Have you ever put plants in your landscape and then couldn’t remember what you planted where?  Or perhaps a particular plant worked especially well in your yard, and you want to plant more, but can’t remember the name of the plant.  

 Plant tags can be a tremendous help to both new and seasoned gardeners.  Purchasing bedding plants, shrubbery, and trees can be a significant investment in both time and money.  Reading the information on plant tags can be your key to success in choosing and caring for plants.   The plastic tags that come on new plants typically have a photograph of the plant in bloom so that you know what the color of the blooms and leaves will be.  The tags generally provide both the common and scientific names of the plant.  The common name can vary from one region of the country to another.  Completely different plants may be referred to by the same common name.   However, the scientific name is a sure way to identify a plant.  Every plant has a scientific name made up of two parts.  The generic (or genus) name is the first part.  It refers to a collective group of plants and begins with a capital letter.  The second part is the specific name.  It refers to the specific plant within a genus.  The specific name starts with a lower-case letter.  For example, Grevillea victoriae.  These two names together are referred to as a binomial.  Generic and specific names are usually in Latin or Greek.  

Commercial plant tags have other terms that are helpful as well.  The term “annual” refers to plants that typically grow only one season and then must be replanted.  “Perennial” refers to plants that come back year after year.  Tags also provide information about the amount of light the plant will need to thrive, such as full shade, part shade, full sun, part sun.  Tags will tell you the maximum size of the plant.  This helps you determine if the spot you choose will provide enough space for the mature plant.  What looks like a tiny plant in the nursery pot may grow up to be a huge tree.  Spacing information lets you know how many inches or feet are needed between the same kind of plant.  Plants that are planted too close together may interfere with each other as they grow.  Water requirements can vary greatly.  The tag will provide recommendations for watering such as water regularly until plants are established or allow to dry between watering.  Tips and Use instructions let you know if the plant can be used in containers or planters and can provide helpful information on how many plants are needed.  For example, the tag may state “quickly fills containers or baskets” to let you know the plant will spread.  Some commercial plant tags contain a deer head or the outline of a rabbit to let you know that the plant is deer- or rabbit-resistant.   

Commercial plastic plant tags will last one season outdoors when placed in the landscape.  Another option for making commercial tags last longer is to put them in a folder or notebook, or hole-punch them and keep them on a metal ring. 

For permanent labels to identify plants such as perennials in your garden, Dr. Gary Bachman with MSU Extension Service provides a number of ideas for making homemade plant tags that are fun and add personality to your garden.  For example, old metal spoons can be flattened and stamped with letter punches from your local hardware store.  Old kitchen spoons and utensils can be recycled into plant tags using markers or paint and clear polyurethane.   Making plant tags can be a fun way to get children interested in gardening.  


Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (n.d.).  Plant Names:  A Basic Introduction.  Retrieved from: https://www.anbg.gov

Bachman, G. R. (2013).  Homemade Plant Tags Give Gardens Personality.  Retrieved from: http://extension.msstate.edu/news/southern-gardening/2013/homemade-plant-tags-give-gardens-personality

Wenke Garden Center (2019).  Reading a Plant Tag.  Retrieved from: https://wenkegardencenter.com/reading-plant-tag/

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