Plants Can’t Read

I make no secret about the fact that I am a shrub tester for Proven Winners. And they have some absolutely marvelous shrubs (as well as some marvelous perennials–and stay tuned–next year they are coming out with edibles including a tomato that can take some heat for southern gardens and a basil that is resistant to mildew. Both sound very promising!)

But every so often there’s a disconnect between what a plant should be and what it turns out to be. I call this the “plants can’t read” syndrome. Why do I call it that?

Well, you know those wonderful tags that come with all your plants? They have height and spacing and color and zone and lots are even coming with a QR code now to snap with your phone for even more care information? All that is great to give you a general idea.

It’s usually fairly accurate for annuals which grow for a season and then die.

It’s often accurate for perennials–but not always. Perennials still can surprise you with more–or less-growth than you expect depending on the unique micro-climate of your yard.

But shrubs, in general, have an ability to surprise you, despite what their tags say. Why is this? Well despite the fact that plants are “trialled” by growers, shrubs take a longer time to reach full maturity–so even the growers don’t know their full growth potential.

A couple of good examples of this are the Knockout rose and Endless Summer Hydrangea (Rosa ‘Radrazz’ and Hydrangea macrophylla bailmer, respectively). Here in my climate, both well exceeded their original growth estimates of 4-5′ and 4′ respectively.

My Knockout rose towered well above my head for several years, topping out at about 7′.

My Endless Summer hydrangea was slightly better behaved–it maybe got to be about 5 1/2-6 feet tall and wide. A few abnormally cold winters have caused me to prune both of them back very hard–back to about where they should be, into the 4′ range.


And then there’s this little issue–a plant that has no idea who or what it wants to be. This plant is a Rose of Sharon known as Li’ Kim (hibiscus syriacus ‘Antong Two’) .


And this plant is a Rose of Sharon, also, Lil’ Kim.

Here’s a close up of the second Lil Kim’s flowers.


Notice any issues yet?

According to the Proven Winners web site, the mature size of this plant is 36-48 inches. The white version of Lil’ Kim is currently towering over the neighboring kolkwitzia (another Proven Winners plant that is doing exactly what it’s supposed to! This one is Dream Catcher or kolkwitzia amabilis). Its mature height is listed at 72-108″ and it is about mature at 8′ plus.

So I would say the white version of Lil’ Kim has totally “reverted” to its parentage–and has from day 1, I might add–at no time was this ever a dwarf plant so there is no question of me not cutting out a leader than reverted or something.

With respect to the purple version of Lil’ Kim–what is there to say? She’s still not dwarf and she’s not even the right color!

And still Proven Winners continues to sell this plant. Hmm. I hope others don’t have my experiences!

So that’s just a couple of examples of plants not “reading” their tags and not knowing what they’re supposed to be–how tall, what color, etc.

This wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t put them in the front of the shrub border. Ah well….

6 thoughts on “Plants Can’t Read

  1. tonytomeo August 22, 2018 / 11:11 pm

    Proven Winners does not send me samples anymore, perhaps because I was a bit too honest.

  2. gardendaze August 23, 2018 / 5:08 am

    Proven Winners has a lot of wonderful plants. I have had trouble with only a couple of them but these are two that definitely didn’t read their tags!


  3. roberta4949 August 29, 2018 / 1:45 pm

    sometimes plants get mislabeled don’t know how many times I ordered a plant and only find when it is grown that is not what I ordered, what do you expect when they hire low wage workers.

  4. gardendaze August 29, 2018 / 3:43 pm

    Yes, that definitely happens and it’s really disappointing when it does–even more so when it’s something like bulbs that you planted 6 months earlier and now they have come up completely wrong!


  5. The Chatsworth Lady May 24, 2021 / 11:14 am

    I do get annoyed sometimes when PW slaps their own cultivar name on something that already had one plus the Plant Patent #. Early in 2019 they were advertising a fothergilla called ‘Legend of the Fall’. Nice catchy name, except that this is the same plant known as ‘Alice’ which really doesn’t differ noticeably from ‘Mt. Airy’ unless you are growing them within eyeshot of each other. Anyway, it never made to it to market in 2019 and was supposed to hit in 2020 instead. I think it’s finally making the rounds this year but I already bought a Mt. Airy instead, so oh well, LOL

  6. gardendaze May 24, 2021 / 11:29 am

    One of the things I always talk about when I lecture–particularly when it comes to trees and shrubs–is that perhaps the “latest and greatest” might not be–as you can see above with my Lil’ Kim story. If I had paid money for those, I would be outraged!

    And I am also “outraged” at the idea of patenting plants. You should see the looks on the faces of the garden club members when I tell them that they really should be careful what they’re digging and dividing for their plant sales because patented plants should NOT be sold in their sales. The whole thing has gotten frankly ridiculous–but luckily–so far–there are no “plant police.”


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