That's a nice ____ in your garden
July 1, 2007 12:56 AM   Subscribe

What's an inexpensive but durable way to label plants?

In late May we planted out a bunch of cherished homegrown vegetable seedlings, each carefully identified with Sharpie marker on white plant labels. Then we went away for 3 weeks (asking our nice neighbor to water them if needed). There were several thunderstorms, we heard, while we were away. So, now most of the writing on the labels has washed off and can't be read. Some of the labels were snapped in two (we get some pretty bad storms here sometimes in der mountains). We know a plant is a tomato or pepper or whatever, but we were trying out a bunch of different varieties which we can no longer identify.

So, what can we use in the future for plant labels that won't fade or be blown off - something inexpensive (since we like to try out lots of different things) and reasonably attractive?
posted by derMax to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this matches your qualifications of "reasonably attractive". Maybe a bit rustic, but I love pop-sickle sticks for this. (and a Sharpie) If they're too small, get tongue depressors.

And they're biodegradable.
posted by Ookseer at 1:08 AM on July 1, 2007

There are small metal tags (e.g.) you can get with wire ties that you wrap around the plant. You write on the tag with a pencil (or any other stylus, I guess) which dimples the metal rather than leaving ink/graphite — so it can't fade over time.
posted by hattifattener at 1:15 AM on July 1, 2007

Hm, I'm not sure if the product I linked to there is actually what I was talking about. This gives a clearer picture of what I mean: scroll down to 2702 Write-On Tag. I'd think most garden stores would carry them.
posted by hattifattener at 1:22 AM on July 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can get copper plant labels, that you use a pencil to scribe into. They're durable, being metal, and look quite nice when tied to the plant.

I don't know how expensive they are though, seeing as how the price of copper has shot way up.
posted by Solomon at 1:34 AM on July 1, 2007

Best answer: I worked in a factory that used Tyvek labels + sharpies to tag outdoor inventory. They survived sun, wind, and rain. A used Fedex envelope should provide plenty of tags--just attach them to the plants with string or twist ties.
posted by happyturtle at 2:09 AM on July 1, 2007

This wouldn't actually be out in the garden, but what about a sort of map?

For example, on a piece of graph paper -- when you've planted all your different peppers and things, and put in your labels, you could jot down a rough map so that, if storms were to ruin your labels again, you'd have a guide indoors to what was where.

Of course, if I tried to do this, I would lose the map...
posted by tomboko at 4:34 AM on July 1, 2007

I take pictures, with the labels in the pictures. I'm a container gardener, so it's much easier for me, but using some hybrid between pictures and tomboko's map idea should work. If google or have hi-res pictures of you house you could annotate the aerial pictures.
posted by nazca at 5:39 AM on July 1, 2007

Old metal mini-blind slats. White. Cut down to desired size. Write name of plant in black sharpie on both ends. If writing above the soil line fades, you can pull it out of the soil and still see the writing that was below the soil line.
posted by Ostara at 8:00 AM on July 1, 2007

I saw a magazine article this year suggesting you use plastic knives (and a sharpie) for just this purpose. Not sure how your sharpie washed off. Anyway, put the serrated edges of the knives into the dirt, and voila!
posted by Go, now. Go! at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2007

The Schwan Stabilo Write 4 All is the pen we used for marking and making signs in the nursery. Sharpies don't even compare.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:15 AM on July 1, 2007

Response by poster: I really like happyturtle's idea since I have a bunch of old Fedex envelopes - recycle and label at the same time, awesome. I'd love to do the metal label thing, and we have some for some permanent plants, but it gets a bit expensive for veggies we're constantly changing. Yes indeed all the writing got completely wiped off by some thunderstorms, hailstorms, etc. I'll try other kinds of markers too. Thanks for all the suggestions!

We do actually map out our veg plots and containers already...using Illustrator with a grid and little graphic symbols for each type of plant. It all tends to go to haywire in midsummer though when we've picked and re-planted a lot. We use a variation of the Square Foot Gardening method fwiw.
posted by derMax at 12:07 PM on July 1, 2007

Test a label by dipping it in water after you've written it. If the ink runs, use a better marker.
posted by flabdablet at 6:21 PM on July 1, 2007

Response by poster: Sharpie pen doesn't run, but it just faded away like an old soldier in the weather.
posted by derMax at 1:44 AM on July 2, 2007

The impressable metal tags are probably the go, then.

You could probably just cut up old aluminium drink cans to get a supply of these.

Or, you could go coded: tag the plants with pieces cut from assorted different colours of can, and use a notebook to record tag color vs. variety. That would save a fair bit of scribbling.
posted by flabdablet at 7:34 PM on July 2, 2007

An old fine-point ballpoint pen with no ink left in it should do a pretty good job of scribing a legible dent into drink-can metal, provided you're doing your writing on a surface with a bit of give, like a whole newspaper.
posted by flabdablet at 7:36 PM on July 2, 2007

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