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NEW VIDEO: How to Read Plant Labels

Photo: Easy Elegance® Roses
Ever take a closer look at the label on the plant you're about to purchase? Don't forget to use this important tool that's going to help you "Become a Smarter Gardener in 2019"! Planting a tree, shrub, perennial, annual can sometimes be complicated...and this information will help you site and care for the plant so it has the greatest chance to succeed.

Take a few minutes to watch this Extension Video Guide to reading plant labels. You'll be glad you did!

Who regulates plant labels? 

In our state, the Minnesota the Department of Agriculture regulates what information is required on plant labels. Plants have a tough time growing in Minnesota’s rigorous climate, and sometimes so do we!  Our winters are rough and many plants will not survive in Minnesota’s USDA Hardiness Zones as follows:

  • Zone 3 (minimum winter temperature of -40°F); 
  • Zone 4 (minimum winter temperature of -30°F); 
  • and in the metro and far southern MN, Zone 5 (minimum winter temperature of -20°F).  
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture regulates the sale of plants and does not want (perennial) plants to be sold here that are not fully winter hardy. Plants sold in Minnesota need to state the hardiness zone or cold that the plant will tolerate, or state NOT HARDY, so we know what we are buying.

How do plant label laws protect us in Minnesota?

Specifically the Minnesota Cold Hardiness statute requires that:
  1. "Plants, plant materials, or nursery stock must not be labeled or advertised with false or misleading information including, but not limited to, scientific name, variety, place of origin, hardiness zone as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, and growth habit."
  2. "All nonhardy nursery stock as designated by the commissioner must be labeled correctly for hardiness or be labeled "nonhardy" in Minnesota."
"If cold hardiness labeling is present, it must be consistent with this list. If the correct cold hardiness is on the label nothing further is needed. However, plants that are not labeled for cold hardiness and are not cold hardy in the area in which they are being sold must be labeled 'nonhardy.'”

Other label information

Additional information gardeners would like to see on the label are: site preferences; native to Minnesota; flowering time; life cycle (annual or perennial), height; longevity; etc. However, this additional information is optional.  So much information can be hard to capture on a label and require much more work for the grower and retailer.

Good gardening tip!

Once you purchase a plant, keep the plant label! This important information is easy to forget. If nothing else, use a large mailing envelope to collect all your plant labels for each year. Better yet, add them to a garden journal with the date planted, location in your yard, and the receipt.

For complete cold hardiness labeling information and the cold hardy plant list for Minnesota see:
MN Dept. of Agriculture Cold Hardiness List
USDA Hardiness zone map 

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Extension Horticulturist and UMN Professor

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