Published on 03/05/08

Read plant labels thoroughly

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Reading nutritional labels can help you make the best food selections for your body’s needs. Taking the time to read plant labels can help you do the same for them.

“Before you even buy a plant, you need to read and understand the information on its label,” said Bobby Smith, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Morgan County. “This is as important for plants as it is for seed, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides.”

Soil type and right light

A plant label includes information like the plant’s Latin and common names, mature height, spread and flowering time.

The label will indicate whether the plant performs best in acidic, alkaline or neutral soil. It will also dictate whether the plant prefers moist, well-drained or dry conditions.

Light requirements are also commonly found on plant labels. Knowing the plant’s light requirements will help you determine whether to it likes full sun, partial sun or shade.

The most overlooked detail on the plant label is the plant’s mature size, Smith said.

“The mature height and spread of any plant is an especially important consideration before planting,” he said. “The plant may be called a dwarf, but compared to what? The dwarf’s parent plant may grow to be 80 feet tall while it only grows to 40 feet.”

Knowing how tall and wide a plant will be at maturity is essential for proper site selection. This information will prevent you from placing the plant or tree too close to a house or structure.

Not too close

“Trees should be planted no closer than 20 feet to any house or structure to keep roots from undermining the foundation,” he said. “For proper health, plants should not be placed too close to each other either.”

If you cannot understand the information on the plant’s label, don’t buy it or plant it until you do, Smith said. Ask a garden center professional for help or contact your local UGA Extension office by calling 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.