To grow a successful garden, you will be following careful instructions on plant labels, so this guide will help you navigate and understand labels effectively for efficient and uninterrupted gardening endeavours.
What to look for
It can be confusing when you’re at a garden centre and there are shelves of plants and every label looks different. Here are my top four things to keep an eye out for:
This refers to the hardiness of the plant you’re buying. You should know what zone your home garden is, as it can differ depending on where you live in the country.
Across the UK, are varying growing/hardiness zones from 6 up to 10—based on the USDA scale. Bear in mind that the RHS scale differs in its scale. Your local garden centre should also be able to advise you on which growing zone you live in.
This zone is important to know because you can eliminate some plant species depending on their hardiness. After all, there’s little point in investing time growing a plant that can’t withstand the growing conditions you live in.
The sun requirements that are best suited to your plant are really key. This is so that the plant can photosynthesise, perform and grow to its full potential. The light requirements for any given plant is usually listed on a scale from ‘Full Sun’ to ‘Full Shade’.
To give you a rough idea, if a plant’s label lists ‘Full sun’, you can expect it to need about 6-8 hours of sun every day in order to bloom well.
On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Full shade’ plant varieties need less than 4 hours everyday, else they can experience sun damage—so it’s preferable to only expose them to sun early or late in the day, when it’s less intense.
Then, in the middle of these two extremes, you have ‘Partial shade or sun’ and these plants need 4-6 hours on average each day.
Size and habit
Knowing the “ultimate height” of the plant you’re purchasing is vital. This “ultimate height” refers to its full size once established and you don’t want to be in a position where the plant outgrows its surroundings, so it’s worth looking this up online if it isn’t listed on the label.
I’d say it’s most important for shrubs and evergreens.
These larger structural additions to your garden can grow to much larger heights than you might first imagine. Sometimes a plant’s habit can help deduce the space it needs too. A columnar growth, for instance, means that it grows up in height but not much in width.
This gives you an idea of when your plant is at its peak or, if it’s flowering, when it will be in bloom. By planning your plantings by bloom time, you can have a garden with interest all-year-round.
It’s also worth noting that, before you spend money on plants you hope to see year after year, you should check the label for its life cycle.
Signs and symbols
As well as these four key pieces of information, it’s worth perusing each label for other key pieces of information that can sometimes be listed. The plant’s water and soil preferences are really useful to be aware of because they will help you keep water and nutrient sources at the right level.
I also always look at whether a plant is good for pollinators. This is often represented on the label with a symbol of a bee.
For wildlife garden, this symbol will be your indicator that bees, butterflies and other pollinators benefit from the plant’s presence in your garden.
That’s all that there really is to understanding plant labels, but this knowledge can go a long way to cultivating a spectacular garden. Remember, if you’re not sure, garden centre staff are on hand to help you make better-informed purchasing decisions based on your garden’s specific setting—and a little help can go a long way.