Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to Read Plant Labels - Guidelines for Planting




Every industry has words that pertain to that field - 'missing' means something specific to an auto mechanic;  'temp' to a health care professional means something quite different than 'temp' means to employment agency.
I have tried to get into the texting world with my grand kids.  I frequently get 'lots of love' (lol)  from them - I think I've got this texting down!(?)

 While showing a novice gardener a plant, I asked her "What kind of exposure will this get?"
"Oh, lots", she replied.  "It will be right out front by the mailbox!"  That disconnect between areas of interest caused me to have this conversation at a garden center where I was working. My reference to 'exposure' was quite different from  what this young lady thought I meant.



  I think these gaps  in understanding could be lessened. So I'd like to start with the plant label.  Growers take the time to print labels, and attached labels, but frequently folks don't understand what they are being told. 


Let's look at this label

Mandarin Lights Azalea -  the common name that you and I would use.  The second line, however, is Azalea X 'Mandarin Lights'.  The botanical name is used by growers and other professionals in the green industry to distinguish this 'specific' azalea, "Mandarin Lights'. The specific name is the cultivar - or the cultivated variety.  The grower has developed this by crossing (X) different azaleas to get the size or color blended from each. 

The Northern Lights Series is a group of azaleas that have similar breeding, but may have different features - very much like siblings have in any family.

The bloom time for this azalea is spring, and the color 'bright orange red' is a description of the bloom.  Foliage, or leaves, are dark green.  (These description are on the label so even if  the plant is not in bloom or the leaves haven't emerged for the season, the buyer has a reference of what to expect).

Planting guide for this azalea says the plant does best in well drained soil. 



Obviously, this is not a good choice for planting this azalea.

The label also recommends 'acid' soil. 


pH is the measure of available hydrogen (H) in solution in the soil.  Some plants like an acid soil, (below 7) on this scale.  Some plants needs are for alkaline (above 7) conditions.  A soil test can determine what your soil pH is. Local extension offices or garden centers can assist you in this process. If you have acid soil, you are good to go with this azalea.  However, if your test indicates you have a pH above 7, alkaline, then I would suggest you consider a different plant.

 We can amend (supplement) soils with minerals.  And your soil test will tell you what your soil is missing and how much to apply. However, changing the pH of your soil is difficult.  The soil will always revert to its natural state.  We can add lime to make a garden more alkaline; sulphur to make soil more acid.  These steps will have to be repeated over and over again as your soil reverts to its natural pH.  This calculates into a huge amount of time and money. 




The next part of our plant label indicates this plant does best in 'part shade'. 

Here is how this light requirement is best defined.
Full Sun - minimum of six (6) hours of direct sun. 
Part Sun - or Part Shade are 4 - 6 hours of sun
Full Shade - maximum  2 hours of sun

Some growers will draw a picture - as above - this tells me that this plant can take full shade as shown by the full dark circle.  And this plant will tolerate a little amount of sun   Most plants do need some sun or bright light to bloom well.

The last feature of this plant label I wish to address is the reference to Zone 5.  The US (the whole world, actually) is divided into Hardiness Zones.  The coldest zone that a plant can survive is indicated on these labels.  The Zone 5 is the coldest this azalea will survive.  If  this Zone 5 azalea were planted in Zone 4, a more northern region, it would probably not live. 



Some gardeners like to 'push the envelope' when they plant less hardy plant material in their gardens.  If you
replace too many plants too often, I think that novelty would wear off. 


The plant labels are helpful if we plant according to the recommendation.  I, for one, have put many plants to an early trip to the compost pile by putting it in the wrong spot in my garden.  
The right plant in the right spot. 

Read the label.  

Have you ever challenged a plant to survive in a zone that was too cold?  What plant? And what did you need to do? 

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