Plant characteristics:

Plants have many characteristics, from height and width (spread), to preferred soil type (including acidity and moisture), planting location and hardiness. I've tried to explain these below:

Height:

When a plant height is mentioned in gardening books, magazines, the internet and on plant labels, it generally refers to the height of the plant when fully mature. However the ultimate height of a plant can be affected by a number of conditions, including position, weather, proximity to other plants and soil fertility.

The table below refers to plant height when grown in the UK, under average growing conditions:
Note: A shrub is typically a short or multi-stemmed plant, whereas a tree usually has a single trunk.

Table: Tree and shrub sizes
Plant type Mature height Description
Shrub 1 to 2.5ft (30 - 75cm) Dwarf shrub
3 to 5 ft (1 - 1.5m) Small shrub
6 to 10 ft (1.5 - 3m) Medium shrub
over 10ft (over 3m) Large shrub
Tree Up to 35ft (up to 10m) Small tree
35 to 60ft (10 - 18m) Medium tree
over 60ft (18m) Large tree

Hardiness:

Hardy plants are able to withstand average British winter temperatures in open ground.

Half-hardy plants will be able to withstand average British winter temperatures if protected from frost and or snow, or planted in a sheltered location such as against a wall or amongst other plants. Half-hardy also applies to plants only grown in the summer, such as begonia, marrow, marigold.

Tender plants are susceptible to frost, snow and low winter temperatures. Tender plants will need protection, bringing indoors or moved to a heated greenhouse.

Soil type:

pH is a measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. In gardening publications this is a reference to the acidity of the soil. A pH level of 6.5 to 7 is neutral. Below 4.5 and the soil is very acid, above 7 and the soil is alkaline, normally caused by a high lime content from underlying chalk or limestone.

Most garden plants will thrive in neutral soil, rhododendrons and heathers prefer an acidic (lower pH) soil, whilst peonies and irises will tolerate an alkaline soil.

If you have a soil testing kit, acid soil will show as red, alkaline soil as blue and neutral as green. The vibrance of the colour will determine how acid or alkaline your soil is.

Other gardening basics pages: