Monthly Archive for November, 2012

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Why plant tags suck!

Plant Tag

I have a love hate relationship with plant tags.  Yeah plant tags, those annoying plastic, push-in-pot plant tags that seem to come attached to every plant you buy at the garden center. Growers use them to brand their wares, and provide basic information like names, prices, characteristics, and growing requirements.  Garden centers like them because they help sell plants, make customers more self sufficient, and reduce labor costs.

Despite all the value plant tags have in the garden center, I seldom refer to them after the plant goes in the ground.  Still, for some reason I cannot bring myself to throw them away.  The ever growing pile of plastic plants tags in my garage symbolizes both my desire to catalog the plants in my garden, and that fact that plant tags are the wrong tool for the job. Looks like I am not alone in this compulsion.  Check out this blog post.

So why do plant tags suck?

Let me count the ways …

  1. Plant tags are ugly. Plant tags are first and foremost sales tools designed to capture your attention, and communicate a core value proposition –  “Long Blooming” anyone? Now you are listening!  Good for the garden center, bad for the garden. The last thing I want is a garden full of plastic sticks. Maybe someone could design a plant tag that is flush to the ground like a thumbtack, just a thought.
  2. Plant tags are hard to read. Seriously. Why is the print so small? Considering most avid gardeners are well past middle age, you think more of an effort would be made to make the print large enough to read.  Increasingly, QR codes are being added to plant tags allowing supplemental information to be moved to websites.  I hope they use the extra space to increase the size of the type.
  3. Plant tags are wrong 80% of the time. Evergreens and conifers aside, the images used on plant tags typically show mature plants at the peak of their life cycle, whether that be flowers in full bloom, or fruit trees loaded with fruit. This means that 80% of the time the plant you purchased will not look like the image on the plant tag.  This can make identification difficult once the plant tag is removed from the plant.
  4. Plant tags don’t tell you where you purchased the plant. There was a time when garden centers were responsible for labeling the plants they stocked.  As the industry evolved, and the growing side of the business became separated from the retail side of the business (think Monrovia and Lowe’s) this responsibility was assumed by the grower.  Some garden centers still grow their own stock, and print their own plant tags, but they are the minority.  As someone that purchases plants from many different sources, remembering where a specific plant came from can be challenging to say the least.  Unfortunately, plant tags are usually of little help in this regard.

I feel better now that I have gotten that off my chest.  I would love to hear your perspective on plants tags.  What is your opinion of them, and how can they be improved? Safe to say we are a working on a solution we hope will address many of the shortcomings I listed above.

Does anyone know the name of this (plant)?

I recently saw this post on  They have a “Mystery Plant” gallery designed to help gardeners find the names of plants. Registered members of the website can upload pictures of the plants they need help identifying.  These pictures are then visible to everyone that visits

Name this plant

Description of the “Mystery Plant” gallery on

There are many reasons why gardeners–even seasoned ones–need help identifying a plant now and then. Maybe you inherited a garden during a move to a new home, received an unknown division from a friend, found a random volunteer in the corner of a bed, or lost plant tag. Maybe you knew once, and now you just can’t remember.

Luckily, Fine Gardening readers are here to help you ID unknown plants in your garden.

All of the reasons lists for using the “Mystery Plant” gallery have to do with plants you already own.  I think they are missing another common problem faced by gardeners – the name of that must have plant they saw in someone’s garden during there travels around their local community, or further from home.  Solving this problem is often not as simple as knocking on someone’s door.  The plant in question might have been planted by a previous home owner, or a landscaping company. Or maybe you are not the type of person that likes to talk to complete strangers.  Regardless, taking a picture of the plant in question, and uploading to the “Mystery Plant” gallery might solve half of your problem – the name of the plant.  But not the other half – where you can buy it locally.

Use the Big Brain

Tools like the ‘Mystery Plant” gallery are what the internet is all about.  Bringing together people with similar interests regardless of their physical proximity to one another.  Chances are someone who can identify this plant will eventually notice this post, and take the time to respond, but then again, they might not.  You are relying on the goodness of strangers.

Looking at this another way.  Had this question been directed to a retailer in close proximity to this gardener, chances are they would have gotten a faster response.  Why?  Because there is a financial incentive for the retailer to establish contact with potential customers.  That is to say, gardeners that are within driving distance of their business.