Understand Plant Tags for Gardens

Lavender tag

Shopping for plants can be daunting. You’ve found the perfect variety, you think. But how do you decipher the gibberish on that plant tag? Is that variety a good choice for your garden? Understanding plant tags for gardens is a breeze if you know the basics.

Knowing how to read a plant tag is essential to making the best choices in the nursery. Some tags read like botanical encyclopedias and some provide very little information.

Here’s how to work your way through a tomato plant tag.

1. Common name of the plant

All tomato plants have a common name and a Latin name (referred to as a Botanical name). Several common names of popular tomatoes are Roma, San Marzano, Brandywine and so on.

2. Botanical name of the plant

Botanical names are usually two Latin words, sometimes written in italic on the tag. The botanical name specifies the species of the tomato plant. A third word following the botanical name is the cultivar of the plant, as in the name Roma. A cultivar is simply a variation of the species. Roma, San Marzano and Brandywine are all paste tomatoes. But they look, taste and grow differently.

3. Other common names

Some tomato tags may simply categorize the plant as a plum tomato, paste tomato, pizza tomato and so on. This is fine as long as the tag also provides necessary information such as the plant type, days to maturity and plant care.

4. Tomato plant types

Understanding the plant’s genetic makeup is important, particularly if you plan to save seeds for the next year’s crop.

Heirloom plants are stable in the garden and offer the bonus of providing seeds to grow subsequent crops from year to year.

Hybrid plants have strong qualities but the seeds can’t be replicated from year to year. To grow them the following year, it is back to the nursery for more plants next spring.

Open pollenated plants, such as volunteer tomatoes, are stable in garden from year to year.

Determinate tomatoes ripen all at once. This is perfect for canning tomatoes, making sauces or drying tomatoes for the winter. Indeterminate tomatoes provide ripe fruit throughout the growing season.  Most common tomato varieties are indeterminate.

5. Sun and shade

Most tomatoes will require full sun, or at least six hours of sun. Although, there are varieties are fine with partial shade. Important tip: read that plant tag.

6. Tomato size

How large will the tomato be when ripe? Smaller varieties yield greater quantities. Larger varieties like Beefsteaks yield less fruit, cherry tomatoes more fruit.

7. Days to maturity

This is an important factor. It indicates the number of days needed for the first ripe tomato. Early season tomatoes 50-65 days, mid season tomatoes 66-75 days and late season 100-125 days. If late season varieties were all that were purchased at the nursery, it will be a long summer without tomatoes. Consider choosing a mix of early, mid season and late season varieties for fresh tomatoes throughout the growing season. Northern climates may require early season varieties to compensate for the shorter growing season.

8. Hardiness

Tomatoes are considered annuals; they die off in the winter. Most varieties are hardy in climate zones 5-12.

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