Last year Bona Terra installed over 140 residential bayscapes and rain gardens for the Alliance of the Chesapeake Bay’s RiverSmart Homes Grant program, a DC initiative to reduce stormwater run-off and pollution. Since we install gardens throughout the year in different seasons, the initial ‘look’ of a freshly installed garden varies widely, and some gardens that are installed during non-growing seasons look especially bare. The photos below display a new bayscape garden planted in April of last year, looking pretty sparse at first, and then fully grown-in one year later.
Our RiverSmart division manager describes the resilience of young plants and explains what you can expect as a RiverSmart grant recipient:
The plants that Bona Terra uses are very young when they’re first installed. Gardens start off appearing sparse, but look fuller each following year, and in the third year tend to be so overgrown that you end up pulling seedlings from the garden which you are able to use in other parts of your yard, or in planters. The young plants are installed in a manner conducive to their maturity/size, so while a larger plant may look small and isolated right now, the space around it indicates what it is expected to become over the next couple years. This is the normal maturity rate for partial sun to full sun gardens; shade gardens tend to mature at a slower rate and will require more patience in that regard.
We plant all of our gardens with young plants for two reasons. The first reason is young plants establish themselves better than older plants and are more likely to survive and mature than older plants. Secondly, by planting plug-size plants we’re able to plant up to four times as many plants than required for the space. Plants above ground can look smaller than the root system underground, the most important part. Planting with this system results in a more lush and designed garden in significantly less time than a garden planted with older plants, despite the fact that they don’t have the instant, aesthetic gratification older plants provide. In the next growing season you will have lots of flowers, and the garden will typically double in size each year (depending on lighting conditions, regular watering, and weeding of invasive plants).
The majority of perennials, in the mid-Atlantic zone, go dormant each year. Brown leaves and fallen plants do not always indicate a dead plant. As long as the root system (and/or bulb) is alive, it will come back. Installations starting at the end of August through December can appear to have newly planted “dead plants.” They are very much alive and should be watered regularly when the weather is hot and/or dry, even when not visible above ground.
Gardens require tenderness, love and care, and with some patience and observance you can witness the amazing growing power of young, native perennials and shrubs.