Can you trust the tags?

One of our long time concerns is the accuracy of plant tags…especially now that 60% of the plants purchased in the country are now sold through the box stores. While we’re thrilled that more plants are available to the masses, most tags are produced from a single national vendor, and the information may not be correct for your climate.  Sizes, in particular vary widely. What may make a 1′ tall x 2′ wide shrub in one climate may reach 6′ tall x 9′ wide in another…yes, we have real life examples. The dirty little secret is that most plant measurements are taken from sheared plants growing in nursery containers, and not mature landscape specimens.

Often information on the web is also quite inaccurate since most sites simply copy from another site and never take time to actually observe the plants in person. We always recommend when possible to shop with vendors who actually grow the plants themselves…in the ground. If that’s not possible, visit local botanic gardens and observe the plants yourselves.  You’ll save so much future garden maintenance time if you get the plant in the right location first time. 

With the quest for cheaper and cheaper plants, time devoted to accuracy of information is often sacrificed. The tag in the photo fails on a couple of details.  In most areas, mondo grass is best in light shade, although it can be fine with a few hours of morning sun. Our favorite faux pas is listing two genera for the same plant. Ophiopogon is correct, but convallaria is a lily of the valley…a completely different plant. We won’t mention the name of the box store where we saw this, but always be wary.

13 thoughts on “Can you trust the tags?”

  1. I have also found this “tagging” to be an (in) accurate description on many tags that come with plants offered for sale. I have resorted to checking sites such as Plant Delights web site, along with the sites of botanic gardens for the really accurate information I need to know prior to purchase.

  2. I’m afraid that I see this many times while shopping I have the advantage having a degree in horticulture I study new plants that I see and am interested in adding to my garden

  3. Andrea Owens Schnapp

    I’m glad to see someone is finally addressing this. ‘Limelight’ hydrangea has been pushed in my zone (8b in Florida, with lots of sun and sand) since it came on the market. I have spoken to its developer, a grower for Proven Winners, about the struggles this shrub has in my area. If you follow the plant tag, you plant it in full sun. Well, panicled hydrangeas do not grow here. The ten I bought are now down to five. The developer says in my area to put them in the shade and give them plenty of mulch. However, the tag does not suggest it. The zones need to be change to exclude anything beyond zone 6. Actually, I should’ve known better!

  4. This has been a long standing pet pieve of mine also. There are so many other factors to consider such as soil ph, which part of the day the plant will get part sun, wind exposure, the LACK of winter snow cover in some northern areas. I just cringe at some of the plants I see for sale in my area. Thank you for addressing this issue.

  5. Lowe’s has no clue. Costa Farms supplies perennials and tags and they know the big boxes are as clueless as 99% of its customers.

  6. And even if the tags are correct, the plants themselves don’t always read them. (“But you’re supposed to like full sun!”) Having planted the same shrub in different clients’ gardens, there can also be a surprising range in the ultimate size based on the individual garden conditions.

    In addition to shopping for plants at the nurseries that actually grow them, I’ve also found the Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder a good on-line resource for information, as well.

  7. Heather Kendall

    Sometimes the name underneath the common name, here Mondo grass, is the common name in Spanish. But otherwise agree with you, labels need to be fact checked!

  8. And then there are the customers who pull a tag out to read it and put it back into the wrong pot, e.g.,antenneria in an armeria pot.

  9. Another concern is the cultivar may not be accurate (ie. “we have these tags and need to use them up”). One example at a box store was flats of Carex ‘Everest’ that were labeled ‘Everillo’. I happen to know for sure that the above scenario was the reason for those particular tags, and is not an isolated example, unfortunately.

  10. And the box stores will sell you ANYTHING! So let the buyer be ware…….
    Down here in Florida the Snow Birds recognize plants such as Tiger lilies, Daffodils, Hyacinths and Tulips that bloomed for them up north as perennials.
    Without a cold, dormant period these bulbs will NOT come up again in zone 10a! But that does not stop Lowes and Home Depot from selling them,and worse………naïve buyers from buying them! Thereby fueling a deceptive marketing into a lucrative seasonal business practice!
    Even when I lived in Chicago, mums in full bloom forced to bloom lavishly out of tiny pots with matted roots, were touted as perennials. Customers believed they had both instant color and a long term investment toward next year. In truth the plants had expended all energy toward flowers and were root bound in the pot.
    They had no established root system and no saved energy to weather the winter. NONE in my experience survived. The beautiful mums in my garden that thrived came from spring planted plants who had an established root system well before the first frost.
    You are NOT fooling ALL of us! Big Box Stores………..

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