Don't just toss those little plant tags away. They contain some important information about the plants you just brought home.

By Jenny Krane
Updated June 15, 2018

It’s easy to take a plant out of its nursery pot and throw the pot away. Experienced gardeners often feel like they can throw the plant information tag away if it’s a species they’ve planted in the past. But, new varieties are made all the time and have different care needs. Plant tags contain imperative information that will help gardeners keep their plants happy and healthy. Here’s how to use the information on the tag in the garden.

Plant Name

Almost every nursery plant tag includes both the common and botanical names for each plant. For example, the tag for ‘Disco Queen’ French marigolds would include that name, but would also include its botanical name, Tagetes patula ‘Disco Queen’. Botanical names follow a system of Latin nomenclature. The first word in the plant name is the genus (for marigold, Tagetes, which is the general name for all marigolds). The second word is the species (in this case, patula, which indicates this variety is a French marigold rather than a signet of African marigold). ‘Disco Queen’ refers to the specific variety of French marigold, which can vary drastically in color, size, and shape from other varieties. When you look at the Latin name on the plant tag, you know exactly what you’re buying.

Light Requirements

Different plants prefer different levels of sunlight exposure. Most ferns are too delicate to thrive in a sunny place—it fries their leaves. Coneflowers, on the other hand, need to be in a hot, sunny spot to look their best. They are used to growing in open prairie areas where they are exposed to a lot of sun, and shade may stunt their growth.

On a nursery tag, light requirements for a particular plant can be indicated with words or symbols. Some tags use pictures of a sun to show full sun, part sun, and shade. Here’s what each term means:

  • Full sun—

    A plant that requires full sun needs to get at least six hours of sun a day. Full sun can also be indicated as “afternoon sun,” since that is when the sun is hottest and highest.

  • Part sun—Part sun is basically half of what full sun is—three hours of direct sunlight. Part has the same meaning as part sun, and part sun can also be called “morning sun.”
  • Full shade—Plants that require full shade are often too delicate to stand the heat and need moister roots to thrive. Full shade plants should get less than three hours of direct sun, if any.

Watering Needs

It’s important to pay attention to water requirements because some plants will drown in soil with too much moisture, while others are not drought-tolerant and will shrivel in dry soil. Some nursery tags will state watering directions clearly—“water twice a week” or “keep soil moist.” Other tags will rank the water level needs by dry, normal, or moist. Dry soil may also be called “well-drained” soil. Raindrop symbols also indicate water needs: one drop meaning to let the soil dry out between watering, two meaning that soil an inch below the surface should be moist, or three meaning that the soil should stay moist at all times.

Size and Shape

Some tags indicate how tall a plant will grow, or how wide it will spread in the case of groundcovers. Make sure to check the tag to see how far apart you should plant certain plants from each other, and how much growing room you need to provide. Otherwise, growth could be stunted and roots could have a difficult time establishing in the soil.

Plants can be categorized into three general shapes: mounding, trailing, and straight up. Pay attention to this information when planning landscaping and layering plants—you want to place plants somewhere they can be shown off.

Hardiness Zones

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 survive. Choose plants best adapted to your planting zone and plant them at the right time to increase your chance of success.

Care and Use

Some plant tags have more information than others. Larger tags often give gardeners tips and recommendations on how to care for and use certain flowers in the garden. They indicate if a plant is good for containers, needs a particular fertilizer, or works well in containers. Tags may also let you know how to deadhead or prune.

Special Features

Detailed plant tags may include information on wildlife and how certain creatures interact with a specific plant. If a plant attracts pollinators, it may state that on the tag or have a bee symbol. Another common indication is deer resistance—deer-resistant plants may have a statement on their tag or may have a deer symbol printed on the tag. Labeling rabbit-resistant plants follows a similar formula to deer-resistant plants. Some tags also let gardeners know if a particular flower is good for cutting or is a continuous bloomer.


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