The Language of Plant Shopping

pant tags

What are your shopping terms?

Planting season is here! Time to go out and get some new plants and do some gardening! However, if you aren’t an experienced plant shopper, you may find yourself slightly perplexed with some of the terms you will encounter.

Fear not!

Here is a list of some basic plant terms to help you figure out just what you are taking home, and help you understand some of the basic needs of your new plants.


Annual – plants that complete their life cycle in the span of one growing season are called annuals.  This means they come up when the weather warms up in the spring, flower, drop seed and then die when the frost comes in the late fall.  The seed they drop will then grow the following spring.


Biennial – Just like an annual, but finishes its life cycle in two seasons.  Biennials will usually not flower until their second year however.


Perennial – These are plants that last longer than two seasons.  They are usually planted as permanent additions to gardens or landscapes.  Perennials usually have a much shorter blooming period which can be anywhere between two and four weeks depending on the type.  Annuals are often planted along with perennials to provide color throughout the season, and will usually require some type of seasonal pruning in order to maintain their desired shape and size.


Caliper – Measurement of the diameter of the trunk of a tree at a certain height (usually 6-12 inches from the ground).  This is used to show the approximate age of a tree, and is usually used by nurseries for pricing purposes.  The larger the caliper, the older the tree and the more expensive it will likely be.


Deciduous – Trees or shrubs that  lose their leaves seasonally are classified as deciduous.  Maples, oaks and cherry trees are great examples of deciduous trees.  They will be rather bare all winter but will be green and fresh come spring.


Evergreen – Trees and shrubs that keep their leaves throughout all four seasons.  Any tree that bears cones is an evergreen, but not all evergreens are cone-bearing.  Pine, Fir, and Rhododendron are good examples of evergreens.


Hardiness Zones – The USDA has geographically defined the areas in which certain plants will thrive.  These zones are usually indicated on the plants tag when you find them at your local nursery.  Plants that are not hardy to your zone may not do well if you plant them outside. This is illustrated using a color-coded map that can be found here:


Invasive Species – This term is used to describe plants (or other organisms) that are not native to a particular area, and are not supposed to be there.  These are usually damaging to local areas due to their lack of natural enemies and their tendency to overpower native species.  Bamboo is a perfect example of an invasive plant species.  Most nurseries won’t sell any invasive plants, but you may occasionally encounter them in friends gardens or in the wild.  DO NOT BRING THEM HOME.


This should be enough to take care of your basic plant shopping, but don’t be afraid to ask someone if you have a question!  People who work at nurseries are extremely knowledgable and usually more than happy to help out!

Happy Gardening!

~The Greencare Team