Nickel herb markers from Nina Gibson Designs. $28 for four.
There’s nothing worse than a garden littered with nursery plant labels. Where each plant has a little plastic tombstone. Sure, labels might come in handy if you’ve forgotten whether it was Euphorbia ‘Blue Lagoon’ or ‘Blue Haze’ you planted, but does every pansy need to carry its own ID?
Still, there are some cases where a plant label is entirely appropriate. With perennials, I usually just slightly bury the nursery label at the same time I’m putting the plant in the ground, so if I need to replace the plant or for some reason am just desperate to remember the name, I can poke around in the dirt and (usually) find it.
Write-and-erase plant tags from Allsop Home and Garden. $16 for six.
But with vegetables, plant labels are a necessity. They’re a place holder, so that a week after you do your sowing you can distinguish among the nearly-identical little green seedlings. And even though I swear I’ll remember which tomatoes I’m growing, at the end of the summer it’s hard to tell a Purple Calabash from a Purple Brandywine.
Birdie plant markers from The Modern Gardener. About $9 for 10.
There are a million kinds of plant labels on the market, from the most basic – white plastic tags and wooden tongue depressor types – to the clever, the cute and the Betty Boop.
So what makes a great plant marker? For me, it’s gotta be one you write on yourself. Although some herb marker sets are lovely, inevitably they don’t include all the herbs you plan on growing, leaving your herb garden haphazardly labelled. The horror!
Hairpin-style rose markers from Lee Valley. $16.80 for 25.
Ask a bunch of gardeners about their favourite labels and the talk turns to permanence and DIY pride. Which type of Sharpie to use, how to clear coat a rock so that your Latin is legible next year – that sort of thing. I’m less concerned with longevity because I buy or make ’em cheap, don’t need that many, and because I’ll be planting something different next year anyway. And if I can make ’em myself? Awesome.
Set of metal herb stakes from Spoon Sisters. $22.50 for nine.
Homemade plant markers range from the utilitarian – such as cut-up Venetian (aka “mini”) blinds, milk cartons and pop cans – to the kitschy cool – such as these Shrinky Dink markers – to the truly artful – such as these quilted plant markers. I still like the old stone plant markers a la Martha, and I’m quite happy with the hand-stamped wooden ones I just whipped up the other day (see below).
Wooden markers stamped with permanent ink. $1 for 100 extra-large popsicle sticks. $6 for the alphabet stamps. $10 for the ink.
What’s your take on plant labels? Any favourites I’ve missed?
Hello Andrea .. I wish I had gone the route of plant markers right from the start .. I can’t tell you how many mystery plants I have (more in the cultivar than the actual type of plant) .. I would have gone with cheap and cheerful look that would be practical and not screaming at me at the same time. I didn’t know how many ways it could be done ! thanks !
I think unique markers are great for yard art to add a little something special, although I do not have any of those. I do have plain markers and leave them in the ground by the plant until I have the plant noted forever in my brain, then I discard them….
To plant marker or not to plant marker?
For newbies like me I think they’re a must, particularly at the seedling stage. I have a tray of seedlings; some are Worldbeater peppers, some are Tondo di Thingammies, and some are Cayenne peppers. And I cannot remember which are which. And they all look alike. :(
I like the idea of DIY but then I’m a junk kinda gal. And I like the idea of plant markers being less about names and more about information: when I planted them, how I germinated them and so on, so next year I have more information to go on while I’m learning about these things called plants. Which I used to refer to as “those green things” until I saw The Light.
I have to say tho, that my vote goes to the stone markers. Anyone that knows me: my birthday’s in June. I’m just saying. ;)
My grandparents (whose garden has nearly reached the one acre point) have always been fond of the metal tops of frozen juice tubes. Assuming you drink a lot of juice (or, in their case, have many grandchildren) you have a ready supply of free and durable garden tags.
I am so haphazard.
I use anything and everything to mark my plants, and I have so many plants – so the soil under my vegetables looks like a junkshop. I tuck them far inside next to the stem so that they become invisible as soon as possible, which of course defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.
My favorites? When I first started veg gardening, I used colorful plastic knives – Sticking the sharp part in the soil, of course. They were cute!
Great post! Last summer I needed to mark my ever-growing lily collection. I didn’t have markers, so I made do with what I thought was the next best thing. A sharpie and a bag of plastic spoons. They worked great, until my hubby went looking for spoons for his bag lunches. (He’s not allowed to take the silverware!) Then, my 2 year old handed me a handful of dirt covered plastic spoons…Whoops. I’ll be trying the Lee Valley ones this year!
Fern @ Life on the Balcony says
Oh. My. Gosh. I love the popsicle sticks with the little pictures on the end!
Andrea Bellamy says
Joy – I hear you. Well, it’s not too late to start :)
Darla – That’s pretty much my approach, too.
Georgy Girl – A definite must at the seedling stage! I’ve been in your boat one too many time Though I think you’ll know a cayenne from a tomato pretty soon!
Teacher A – that’s a new one to me! I hadn’t heard of using metal juice tops. Good idea.
Germi – why does that not surprise me? ;)
Carrie – I can’t believe your hubby took the plant markers for lunch! Obviously he’s no dirt-o-phobe!
Fern – they’re my favourite, too :)
Ohhh! I’m totally in love with those bird labels! And your stamp labels are too cute.
Oh dear…i feel a crafty stamping project or two coming on. my little lion cub is going to have such fun. thanks for the inspiration!
I love the stamped pop. sticks- beautiful. Right now my seedlings are labeled with nicely cut cardboard from a Pabst Blue Ribbon 12 pack, labeled with silver sharpie. I had a big seedling mix up last year with about 20 tomato plants- developed into mystery tomatoes- never again!
i took some scrap copper tubing (1/4″ dia) i had about, hammered it flat, and took a set of steel lettering stamps to it. permanent easy to read, and patinas nicely to a very earthy color that disappears but lets me tell the different sorts of mint apart.
Some of those are truly a work of art. I usually go the mini-blind route. If I bury most of them, I don’t see the ugly things & the marker stays true. However, I’ve done copper, stainless steel painted a lovely shade of Martha green, painted mini-blinds, etc., etc. Thanks for these new ideas. Perhaps one day we should all do a label swap. Fun hugh?~~Dee
Betsy Bargain says
Another cute plant marker idea I’ve seen is to label and decorate small flat rocks with Sharpies.
erin, maker of chimes says
Very cute ideas! I love the DIY look to these, yet very functional at the same time. I’m gathering materials to make some from silverware myself :)
Jeannie in Sacramento says
my mom always used the expression, “there’s nothing worse than…” and it would make me laugh because I could think of many a worse thing. As in “nothing worse than a garden littered with nursery plant labels.” It’s a charmingly wrong statement. But, nevertheless, your labels are delightful. thanks!
The Modern Gardener says
This is such a lovely collection of plant label ideas (even if I am biased as our shop carries one of the products!). I haven’t seen most of these and they are great. And thanks for the mention.
Kerry Moore says
Lots of good ideas here. I don’t like seeing the white plastic markers glowing in the garden in the evening, but at least it reminds who’s new and might not make it. As to the winter-overs, I usually use one of Lee Valley’s metal markers cause even though I can’t see them at any distance, when I am on my knees weeding, or even thundering about transplanting in the fall I know where something is. The marker names are long gone, but the fact of the metal prongs tells me the spot’s taken. And that’s what I love about spring – it’s all a lovely surprise. I am often heard chorusing to my garden-deaf husband, “Look, look, it might be the hyssop or maybe the bergamot; but somethings come back!”
i do stones. paint them or simply write on them. they look the best. but usually no time or preparation and so i put plastic plant pots on sticks…when will i learn to have markers ready? i still love the popsicle sticks…easy, cheap and they work.
koala brains says
I’m a gardening newbie and started reading your blog recently. I made the popsicle sticks today and they came out great. I used regular stamp ink then sprayed acrylic sealant. It’s about to rain so I’ll find out if it keeps the ink from smearing! Thanks!
Jesse Lu says
i make little flags from large flat toothpicks (the serving variety not the picking variety), cereal box cardboard, and tape. They’re not permanent but by the time they croak my plants will be fully distinguishable adults (or adolescents) and I won’t need the signs anymore. I do have an awfully small patio though… I’d probably sing a different tune with a large and more permanent garden.
These are all beautiful ways to mark your plants! I also love using old forks and placing the names in the tines! Just put the handle in the dirt and the name in the top! -e
Try making markers out of re-purposed things in your home – milk cartons cut into strips with Sharpie lettering or aluminum soda cans work great! The aluminum cans are really easy to cut with scissors and if you push hard with a dead ball-point pen (on top of a stack of newspapers or paper) it indents the soft metal and will be readable forever. You can make stakes or small metal tags using a holepunch and garden wire or twine. This is what i did in my garden for all my herbs. Beautiful and free!
Where do you buy the alphabet stamps and permanent ink from? I love this idea!
hi! did your ink-on-wood stamped markers survive the season? didn’t run/bleed/fade? curious as i’m wanting to do the same!
Modern Gardens says
I could use some plant labels in my own garden. It gets really hard to track every one of them when you have like 10 or 20 different plants.