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Jennifer Elliott

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Plant Tags - How to Read Them and Why You Need Them

Every Spring, gardeners all over the world can be found wandering around their properties, developing plans for creating beautiful gardens. But what if you just moved into your dream home and don’t have a green thumb, yet you have dreams of growing beautiful plants of your own?

how to read a plant tag

Don't jump to xeriscaping just yet! It’s not hard to start planning your own garden space when you know where to find the information you need. If you recently bought a home with a yard that has existing plantings, it may be wise to allow a growing season to pass before making any changes or additions. Having a bit of patience will allow you to discover exactly what types of plants you have, and which ones are thriving in your new property.

When you are ready to start your adventures in horticulture, that small tag you find attached to most plants, in nearly every garden center or nursery, is a great place to begin your gardening education. You may not have realized the wealth of information contained on the plant tag that will help you get started planning, or maybe even purchasing, your own plants for a garden this year.

When you are shopping for plants, take a few minutes to read the plant tag to find out if it will fit into the space that you have available. Whether you are looking to create a small garden on your patio, or a sprawling green space that covers your entire yard, don’t make any purchases until you understand the needs of the plants.

how to read a plant tag

One of the most important pieces of information listed on the tag, which should be checked first, is its Plant Hardiness Growing Zone. If you are shopping online for your plants, and the zone listed on the plant does not match the zone where you live, move on to another plant. You could end up wasting money on a plant that simply will not grow well, and could possibly even die, no matter how much love and attention you give it.

Plant Hardiness Growing Zones are geographical areas that are grouped based on the lowest average temperature in the wintertime. Each group, or Zone, is based on a temperature range of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, developed this system to help people understand what kinds of plants would grow best in any particular area.

There are a total of 13 zones and each zone is subdivided into an A and B group. For example, Richmond, Virginia is in both 7a and 7b zones. Each subgroup represents a 5 degree Fahrenheit range of the average minimum winter temperatures in the area.

Once you discover the zone you live in, you can select the plants that will have the best chance of surviving and thriving year after year. Find out which USDA Growing Zone you live in on their website.

USDA Growing Zones

That’s not all you need to know about your plant selections. Other important information listed on a plant tag includes:

  • Both the Common and Botanical names of the plant
  • Light requirements: full sun, partial sun, or full shade
  • Optimal watering instructions
  • Plant size, including height and width once fully grown
  • Shape of the plant when it's fully grown: Mounding, Trailing or Straight Up growth

Some larger plant tags might include additional information such as:

  • Where to plant: In pots, hanging containers, or directly in the ground
  • Various uses for the plant: cuttings, drying, recipes, etc.
  • How and when to fertilize, if necessary
  • Methods of pruning, or deadheading
how to read a plant tag

Wildlife information is sometimes included on plant tags as well. This information may include which animals are attracted to the plant for food, or even if bees are attracted to the flowers for pollination. Once you are ready to invest time and money into plants, you will appreciate any and all information that you can find, so it is a good idea to read over the entire tag carefully before making your selections.

There are also many great online resources to help you learn about gardening. Consider the plant tag as simply one tool in your gardening tool belt that lists tons of great information to help you select and grow plants.

You might be tempted to throw the plant tag away after planting, but you should keep it handy. Even an experienced gardener might be surprised to learn that plant varieties often change, as do the planting and watering requirements. So those Gardenia bushes you purchased could have slightly different watering or fertilizing needs than the ones you may be accustomed to.

how to read a plant tag

So hang onto those tags. Stick them into the soil next to the plant, take photos of them and store them on your phone, or toss them into an extra pot in your potting shed. When Springtime rolls around again, you will know exactly what you planted last year. Those tags will remind you of how to care for any perennials you planted and also help you order more of the ones you love.

For more great gardening tips, check out Gardening Basics - Ya Dig?

Best of Luck and Happy Gardening!

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