Sleep, Creep, Leap: How Perennials Grow

When you go on as many landscape consulting calls I do, you start to hear many of the same questions and concerns come up on a regular basis. One concern in particular I hear is from gardeners with new installments of perennial plants that don’t seem to be taking off very well. For those instances, I introduce gardeners to the concept of “sleep, creep, and leap,” which is an old gardening saying that explains how newly planted perennials establish and grow in their new home. 

Sleep, creep leap

When you first plant perennials, they seem to “sleep” through the first season. You won’t see much above ground growth or blooms. This is because they are doing all of the work below ground to establish in their new home. The first season in the ground they spend establishing a foundational root system and getting fully grounded in their new home. 

In the second season they start to “creep.” Their above-ground growth will begin to stretch and grow–a little. That is because they are still putting most of their energy into establishing a root system and getting secure in their new home. 

Then the next season rolls around and boom! They grow in leaps and bounds. Suddenly a tiny little 4 inch plant has spread out to cover a four or even twelve foot radius. Then your problem shifts from is “it going to survive” to “how do I keep it contained?”

sleep, creep, leap perennial growth habit

The way in which perennials grow reinforces a core tenet of gardening—patience. When you first install a new garden, the initial months or even years are about tending to the space and investing in its future knowing that soon it will suddenly explode into a sea of lush foliage and color. You can’t rush nature. But you can do a few things to help her along.

For flowering perennials I always add regular applications of Color Essentials by Medina to encourage blooms and above ground growth. Not only does it ensure I have a steady stream of color in my yard, the above ground growth increase the amount of surface area engaged in photosynthesis, thus producing much need food for root development and plant strength.

For my foliage focused plants I use Medina Hasta Gro or any of their other balanced fertilizers. I tend to refrain from heavy trimming until the plants are established, pruning only when necessary for form and health. They often need a little extra water the first year too. However I still follow the rule of deep, infrequent watering to encourage a deep root system that can withstand drought and heavy winds.

Most of all, I focus on enjoying the process of gardening. Yes its wonderful to see a productive garden full of dense foliage, flowers, and food. But gardening is a verb. It’s a regular activity, a weekly practice, and an end in itself. Your garden is a living breathing thing, which will change, grow, and evolve over time. Just like a child. Enjoy each phase of its development and don’t let impatience push you to rush it.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through links to the products I recommend. 

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