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Henrico Citizen

In the Garden: Understanding plant tags and seed packets to increase your gardening success

By Special to the Citizen,

Check the back of seed packets for pertinent information so you provide the proper growing conditions for the plantings to flourish. (photo courtesy )

Gardening is a wonderful way to grow your own food and create a beautiful landscape. Proper plant selection can help you make wise purchases when visiting the garden center or ordering plants online.

Much of the information you need to know can be found on plant tags and seed packets. Understanding this information can help you select plants suited to the growing conditions in your yard.

Most gardeners first learn about plants by the names that friends, relatives, or fellow gardeners use to refer to them. Each plant also has a unique scientific, also called botanical, name. Since plants can have multiple or regional common names, it is important to check the botanical name when shopping. Checking the tag for the botanical name ensures you buy the right plant.

You will also see the word “zone” followed by numbers in the information on trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, and vegetables. These numbers reflect the plant’s ability to survive the average minimum winter temperatures in the hardiness zones listed. You can find your hardiness zone on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map. It is often included in plant catalogs and other gardening resources to help you find plants suited to your climate. Despite record summer temperatures, it is still important to select plants that can survive the average minimum winter temperatures in your area. Selecting plants that tolerate both the highs and lows where you live will increase their chance of returning each year.

Make sure the plants you select have sufficient frost-free growing days to mature and flower or produce fruit. This is listed as the number of days from planting until harvest. Count the number of days in your growing season from the time you can plant to harvest to see if it’s a good choice.

Matching plants to the amount of sunlight they need to thrive is also important for growing healthy plants. In general, full-sun plants prefer six, preferably eight or more, hours of direct sunlight. Areas receiving only intense afternoon sun are often suitable for plants listed as full or part sun tolerant. Part-sun plants usually need four to six hours of direct sunlight. Part-shade plants generally need two to four hours of direct sunlight preferably from east-facing or other locations where the sun is less intense. Shade plants usually perform well with two hours of direct sunlight or bright, indirect light throughout the day.

Always check the mature size and spread of the plant you select. Picking the right size plant for the available space will save you time and frustration having to prune the mature plant down in size.

No matter what plants you select, make sure to call 811 at least three business days before you begin planting. Wisconsin residents can also file online at and gardeners in any other state can visit They will contact all the appropriate companies who will mark the location of their underground utilities in your designated work area. This free service can help reduce the risk of injury and the inconvenience of accidentally knocking out power, cable, or other utilities.

To remind everyone to call before digging, April has been designated Safe Digging Month. Please make contacting 811 part of your gardening plans and remind family and friends to do the same.

For more gardening information, register for Myers’ free webinar “Understanding Gardening Basics to Boost Your Gardening Success” on March 29 at 6:30 p.m. The webinar is free, but registration is required. Just visit Myers’ website If you can’t attend the live webinar, a recording will be available to watch 24 hours after the live presentation.

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Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Diggers Hotline to write this article. Her website is

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