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Plant tags provide valuable information

by Jan Phipps

When you buy a plant from a store or nursery, it will come with a plant tag. DO NOT throw it away. You don’t have to put it out in the garden next to your purchase, but you should tuck it in a file somewhere. The exception is common bedding annuals that are the same every year. Most vegetables are annuals, but if a particular species becomes your favorite after the first bite, you will want to know what it is so you can look for it next year.

Why do you need to have the tag from perennials and shrubs? When it needs to be pruned, you will have to know what time of year is best for that particular variety. There are several groups of plants that have varieties that get pruned at different times. If you get it wrong, you will lose the flower display. You’ve probably listened to call-in shows where someone asks, “When do I cut back my hydrangea?” The host asks what kind of hydrangea it is, and the caller says, “I don’t know. It has green leaves and white flowers.” Unfortunately, that information could apply to a lot of hydrangeas which don’t all get pruned at the same time. Having the scientific name would have enabled the caller to do a little fast research and find the answer on their own. Clematis is yet another group of plants with multiple pruning directions.

Secondly, keeping the plant tag allows you to determine if it is legal to propagate that particular plant, or use a popular name to describe a similar flower. It used to be rare to find a patented or trademarked plant, but that has all changed. The large flower companies do it routinely now to protect their investment in the development of new varieties.

It is illegal to propagate a patented plant without the patent owner’s permission. A plant patent is valid for 20 years, but after that, it is fair game. The tag will say PP plus 5 digits, or PPAF which means plant patent applied for.

Trademarks apply only to a plant’s name. It designates that only the owner of the trademark can use that name. A trademark lasts forever as long as it is in continuous use. A trademarked plant may or may not be patented, but it is best to check. Trademarked plants will have a TM following the name or the letter R surrounded by a circle. An example is Diamond Frost ® Euphorbia by Proven Winners.

So, gardeners, keep those plant tags. They will come in handy one day. The Illinois Extension Master Gardeners of Edgar County can answer your questions by calling 217-465-8585. Please leave a message.