conflicting plant info

I am in no way any kind of gardening expert, just a hobbyist that has done it a few years and learned from reading or doing. However, something I noticed and seem to think is getting worse over time is conflicting information on the identical plants. I mean the same common and technical named plants - ie, exactly the same, not just offshoots or slightly different species, but identical :). I am located in SE Wisconsin. I rely on tags, nurseries, experience, books, mags, the net, etc for what I want to plant and where. The information on size if very conflicting though I notice. So, overall I am very much a gardening newbie.
For example, a few years back when I really knew nothing :) - I bought some green velvet boxwoods and I still have the tag that came with that that says grow 3 ft tall and 3 ft wide.. Both at local nurseries and on the net, I have found the same plant with descriptions of the following:
1) 2-3 ft tall and wide 2) 3 ft tall and wide 3) 4ft tall and wide 4) 5 ft tall and wide 5) 3-5 ft tall and wide
I've seen many plants like this - another example is a Blue Muffin Vibirnum that I've seen at:
1) 4-5 ft 2) 5-6 ft 3) 4-6 ft 4) 6-8 ft 5) 8-10 ft 6) 10-12 ft
All of these are from tags at various nurseries in my area over a few years or even the same nursery at different times. I'm not so concerned when you're talking 3 ft vs 4 ft or even 3 ft vs 5 ft - but 2 ft vs 5 ft and 4-5ft vs 10-12ft is a significant difference and affects what I plant and where.
I've asked nursery owners locally and across the net on these and how I can determine what to expect, but their answers conflict as well. Some example explanations:
1) The tags from Oregon where the climate lets them get larger 2) The tags is based on no pruning 3) I've never seen one that (large, small - pick one) 4) On the boxwood at different nurseries - "It will stay around 3 ft" or "It will definately get to 5 ft" 5) On the Blue Muffin - "those are small versions, only 5-6 ft tops" or "those get 8-10 ft or larger" 6) "They say there so small because they grow slow, but they'll be much larger over a few years"
I understand that climate, location, etc, etc will have an impact. I also understand pruning is a way to keep size to desirable. How I look at it though is that I don't want to unnecessarily create more work so if I have a location that would fit a 5 ft plant nicely then I don't want to drop in a plant I should expect to get to 10ft and then require 2x's the maintenance. If I have a 5ft space to fill, I seek out a plant I like around that size, not twice as large.
Any tips, advice, or resources where ones gets reliable information on plant charateristics? Is the only way to figure this out by experience when something becomes way overgrown for its spot and you have to dig it up? I suppose its like our Wisconsin forecast though - 1 to 4 inches of snow in the morning, 3 to 6 inches in the afternoon, and 4 to 8 inches overnight - adds up to 8 to 18 inches! If only paychecks were the same where I make my normal rate this week and then 60% more next week! :)
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Oh, then it isn't just me! I often find myself looking up plant information because I tend to be an opportunistic buyer who picks up the odd sale plant or small plant being liquidated by a mail order producer at the end of the season. For instance I got a Mock Orange (Minnesota Snowflake). I got estimates of the size from three feet to 10 feet.
As for the Blue Muffin viburnum, I have a little expertise with that. I picked up three plants, about six inches high, in tiny pots at the Springhill Nursery clearance sale I put them in a new bed in July of 2003. This spring they are up to six feet high and about two feet wide. I have been amazed at their growth, especial since they are in a sheltered area that gets only afternoon sun. I expect that they will continue to grow, so a height of eight to ten feet wouldn't be unexpected. There is some variation in their growth rate from plant to plant. The tallest being over six feet and the shortest being about four feet. Each plant took a different amount of time to get established. Now they are suckering from the base and expanding from elongation of the old growth as well as the addition of new growth. Mine are just about ready to bloom. I'm in SW Ohio, zone 6.
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Vox Humana wrote:

Your Blue Miffin Viburnum might be getting tall because it is reaching for the sun.
--

Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8
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Could be, but they look full and healthy and are covered with flowers.
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I can't help you with what the tags on plants say, but I have found a site where users can make comments about plants and upload their own pictures of them. Davesgarden.com
The only advice I have about bushes and tags is, if you want a bush that will stay small, make sure it has "dwarf" in the name of the plant.
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Thanks for the link, I will check it out.
I have a Dwarf Burning Bush that says it gets to 8 ft though! :) And at least around here a non-dwarf burning bush says 8-10 ft. So even that I don't get.
I ran into yet another in a nursery, unfortunately it was a plant I never heard of and thought I could recall the name, but now can't - the tag says grows 3ft x 3 ft, the picture ON the SAME tag shows the plant pictured against a house and in the picture it is clearly much larger than 3ft as it is pictured against a house and as tall as the roof. The nursery written sign said the plant gets 2 ft x 2 ft. The nursery staff shrugged off the differnce and said yep, it gets somewhere between being a small to large shrub. Their stock was already roughly 2 ft x 2 ft insize. So here again, is it a 2ft plant or 8 ft plant - that's a major difference!

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I bought 6 rhododendrons from one nursery and every one of them turned out to differ in flower color and size/growth habit from what the label indicated. I don't buy from that nursery anymore.
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I probably frequent 10-15 nurseries and garden centers in my area over the course of the season. I can't find that any one is more accurate than the other, they just all have different info. I'm ok with something that says 3 ft but gets to 5 ft, but I don't like something that says 3 ft and really gets to 8 ft. So, I don't think that I am even looking for too exact info - I think I am just asking for it to be in the ballpark. If your topsoil costs $3 vs $8 that's a big deal so I think 3ft vs 8ft is too.
I have the color issues too though - my white potentilla that has yellow flowers, my yellow rose that is deep red, my daylillies that aren't even close either. All purchased from different places. Sizing is just more my issue because I don't want to create work for myself having a larger plant in a smaller space and since I have a wide range of interest - it should be easy enough for me to find a plant I like in the right size, if only I could figure out what size is the real size.
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Conflicting information is quite common. Even university botanists disagree on the classification of plants.
I'm on a committee tasked with advising our county on the proper care of public landscape along the main road into our community. We have holly oaks (Quercus ilex) planted in the very wide flanking medians (greenways) that separate the road from frontage roads. The greenways are turfed. Some of the trees are dying.
We have consulted commercial tree growers, arborists, specialty nurseries, reference books, and even the Center for Urban Forest Research at the University of California at Davis. Some say that irrigating the turf is killing the trees. Some say it's the mere presence of turf within the trees' root zones that is killing them. Others say that it's a lack of deep water and that sufficient water to keep the turf alive will not harm planted trees that were nursery grown. Some point to the fact that Q. ilex is not a long-lived tree and that -- at 30+ years -- some should be expected to decline. Others claim that Q. ilex should thrive for 75-100 years. These are all professionals, giving very conflicting information.
--

David E. Ross
<URL:http://www.rossde.com/
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I wonder if it depends on the particular cultivar. The #1 source for woody plant info, hands down, is Michael Dirr's, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses.
Suzy O, Zone 5 Wisconsin

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