When Is A Plant Established – What Does “Well Established” Mean

Plant Root Sequence From Seed To Seedling
established plants
(Image credit: KateLeigh)

One of the best skills a gardener learns is being able to work with ambiguity. Sometimes planting and care instructions that gardeners receive can be a little on the vague side, and we either resort to relying on our best judgment or asking our knowledgeable friends at Gardening Know How for help. I think one of the most ambiguous directives is the one where the gardener is told to perform a specific gardening task “until it is well established.” That is a bit of a head scratcher, isn’t it? Well, what does well established mean? When is a plant established? How long until plants are well established? Read on to learn more about “well-established” garden plants.

What Does Well Established Mean?

Let’s take a moment to think about our jobs. When you started a new job, you initially needed a lot of nurturing and support in your position. Over the course of a period of time, perhaps a year or two, the level of support you received was gradually reduced until you were able to begin thriving in your position by yourself with a good support system from above. At this point you would have been considered well established. This concept of being well established can be applied to the plant world as well. Plants require a level of care from you at the outset of their plant lives in order to develop the healthy and widespread root systems they require to absorb much needed moisture and nutrients. However, once a plant becomes well established, this really does not mean it no longer needs support from you, it just means the level of support you'll need to provide may decrease.

When is a Plant Well Established?

This is a good question, and one that's difficult to give a black and white answer to. I mean, you really can’t rip your plant out of the ground to gauge its root growth; that just wouldn’t be a good idea, would it? When it comes to determining whether plants are well established or not, I think it really boils down to observation. Is the plant exhibiting good and healthy growth above the ground? Is the plant starting to meet its expected annual growth rate? Are you able to scale back a little on your level of care (primarily with watering) without the plant taking a total nosedive? These are the signs of well-established garden plants.

How Long until Plants are Well Established?

The amount of time it takes a plant to become established is variable depending on plant type, and it also could depend on the growing conditions. A plant provided with poor growing conditions will struggle and take longer to become established, if it does at all. Situating your plant in a suitable location (taking into account lighting, spacing, soil type, etc.), along with following good horticultural practices (watering, fertilizing, etc.) is a good step towards establishing plants. Trees and shrubs, for instance, can take two or more growing seasons to become established in order for their roots to branch well beyond the planting site. Perennial flowers, whether grown from seed or plants, may take a year or more to become established. Yes, I do know the above information is kind of vague – but gardeners deal well with ambiguity, right?!! The bottom line is to just take good care of your plants, and the rest will take care of itself!

Shelley Pierce

Shelley Pierce was a writer for Gardening Know How, contributing to hundreds of articles for the site.