It’s Spring. Do You Know Where Your Perennials Are?

When I was growing up in the late Mesozoic era, TV stations used to demonstrate their civic responsibility by running a particular public service announcement. The one I have in mind usually had a still shot of some teenagers on a dark street, obscured by shadows. And there would be an announcer, asking more in sorrow than in anger: “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”

Culver's Root 'Fascination', Veronicastrum virginicum
Culver’s Root ‘Fascination’, a late riser. Asiatic lilies in the background.

As you might suspect, this was at a time of heightened concern about crime. Do they still run that announcement, or some version of it?

I was thinking of that old TV spot recently when I was trying to figure out where in the raised driveway border to plant three ‘Longwood Blue’ bluebeard (Caryopteris xclandonensis). I made the mental connection, such as it was, when I realized that it was spring and I didn’t know where some of my perennials were. And that meant that I was uncertain about where to put my ‘Longwood Blue’.

Joe Pye Weed 'Gateway'
Joe Pye Weed ‘Gateway’, another slug-a-bed.

Several of the plants in this bed are late to emerge from dormancy, which didn’t help. (Like many teenagers, these plants stay in bed far too long.) Some examples: butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), and Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’). I didn’t want to place my new bluebeards where they would be cheek by jowl with some inappropriate neighbor, nor did I want to damage an existing perennial while planting a new one.

Also, there were a couple of emerging mystery plants I couldn’t identify. Were they early sunflower (Heliopsis), ironweed (Vernonia)? Friend or foe? Plants in my garden have an annoying habit of disappearing, then reappearing a year or two later more robust than ever before.

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa
Butterflyweed rises late and hates to be disturbed.

Sure, I know I’m supposed to have some system to identify what is growing where, but I’m just not organized that way. So the new bluebeards sat in their pots against the south-facing wall of the house for two weeks, until I could make a more educated guess about what plants were where.

Do you know where your perennials are? Or are you making guesses and hoping for the best?

51 Comments on “It’s Spring. Do You Know Where Your Perennials Are?”

  1. My husband keeps telling me to make a site map, and I know I need to, but still haven’t. I’m having a particularly tough time this spring, because last summer we had a huge upheaval and movement of plants when we had an inground swimming pool put in. I think by now most of the plants have shown up for the party, but there is always some guess work. I totally understand.

  2. Oh, it’s funny you should post this today, because just today I was checking the space where I planted a Joe Pye Weed and there’s no sign of it. I was going to actually send you a message asking whether it was a late emerger, and here you’ve answered my question!

    For my late emerging perennials, I often leave at least some of their stems or stalks on them through the winter, and don’t trim them in the spring until they’ve come up. So I know exactly where the Joe Pye Week should be!

    Balloon flower is another that takes its time showing up, and, unlike many others, it dies all the way down over the winter and disappears, so I just have to remember where it is. It finally popped out just this week.

    My bigger problem is remembering where the spring blooming bulbs are when I’m putting things in later in the season, or even in the early fall!

  3. I used to put markers by all of my plants. Not so much any more, now I just kill things. Poor plants in my garden! On the less- than-appropriate-for-mixed-company side, I remember seeing in a Spencer Gifts store a poster featuring a man’s jean-clad posterior from the waist to the knee, with someone else’s hands reaching around from the front. The caption read, “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your husband is?”

  4. I am like you, sure that I will remember where the plants are, but each year i forget. My sister is much more organized, and puts it down on paper, but I still haven´t gotten around to that yet 🙂 So sometimes when the perennials emerge, they are too close together. Well, they can be moved again.

  5. Pure guesswork! Most are partially visible by now, and this is another point in favour of not cutting everything down to the ground in autumn. I find I’m disturbing bulbs if I plant later in the year too.

  6. Cute way you wrote this post, plenty of humor. In a small garden, I find it easy to remember, yet there always is one or two to shake your head at. I am leaving a possible weed grow because it may be an aster, but I did not plant it there. Soon it will move to a pot just in case.

  7. I do know where everything is, but I have so little faith that I am always convinced the late risers are dead. Even though I know butterfly weed (yours looks great) is a slow one to wake, I look at its spot and announce “it didn’t come back this year”. Same with gaura, which I just assume up and died, so I go ahead and plan to take out the dead rootball — then leaves appear in mid May. I am always surprised!

  8. I remember that ad well! If I’m really organized I may stick a stake in the perennial spot, but usually I forget and it’s too late. Fortunately, many of my perennials never fully die back in the winter. My problem is usually overzealous weeding. I have a sneaking suspicion I have been pulling out echinacea seedlings instead of weeds.

  9. If I’m lucky, I can find a note in my blog about what went where. Sometimes those semi-indestructible plant tags are still nearby. And sometimes my faulty memory burps up the answer – like just now, I recall transplanting the monarda from the front of the yard to the patio beds, which explains why it looks different from the monarda in the “meadow”. Thanks for the tip about the late-risers – I was wondering if the butterfly weed had survived, but now know I won’t know for sure for a while.

  10. It would be a considerable job and headache to catalogue what and where everything is in the garden since I plant higgledy-piggledy things end up everywhere. I have a kind of idea where most things are but I also often get caught by surprise, such as when I suddenly came across a set of calla lilies that I completely forgot about!

  11. Every year, including this one, I think my Joe Pye-Weed has not survived the winter and am heartbroken Then I go over and scratch around in the basic area where I think the Joe Pye-Weed should be and, lo & behold, I see tiny signs of life! My bigger issue is that I often can’t remember what’s what until the leaves get several inches high.

  12. Great post! I love the idea of late-emerging perennials being the teenagers of the border. I had been worried that our Salvia uliginosa might have given up after too many weeks of snow, but then it started to emerge slowly this week. While it is having a major growth-spurt, it hasn’t grunted or accused me of not understanding it yet…. give it time….

  13. I remember a version of those commercials…and my Sister and I would turn to each other and say, “yes, stuck here in the country…”

    I have brand new beds, since we just moved here last year, so try and remember where and what…I took photos last fall, and had to refer to that so many times before deciding where to put new plants.

    And last spring was our first here, the front bed was established before we moved in, it was a real spring surprise, what’s this, what’s that? There are still a few plants I have not ID’d yet.


  14. Your post made me chuckle. I am always telling others how important to mark and label where things are but I never follow my own advice! In the height of the summer it is always so obvious where everything is and I always think I’ll remember. I started to take photos but then we moved stuff so this year we are none the wiser. Just waiting to see what pops up where.

  15. LOL, I remember those kind of announcements. TV really has no community value these days does it? After doing a lot of guessing last spring this year I decided not to cut back my plants quite so much. I left a good amount of dead foliage on late growers as I need to move a number of plants this spring and wanted to know where things were.

  16. I am waiting for a big grouping of white flowered ruellia to wake up and they’re starting to irritate me because I think they might have died, which is quite rude. I’ve already made plans to order a replacement batch. But I did have them disappear one year only to pop up a year later. Weird!

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