What nursery labels are really telling you

Sun or part shade? 5-10’? What’s with these ranges?
Aronia melanocarpa (front) can grow in partly shaded areas to full sun. (Photo: Spring Meadow)

Plant listings can seem vague when they give a range rather than a firm size or light requirement. When we introduce a new plant, we are deliberately flexible about these statements; not because we don’t know what they will do, but because we know that plants will perform differently in various locations.

Light requirements can vary quite a bit from one region to the next. Full sun in Michigan, which is typically cool and often overcast, is different from full sun in the heat of the South or the elevation of the Rocky Mountains. If you see a plant listed as full sun to partial shade and you are in a part of the country with intense sunlight, you can assume that it will do well in partial shade.

[Related: A fungi way to protect plants]

It may do well in full sun, too. If you are familiar with the genus and know it performs well in full sun, its cultivars should be fine, too—just watch selections with gold or variegated leaves. They may be affected by full sun in ways that plants with more typical foliage are not.

If you’re in a colder climate with less intense sun, a plant may want more light. Typically, the plant will grow fine in partial shade, but you may see reduced flowering. Flower color can also be affected. We have found this to be true of the new Hydrangea arborescens cultivars with pink or purple blooms. In far northern climates with less intense sun, the flower color is richer in full sun than it is in partial shade.

Location will affect mature size, too. You can expect plants to mature at the shorter end of the range in cold climates and get bigger in milder ones. Warmer climates have longer growing seasons so a plant has more time each year to put on new growth. Over time this can lead to a significant difference in the mature size of a plant.

Winter itself will also cause a size difference. The dwarf buddleia that is killed to the ground each year in the snowbelt will remain a woody ornamental in the south. Even if your winter temperatures aren’t super cold in terms of degrees, extreme temperature swings will also impact plant growth. Spring freezes or sudden fall blizzards can reduce that season’s growth. In very warm areas like Florida, plants may not go dormant at all, and even dwarf varieties can exceed the mature size expectations.

A word about dwarf plants: “Dwarf” refers to it in comparison with the species. Dwarf burning bush, for example, isn’t exactly small. But it’s much more manageable than Euonymus alatus. “Compact” implies that a plant is smaller than the straight species but not small enough to be considered dwarf. These smaller selections are often better fits in landscapes than the larger species, but you must still consider the mature size range.

[Related: Landscaping with wildlife in mind]

Jane Beggs-Joles is a marketing specialist at Spring Meadow Nursery. She can be reached at [email protected].

Jane Beggs-Joles

Jane Beggs-Joles is a marketing specialist at Spring Meadow Nursery. She can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *