Lies, Damn Lies, and Plant Labels

We just snapped this photo of Lemon Thread Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Lemon Thread’) in the gardens here at Juniper Level, and wanted to share since it illustrates our constant rants about trusting nurseries, plant tags, and websites to give accurate mature sizes. For a woody plant, our typical advice is to triple any size you are given. So, we wanted to see how that advice would work with the plant below.

Lemon Thread cypress was discovered in the mid 1980s as a sport at Oregon’s Mitsch Nurseries, so it’s a relative newcomer as plants go. Our 20 year old specimen is planted in compost-amended sandy loam without any chemical fertilizers ever. We should also add that we don’t believe in shearing plants, which we find a waste of energy as well as a middle finger to natures’s beauty. Our specimen now measures 25′ tall x 15′ wide.

We then searched the web for Lemon Thread Cypress and recorded the sizes from the top 30 sites that came up in Google…see notes below the photo.  Sizes we found range from 2-5′ tall x 2-3′ wide with only one site giving a height greater than 10′.

Is it any wonder that people install plants in the wrong place!  So, why does this happen? Many reasons:

  • Vendors lie to sell more plants…sad, but true.
  • Vendors almost never update inaccurate information once it’s in their system.
  • Few vendors/garden writers bother to visit a public garden and actually measure the plant. It’s much easier to copy someone else’s mistake.
  • Most plants which are measured, are measured either in containers, or from heavily pruned garden specimens.
  • Plants grow differently in different climates.  Very true!
  • It takes too much time to be accurate, but don’t we really owe that to our customers?

2-5′ 2-3′
3′ 4′
3-5′ 2-4′
4′ 3′
5′ 4′
5′ 5′
5′ 4′
5-12′ 7-8′
5-6′ 6-8′
6-8′ 3-4′

12 thoughts on “Lies, Damn Lies, and Plant Labels”

  1. Thank you for bringing this “out in the open”! I am this spring removing a ‘gentch white” hemlock from in front of my home for that very reason. It was sold to me as a “dwarf” which would never get more than 4′ to 5′ tall. Lies, lies! Even with it being “sheared” (which I hated!) it is well over 8’ tall. Did NOT want anything that tall up close to my home, which is a ranch.

  2. Marsha McCollum Leutza

    Cup mac golden cutie ?
    Silly me buying a striking 8″ tall golden cypress in a 4 inch pot at a garden show. Vague label stated max height of 6′. It passed that mark many moons ago. This is the cute little plant you see on every holiday bench fitted with a festive deco sleeve. Run the other way. My little tree is now 20 plus feet tall and 8 feet wide with yearly shearing. Ugh

  3. So glad to read this. Add this to your list:

    Assume it will not grow that well for me so will plant it too close anyway.

  4. Leland Cyprus is an excellent example of a plant being sold to unknowing customers as a 12 ft. tall hedge for privacy. My neighbor put in 8-10 of these not knowing that they grow up to 75 ft. tall and 50 ft. wide. I chopped off the width on my side every year and he finally cut them down.

  5. Carol Williams

    Many thanks for posting! I have 2 side by side as foundation plants; I ‘d better move them ASAP!

  6. On top of nursery tags not being reliable about size, watch out for so-called landscape designers. I attended a seminar recently given by a popular and well-regarded landscape designer, who said he always plans his designs for the size the plants will be in 3-5 years. By then, the original homeowner will have moved, and the new owner will want to re-do the design. And, he said no one wants to wait for a lovely landscape, they want instant gratification. I was horrified. No wonder every new yard in our area with a postage stamp sized front lawn has a huge red maple or red oak planted in front of it.

  7. I would add “wishful thinking” to the list; we humans want to own certain
    plants becasue we find them beautiful, and we just hope they will remain small like kittens, closing our minds to the fact that they will grow up to be cats! One classic example in Florida is the Bismarck palm planted in
    people’s small lawns.
    Thank you for this article; I will be much more conscious of the stated plant sizes in the future!

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