three to four feet tall, I planted the Phlox and Bee Balm in the back of the garden.

But by the end of that first season, these plants only grew two feet tall. They were hidden by the perennials growing in the middle of the bed. Thinking that the tag must have been wrong, I decided to move them.

The following April I got out the shovel and transplanted the Phlox and Bee Balm to the middle of the border. And over the course of the summer they proceeded to grow …over three feet tall.

Contrary to their first season’s performance, these were indeed back-of-the-border plants. So the next year I was transplanting the poor things again, moving them back to their original location.

The third year the Phlox and Bee Balm grew to the predicted four feet, and the clump increased in diameter as well, despite the disruptions they had endured.

As I gained more experience with plants I learned that it’s not unusual for a perennial to be small its first season. Many plants take about three years to show what they can do; they need some time to settle into the garden. There is a saying that makes this easy to remember. It goes: “First year – sleep. Second year – creep. Third year – leap!”

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