How the Heck to Read a Plant Label
By Chris Cohan
Itching to feel the warm spring sun on your face? So are your plants. Figuring out how much light they need can be confusing. Full sun, part-sun, shade — what does it all mean? Boggled by other terms on plant labels? Here’s a quick primer
Sun = 6+ hours of bright sun each day
Part Sun = 4-6 hours of sun daily, or filtered light throughout the day
Shade = fewer than 4 hours of sun a day
If more than one is listed, it indicates the plant can tolerate both conditions.
This tells you if a plant tolerates the coldest winter temperatures experienced in your area. Rye is Zone 7. Generally, whatever is for sale at a local garden center, you can count on it being hardy.
The height and width you can expect the plant to achieve at maturity. It may take several seasons for the plant to reach these proportions, depending on climate, growing conditions, and the size of the plant you start with.
A rough guideline explaining how far apart to plant multiple specimens of the same variety based on the width of the plant at maturity.
If it says “foliage plant” that means it is does not bloom like conifers or that the blooms are insignificant — boxwood or privet or hydrangeas, which are foolishly pruned every fall or early spring leaving nothing but a mound of lush green leaves, for example.
This indicates the best time to prune the plant IF it needs it. Not all plants require regular pruning. If you are in doubt about whether you should prune your plant, err on the side of caution and do not prune it.
Here you’ll find any special soil requirements to consider before planting. Most plants do require well-drained soil.
This section notes any special care the variety requires. In most cases, you’ll find fertilizing recommendations here. Fertilizing is not strictly necessary in most cases – but if you wish to fertilize, this will tell you the best time to do it. The best fertilizer to use for flowering shrubs is a granular one formulated for woody plants. Measure it out according to package directions. Apply and cultivate it in around the perimeter of your plants rather than close to the main stem.
The key to success. Always keep your plants watered as instructed.
Uses or Features
This section lists some common landscape uses for the plant, based on its habit like height, width, and whether it is upright, rounded, creeping, etc. These are just suggestions; plants are versatile and can be used just about any way that you can dream up. Don’t feel bound by what you see here if you had a different use in mind.
It can range low to high. Double check before being disappointed in it being nibbled by those cloven-hoofed garden marauders. Rye is a high deer activity area. So, if other food sources become scarce, deer may eat even their least-favorite plants. (I’m still perplexed why the powers that be don’t approve bow hunting at the Marshlands, Jay Estate, Edith Read, and the private clubs to thoughtfully and safely cull the herd. Too many folks and their properties are being held hostage by these four-legged furry thugs. It’s time we take back our community from these intruders!)
Follow instructions. Especially digging hole wider and deeper to provide loose soil for roots to grow easily into. Never, ever mound mulch up around plant trunks. That is by far the dumbest thing going. Who started it? And why like lemmings do so many copy it? If you see something, say something…like STOP.
Okay, you are ready to dig and plant. All that is needed is for that spring-warming sun to show up with more regularity.