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How To Read A Plant Tag

Updated: Jan 14

When shopping for plants the tag can tell you everything you need to know. The trick is knowing how to decode the information & the gardening symbols.

While every tag is different, they all contain similar information.

Once you have finished reading this guide, you will be able to find a plant perfect quickly & without hesitation.



The first thing you will see when you look at a plant tag is a picture of the plant. If the plant is grown for its flowers it will be a picture of the plant in bloom. Likewise, if the plant is grown for its foliage, the picture will concentrate on the plant's leaves.

If you are purchasing a plant based on the flower color it is important to read the description as the bloom color can be distorted by printer, faded by weather, or for whatever reason the picture may not match the true color of the flower.


Aside from a picture of the plant, the first thing you will notice on a plant tag are the scientific & common names of the plant you have chosen.

The scientific name is usually in italics found underneath the common name, which is usually printed in a larger font.

The common name is the name that is often used to refer to the plants. Common names are usually easier to remember than scientific names, but it is important to realize that common names can vary in different areas of the country or around the world.

The scientific name is ht name growers & other horticultural professionals use to identify plants. Every plant has a scientific name. At the simplest level of scientific classification, each plant has a name made up of two parts -- the genus name & a specific name (or epithet). Together these names are referred to as the binomial.

The generic name is a 'common name' for a group of plants. It indicates a grouping of organisms that all share a suite of similar characters. Ideally, these should all have evolved from one common ancestor.

The specific name allows us to distinguish between different organisms within a genus. It will include the cultivar & classifies the plant even further in terms of color, leaf, & petal shape.

The names are always written with the generic name first, starting with a capital letter.

For example: Sansevieria

The specific epithet always follows the generic name, starting with a lower-case letter.

For example: fischeri

The species name or binomial being: Sansevieria fischeri


Annuals are plants that are grown for only 1 season. They will not survive winters.

Perennials: Perennials are plants that come back year after year. Daylilies, Hostas, & Coneflowers are all examples of perennials. When determining if the plant is a true perennial in your area, you may want to check online or search where the tag was printed. The plant may be a perennial somewhere in the country, but it may not be one in your zone.

Biennial: Biennials are plants that grow foliage the first year, flower the second year, & then die away after the second year. Biennials tend to reseed themselves in the garden, but not always in the same spot they were originally planted.


This section of the tag will detail what kind of sunlight the plant needs to thrive. This part of the label can be confusing if you don't know the lingo. Here is a list of the different vocabulary words used to describe light requirements:

  • Deep or Dense Shade; Full Shade: Look for this on the north sides of buildings & walls or under trees with low branches & dense leaves. Less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered sunlight during the rest of the day is required. Full shade does not mean "no sun at all." There aren't many plants that can survive in the dark.

  • Partial Shade: These plants are found in areas that get direct morning sun or afternoon sun, but none at midday (from about 10AM to 2PM). Less than 3 hours of direct sun.

  • Light Shade, Dappled Shade: These plants thrive under trees with high branches or sparse foliage.

  • Part Sun: These plants have the same requirements as plants labeled "Partial Shade," except plants that thrive in partial sun can also tolerate midday sun (unlike partial shade plants). Approximately 3-6 hours of direct sun per day.

  • Full Sun: Full sun plants receive direct sunlight for at least 6 hours or more each day, including some some or all of the midday hours.


This area of the tag will tell you when you can expect the plant to bloom. Sometimes the description may be general & only say "spring" or "summer," while other tags may list specific months, such as June, July. Keep in mind that while perennials come back year after year, there are many that do not bloom all summer long.


This is the maximum size the plant achieves in ideal growing conditions. The height & width of the plant are the estimated size that the mature plant will become, or how wide it will spread in the case of ground covers. Growth may take many reasons if it is a perennial or only one season if it is an annual. This information helps you decide if the plant will fit in your intended space & helps you provide enough space for the plant to grow to full maturity. Follow these guidelines, otherwise growth could be stunted & roots could have a difficult time establishing in the soil. It may also help you determine if you need to purchase more than one plant to fill your designated area.


Habit indicates the shape of the plant. Some plants grow straight up, others are mounding, & some trail along the ground.


This area of the tag gives important clues about how to keep the plant look its best. It may suggest pruning, deadheading, or following a specific fertilizer program. Larger tags have more information than others & often give gardeners tips & recommendations on how to care for & use certain flowers in the garden.


Water requirements vary by plant. Follow the instructions carefully to keep from under or over watering. Some plants enjoy saturated soil, while others prefer to be parched before the next watering.


Great way to discover how to use the plant to brighten your yard is to read this area of the tag. It might suggest the plant is perfect for containers, a good choice for beds, a wonderful addition to border plantings, or work well planted in a rock garden.


The label may state or have symbols that share additional details about the plant. A deer head or outline of a rabbit means the plant is deer or rabbit resistant. If a plant attracts pollinators, it may have that on the tag or have a bee symbol. This section may also state this plant produces great cut flowers or that it's a non-stop bloomer. All great & helpful information!


Many tags include a plant's hardiness zone. Plants are rated according to the USDA Hardiness Zones, which is the minimum winter temperature they can thrive. Choose plants best adapted to your planting zone & plant them at the right time to increase your chance of success.

Source: WenkeGarden
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