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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop: Plant Labels

2009_0131image0035 All month long I've been waiting for the snow to melt so that I could take actual pictures of actual plant labels for this month's Garden Blogger's Design Workshop: Plant Labels. Truth be told, early in the month I had an opportunity but my laziness got the best of me and since then, the ground has been blanketed by a foot or so of snow. Now, here it is the last day of the month and I'm forced to just tell you about my plant labels, with almost no no visual aid. So, get your imaginations out. You're gonna need them!

Manufacturer labels

Maybe I'm a dork but I really like the labels that come on the store-bought plants. They come with a picture of what the plant is supposed to look like, how big they'll get and the light and water requirements right there in plain view.

For my backyard garden plants, I typically cut these tags off and stuff them right in the dirt in front of said plant. I haven't been gardening long enough to recognize plants not in bloom and God knows my memory is so bad I can't ever recall what I've planted where, so this works for me.

For my plants in the front garden, I usually just leave the tags right on the plant. It always reminds me of Minnie Pearl wearing tags on her hats but that's not why I do it. The truth is that my neighbors are gardeners, too, and they're usually just about as excited when I plant new crap as I am. They like to know what the new stuff is so I leave the tags on the plants and tell them they're free to roam through the beds checking out the goods anytime they want.

Mini-blind labels

I've made many plant labels from mini-blinds. If you buy the cheap mini-blinds from Target, KMart et al like I do, you probably have the same issue of the blinds being way too long. You can disassemble the bottom of the blinds, remove the extra ones and reassemble them. Then, just cut the blinds into 3 inch (or whatever size you like) pieces making the end pointed like an arrow so that they are easy to stick in the dirt. I used these for many of the annuals that I grew from seed this year. They work well because they're plastic and won't decompose outside. And, you're also recycling by using materials you already have on-hand instead of buying new stuff.

Fancy labels

I have one pack of fancy metal labels (pictured above) that GB bought for me soon after I became obsessed with gardening. The trouble is that I can't decide which are the 10 most important plants that deserve this level of fanciness, so they've sat, unused, for nearly 2 years.

Writing right on the container labels

Last year I went bananas with winter sowing and even though I'd read that I ought to be careful writing on my plastic milk jugs I'd planted seeds in, I didn't really listen. So, in the springtime, the writing had faded and I found myself with a dozen or so containers of unknown seedlings. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to try to figure out where to transplant seedlings when you've no idea if what's growing will be 12 inches, or 6 feet? If you wintersow, be sure to place a label inside the container.

As you can see, I've got a motley crew of plant labels. The truth is that I'm still not convinced that I even like plant labels. On the garden walk, I loved the gardens with nice labels so I'd know what I was looking at, and be able to make notes of the things I liked a lot. But, I also really really love magazine gardens where the unnamed plants are just there looking beautiful. If I had my druthers, I'd be a plant expert who could name every plant in my garden (and yours) regardless of the season and not even need no stinkin plant labels.

So, what do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down on plant labels?

Be sure to head over to Gardening Gone Wild where those rock stars host a new Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop every month.


  1. Hi Gina - it's thumbs down for me as they detract from the plants so much. I'm really glad GGW chose this topic as there's been some great ideas come out of it

  2. Thumbs down for me too. I don't like the look of them & I'm pretty good at remembering the names of all my plants. (I admit, there is a clump of Daffodils who identity is now a mystery to me, but that's not a bad average.) I'm still searching for a good solution. Thus far, I'm down to pulling out the label that came with the plant & stuffing it in a box where I can refer to it if I need it.

  3. I actually like labels. I make them out of wooden shims from the hardware store. I give them a coating of Mod Podge (remember that stuff?)and then write the basic name of the item, like corn,green beans, tulips, etc...I also include the name of the company where I got it and the specific variety.I use a Sharpie for the writing and add another coating of Mod Podge.

    A typical label might read like this: CORN - Black Aztec - Seeds Of Change.

    This works out well when little kids come over because they can recognize the basic name of the item.The shims do biodegrade over time. Once the plants are better established, I can tuck the label under the plant to hide it a bit.

  4. I ran across your site this morning and just wanted to say hi from a fellow Chicagoan.

    I did the mini blind labels and I think they'll work out in the vegetable garden, but I don't worry about labels for the flowers and perienniels.

    (Won't you be glad when some of this #%@&%# snow melts)


  5. I'm also wild about winter sowing. The extreme humidity conditions make many writing devices fade, even "permanent" markers. Because I'm part OCD and part research scientist (!), I like to try different methods. That's been interesting because one kind of marker is fine in one container, but completely fades in another! My two favorite methods both involve the plastic mini blinds: 1) just using pencil or 2) creating my own "metallic imprint" by adding foil tape over the tip of the blind stake and using a ballpoint to impress into the foil tape.

  6. Hi Gina, I have a pretty bad memory but for some reason, that doesn't apply to the plants in my garden (most of the time.)

    Sometimes I use the growers' labels in the garden with newly-planted stuff and leave them for a year, more or less. By the time I pull the label out I usually don't forget what the plant is. Another reason I sometimes use them is with the awful pine nugget mulch we have, it helps me find and uncover new plants. Until they get well-established, if they're buried in the mulch in the early spring, they often don't emerge at all. That's a big reason I leave the foliage over the winter as well - so I can find and uncover my plants again as early as possible in the spring.

    I do save labels though, and store them in a big ziploc bag. (They could use some organizing.) I can usually remember which labels go with which plants in case I draw a blank. I find if I leave them outside too long they get brittle, cracked, broken, faded, and useless - a good argument for using those nice metal ones. I have 30 or 40 of those. . . all in a rubbermaid container in the garage. . .

    p.s. you might have better luck with nursery markers instead of the sharpie-type markers for homemade labels. They do a much better job of withstanding the elements.

  7. Hi Gina, I too leave plant labels in the garden for a year, helps to remember what is planted where. It doesn't look like I am growing a crop of white plastic strips. At this time I think I have about 5 out in the garden...three of which are poppies that I am afraid have disappeared-- so if something does show up...I don't want to 'weed' it by mistake.
    Whatever works for you.

  8. I like having labels. Though I usually remember what's what, I find it helpful to label where things like bulbs etc are, so I don't accidentally dig something up. I have a bunch of the metal labels that I got cheap, so I use those. Right now I also have bunch of plastic ones that you write on that I got on sale. Don't love how they look though, so I think I'll be making more of these come spring. So easy to make! Tie wire from Lowe's and any bit of glass, wood, or rock you want to write on. They're also pretty just for decoration.

    When I make the lot of them for spring, I'll have to post some directions.