Learn how to read plant tags

Learn how to read plant tags

We gardeners might know some plants. Some gardeners know about lots of plants and can impress you with not only names but details about hundreds of species and gardening options. But all of us do come to rely on the plant tag at a garden center for information. Most of us check the tag before we buy. Sometimes we wonder how reliable this information is. We can probably believe most of it.

One very valuable piece of information you should find on the tag is which growing zones will make your plant happy. If the plant is hardy in your zone, then you have no worries unless we have extreme heat or cold. Most tags will show the lowest temperature that your plant can take. You can “buy” a few extra degrees in the coldest weather if you want to be vigilant and protect a plant that’s borderline with a cover on those extra frigid evenings. But if you miss just one of those freezing nights with, for example, a tropical heat loving plant, you will find a dead and mushy mess after a freeze. Most of us don’t have the pleasure of having a greenhouse, so watch that tag information carefully. It seems that some of the big box stores put many of their tropical and heat loving plants on sale just before the weather is to turn cold for the unsuspecting novice gardener.

Another very important piece of information on the tag is how large and wide the plant will grow. We can be unpleasantly surprised by a tree that dwarfs our entire tiny yard or the bush that grows so large that it hides the beautiful flowers in the planting bed behind it. Most plants will grow to the size stated on the tag, but that height is determined with flowers grown in the best of soils with optimum watering. “Vigorous” or “spreading” may be what you want, but maybe not. We have all seen the sweet potato vine that starts at 3 inches and grows to 6 feet in a month or so. Crowding, poor soil, inadequate water or inadequate sun are conditions that will make your plant probably not reach its potential stated on the tag.

If the tag says full sun, part shade or shade, then you can usually do all right with a little fudging. Most full-sun plants do just fine with a little bit of shade, for example. Plants that ask for full sun might actually do better with a little shade from our scorching afternoon temperatures. Plant tags are a valuable resource for all gardeners. Occasionally even a great nursery puts out so many plants that they don’t tag them all. Don’t feel uncomfortable asking the employees to make you a small hand-marked tag to take with your plant. You don’t want to wonder about the name of a super successful plant when it comes time to buy next year.


Joette is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news with Joette, call (409) 832-1400 or fax her at (409) 832-6222. Her e-mail is joreger [at] msn [dot] com.