How to read a nursery plant tag

Oct 15, 2020Garden

Shopping for new plants for a home can be an exciting undertaking. Nurseries and garden centers are often home to dozens of types of plant species that come in various colors, leaf variations and sizes. Such variety can make choosing plants more fun while also making the process of buying plants a bit complicated, especially for novices. Thankfully, plant tags can help consumers make informed decisions.

Understanding how to read plant tags is key to making good choices. Such labels contain a lot of information, but once a person knows how to decode that data, he or she is well on the way to choosing the right plants.

Common name

The common name of the plant tends to be the most noticeable word or words on the tag. This is the name the plant is referred to outside of scientific circles. Most plants have one or more common names in addition to their botanical name.

Scientific (botanical) name

Scientific names are also known as the Latin names of the plant. Such names will be written in italics on the tag and are usually one or two words. The scientific name includes the genus (group) and the species of the plant.


A plant tag may further describe the type of plant by including the cultivar. A cultivar is the variation on the species. It may describe a size or color variation. The cultivar is listed in single quotations by the scientific name.

Sun requirements

The tag should list how much sun exposure the plant requires to thrive. It may be anywhere from full sun to full shade.

Height and spread

The label frequently includes the maximum growing height and width the plant should reach when mature. This gives gardeners an understanding of just how much room the plant will take up in the garden and how to space plants in a landscape.

Water needs

How much water the plant requires may be featured on the tag as well. This helps gardeners know if they need soil to be damp or relatively dry.

Hardiness or zone

Tags that list zones will describe the coldest zone in which the plant can exist. Otherwise, it will give a range. Many annuals will not list a hardiness zone because they are not expected to last beyond one season.

Perennial or annual

The tag should designate the plant as an annual or perennial. Annuals are not expected to last through the winter and will need to be replanted the following year. Perennials can over-winter and will regenerate year after year.

Tags also may list information such as special care needs, drought tolerance, uses for the plant, and when the plant blooms. Some plant labels will inform gardeners if the plants were produced organically or without GMO practices. Trademark information also may be included.

Plant tags provide important information for selecting and growing plants. When noted, tags help gardeners make the right selections and keep plants as healthy as possible.

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