Perennials: First Year Sleeps, Second Year Creeps, Third Year Leaps

Many novice gardeners think perennials are fussy, demanding, and downright difficult to grow but this isn’t necessarily true. Perennials, especially many of the new varieties, need very little care. Even people who think they have black thumbs can grow these plants. Most problems with growing perennials are due to a lack of knowledge about basic horticulture.
Plants are programmed to survive. All they need is sunlight, food, water, and an occasional haircut. Here are some guidelines to help perennial-phobes overcome their fears.

Instant Gardener Guidelines:

  1. There are two kinds of plants, annuals and perennials. Annuals are plants that die when it gets too cold outside. Perennials are plants that appear to die when the weather gets too cold, but are actually hibernating. Beneath that clump of dried stuff are roots that will produce a new plant the following spring.

  2. What's your zone? Look at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zone Map. You'll see that there are 11 zones. If you live in Des Moines you're in zone 5a. Miami residents are zone 10b, and gardeners in Flin Flon, Manitoba are 2a. Although everything in gardening is relative, any plant that can make it through a winter in 5a or less is usually considered perennial. The plastic tags that accompany most plants will list their hardiness zone. It's also possible to cheat on the zones by one number. If the tag says zone 6, but you're in 5, try planting that particular variety next to a wall or in another sheltered spot. It may do fine. But the only way a zone 7 or 8 plant will survive a zone 5 winter is in a heated greenhouse.

  3. The plants in those fabulous front yard gardens that make you green with plant envy look that way because somebody feeds them. A time saving devise is to use a time-release plant food. One sprinkle and you're done for the season. Otherwise, feed plants in the ground once per month and container plants once per week.

  4. Deadheading encourages plants to produce more flowers, so snip or pinch off dead blooms throughout the season, although this isn't necessary on varieties that don't set seed.

  5. When growing perennials, be patient. The expression, "First year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps" refers to the rate at which a newly planted perennial will grow. The newer hybrids are more vigorous, but it will still be at least a year before they look like the picture on the tag.

  6. Think positive. If your pampered plant dies for no apparent reason, don't assume it's your fault. Nature can be cruel and so can insects, squirrels, deer, bunnies, assorted plant diseases and of course, the weather. Visit your Menards® Garden Center and ask for help selecting a new plant to takes its place.

Gardeners are the ultimate optimists. Not only do we believe there will be a tomorrow, we are certain there will also be another gardening season.

- Proven Winners

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