How to Read a Plant Tag

With Mother’s Day just around the corner and the weather starting to warm up (slowly), many homeowners and gardeners will be out plant shopping this weekend. Choosing plants is exciting and fun, but it helps if you know how to read a plant tag to make the best choices for your garden.

Plant tags vary a bit, but most of them contain important information about plant size, blooming, care needs and more. Recently, I bought some ‘Ballerina’ cranesbill from the MSHS bulb and plant sale. Here’s all the information on that simple plant tag.

plant tag explainedIt’s Pretty and Perennial!

The front of the tag contains an image of the cranesbill in bloom, so I know it will go well with all the purple, yellow and white flowers I have in my garden. The top of the tag tells me the plant is perennial, meaning it will return season after season. Most perennials actually take a couple of years to reach full size in the garden, but I know this plant is a long-term investment. The sun symbols indicate that this plant grows well in both full sun and part sun. The area I plan to plant it has shade in the morning and sun in the afternoon—it will grow great in that amount of light.

The tag also includes both the common and botanical name of the plant. All plants have an official botanical name, which tells you a lot about plants its related to and how it grows. Common names are ones people may use to describe the plant but common names vary from place to place and person to person, so they are less reliable than botanical names.

How to Grow and Care for the Plant

The back of the plant tag includes a lot of information about how to grow and care for the plant. It includes a description on the top that tells me what characteristics this plant has that make it attractive or useful in the garden. Below that, the tag says when the plant blooms. This is good to know because while it’s tempting to buy all the plants in bloom at the nursery when you are shopping, you want bloom and color all season long. Check this to make sure your garden has spring, early summer, late summer and fall blooming plants.

The back of the tag also gives care instructions. In this case, the plant likes a fairly moist situation. No problem—my backyard is a bit damp. It also tells you the height and width of the plant. Geraniums are low-growing plants. That’s fine with me, because I’m using it as a groundcover or living mulch. The tag also tells you which cold hardiness zones the plant survives in. The northern part of Minnesota is USDA Zone 3. The southern two-thirds of the state is zone 4. This plant will thrive anywhere in Minnesota.

Finally, at the very bottom of the tag, there is an image of a deer with the “no” symbol over it. This means that deer do not like this plant and probably won’t bother it. (If they are hungry, deer will eat anything!) I don’t have a deer issue, but it’s good to know.

Keep Your Tags!

It’s a good idea to keep your plant tags. I have a very dirty folder that I keep with tags for all the different plants in my yard. Sometimes I clean it out and remove the ones that have died or I got rid of. Keeping the tags helps me remember what I’ve planted where and reminds me of the care needs of plants in my yard.

Have a great time plant shopping this spring!


  1. Gayle Prest on May 12, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    Can you also please explain about how to tell if it is a native or cultivar? And if it contains neonictoinoids, which have proven harmful to pollinators?
    Thank you

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 13, 2021 at 9:10 pm

      Cultivars are identified by names, usually in single quotes. So, ‘Little Joe’ joe-pye weed is a cultivar of the species joe-pye weed. Neonictoinoids are added in the growing process. Ask the nursery if they use them. If you are interested in native plants, we have several native plant nurseries in Minnesota. I’ve gotten many natives from Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona, but Out Back Nursery, Morning Sky Greenery and Landscape Alternatives are among the native plant nurseries here. Of course, growing plants from seed is a way to make sure they do not have neonictoinds, because you control the growing. Hope this helps!

  2. Linda on May 13, 2021 at 4:01 pm

    Adding a simple diagram of the garden also helps me remember where and what I planted. It changes over time so use a pencil or make several copies with dates to use as things change… and they do!

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 13, 2021 at 9:05 pm

      Great idea! I use diagrams, too.

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