Eco-Friendly Plant Tags

Bio-degradable, legible, inexpensive, water-resistant, uniform labels that can be produced in quantity. Great for backyard nurseries.
(Note: this article was updated in October 2022. I added new information about the water-resistance of various clear-coats.)

I’m not a tidy gardener and my plants get to do their own thing most of the time. But there’s one inevitable springtime housecleaning chore: removing dozens of plastic plant markers that are dislodged from the soil by frost heave and squirrels. I do re-use them–white electrical tape provides a fresh writing surface–but this year I’m bothered more than usual about the sheer volume of plastic in the garden. Every year I grow hundreds of plants to give away and sell and each pot needs to be labelled. Writing on the plastic, recycled or not, is time consuming and monotonous. Often there’s not enough room for the full botanical name. Using wax pencils (china markers), which are the most indelible for the long term, is especially slow.

So I came up with an improved version of “mass produced” markers that will survive several months of rain and sun, long enough to get seedlings big enough to go to their forever homes.

Here’s what you need:
– craft sticks. Wider ones are better, but regular ones will work
Mod-Podge, decopage glue, or white glue. Any water-based glue/sealer will do, so long as it dries clear Water-based clear-coats were less toxic but did not survive rain. My later (more successful) attempts used a clear nail polish as a base coat on the stick and as a topcoat over the label. You could also use clear, waterproof gorilla glue, or clear varathane.
small paint brush. You could also just use your finger if you don’t have brushes on hand. Fingers are always on hand 🙂 See note above about water-resistance of mod-podge or white glue
– a printer and regular printer paper

Follow the captions and photos in the gallery at right. Don’t get too precious about the process– these only need to last a few months. Let the kids help if you don’t mind the extra mess. This is a great indoor project for a rainy day.


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