My first year working for a large online nursery I heard a plant specialist on the phone telling a customer the first year your plant sleeps, year number 2 it creeps, and the third year it takes off.
I asked our Nursery Manager and it turns out this is a popular refrain in the landscaping world. Here’s what it means:
The First Year They Sleep
You buy some trees, shrubs or perennials online and get them in the ground. Your new & improved landscape is beautiful, if only the new plantings were just a wee bit bigger.
You wait a few months, still not much of anything. They look like… they’re sleeping. This is where the saying comes from. It may not appear to be growing but below the ground the roots are expanding. This is why it is so important to dig your hole twice as wide as the root ball, amend your soil (especially if it is hard packed) and to water them well. A lot of plants, even perennials, spend most of their energy the first year on the roots.
A well-established root system makes it easier for your plants to soak up water. Stronger roots also keep the plant healthier in the heat of summer & through cold temperatures in winter.
The Second Year They Creep
Year two comes along and you can kind of tell your plants are getting bigger but not as much growth as expected. There are still empty spaces between them. You notice they don’t need as much water. Flowering trees and shrubs should bloom year 2 but sparingly. The larger roots are still getting established, especially for the trees.
Overall, there should be more foliage. This is important since leaves absorb the sun creating energy which will eventually fuel the growth.
The Third Year They Leap
Come year three most plants will take off, bursting into their full glory. I’ve seen some trees & shrubs do about 2 years’ worth of growth in their third year. It’s almost like they’re making up for lost ground.
Of course, your results may vary depending on a number of factors including soil conditions, watering & sun exposure.
I have to confess, I didn’t realize how long it takes for some trees, shrubs & perennials to get established & grow. It definitely takes time and patience!