More than Latin- tips for reading plant tags

Here’s a secret, the tag that comes with your plant – it’s a juicy tell-all. The piece of flexible plastic that is tucked in soil, or sometimes attached with an elastic band, will give you all the “deets” or the “411”–  what the cool kids call details of the plant.

These tags have superpowers that will help gardeners make informed decisions on plant purchases.

The common name, or what gardeners call the plant in casual conversation, is generally at the top of the tag. Next, italicized, is the scientific name. The first part is Latin and names the genus or group of the plant and its species.  

The scientific name also gives the cultivar in single quotation marks and offers even more details about classification concerning leaf and petal shape. An example would be Coneflower, Echinacea, ‘Balsomemyim’ PPAF.

The scientific name or Latin name is important when identifying the plant. Although common names are just that, what we commonly use, they can also be subject to interpretation. What I grew up calling moon flowers, others may have called morning glories. Using Ipomoea clears up any identification confusion.

The plant tag will also give the mature plant’s size, which is handy for several reasons. First, this helps decide if the full-grown plant fits your location. Secondly, this provides spacing tips for planting.  

You may also see terms like spread- how wide the plant will grow – and habit,  which can be the plant’s shape. Mounding, trailing, and upright are examples of plant habits.

The Hardiness Zone tells the location or region where the plant will thrive. These USDA Zones are established by the United States Department of Agriculture and are based on temperatures. Charleston is Zone 6b. Visit to find the zone for your area. Remember, you can plant outside of your zone, but the plants will grow more like annuals than the perennials they would be in a warmer or tropical zone.

Expect plant tags to identify the plant’s preference for sun or shade. This may be written in words or drawn in symbols. A full-sun plant requires six hours of direct sun daily. Partial sun/shade plants need about three hours of sun. A full-shade plant will grow best with less than three hours of sun per day.

Use this sun exposure chart when placing the plant. There is no need to plant petunias in the shade when the tag directs full-sun exposure to nurture a healthy plant.

Other symbols you may see on the tag are water drops, and they break down like this: one waterdrop- the soil should completely dry out between watering; two waterdrops- the soil should be dry an inch below the surface before watering, and three drops mean keeping the soil moist constantly.

The next plant tag line is one I don’t take too seriously. A crossed-out rabbit or deer (should) indicate that the plant is resistant to these animals. Ha! I think all gardeners know there is no guarantee only suggestions about what is rabbit and deer resistant.

Often other planting tips are listed on the back of the tag. They may suggest design ideas, such as container or border plantings. Others may give ideas of companion plants. Some may offer a QR code or website to visit for additional information.

I have seen gardeners gather these tags each spring and keep them in plastic bags, garden journals, and even shoe boxes in the garage. Keeping them is smart, they information filled tags come in handy when replacing plants or planning expansions to the garden.

Yes, plant tags may be in Latin, but there is so much more to these plastic tags. Take the time to read them and learn about your plant. This makes for healthier plants and happier gardeners.