Plant markers that do it all…

This year saw many changes to my garden, some small and some drastic. The drastic ones resulted from the discovery of invasive jumping worms back in late June. But more on that later.

The common denominator for all these changes was soil disturbance. There was a huge increase in digging– not only my efforts to bare-root most plants but also the activity of squirrels, birds, and human garden helpers. My plant labels became flotsam on a sea of topsoil.

garden flotsam in the spring

For the past few years I’ve been using cut-up venetian blinds with either an Industrial Sharpie or a wax (‘china’) marker for writing. When the marked end is placed into the soil the sun cannot fade the writing and the label lasts many years. Except when it gets frost-heaved, squirrelized, lost during a plant move, or buried in an excavation. Don’t ask…

So I needed a better solution, a new way to do garden plant labels so they:
– will not fade in sun
– are water and rot resistant
– are recyclable
– will not get dislodged by frost or moved around by digging squirrels or humans
– are not grossly expensive
– are fast and easy to make
– are fairly discrete

Discretion is key. I don’t want the garden to look like a museum–I just need the occasional reminder of plant names. I have way too many plants, I’m a stickler on botanical names, and my brain is not getting any younger. Yeah, I could run, er, walk inside to check the spreadsheet. But it’s way easier to reach down and surepticiously check the name on a marker.

Now I’m using a Brother P-Touch labeller (white on black tape) on a thin aluminum ‘tree tag’ (or you could use beer cans cut to size) wired to the top of a 12″ metal barbecue skewer (inexpensive at dollar store). I push the skewer into the soil with the tag only about an inch or two above the soil.

photo of supplies: skewers, beer-can labels, pre-cut labels

The label-maker suggestion came to me from a fellow gardener with a ton of experience, so I bought a machine a few years ago. I’m only now putting it to serious use. The labels come in different color combinations–I like white letters on a black ground (see “discreet” above) and the machine can print large or small, in two rows or one. I use 12mm black laminated tape. The lamination is what gives the label its longevity and weather resistance. I’ve never once seen the adhesive come loose.

Before I ordered my aluminum tags from Amazon, I made them out of beer cans, washed and cut with heavy-duty kitchen shears. The hole was punched with a simple paper hole punch. I rounded the edges to prevent cuts. If you don’t have a labeller you can alway score the thin aluminum with a pen or stylus to achieve the same indelible effect. The beer-can and the pre-cut tags work equally well for scoring. Using the label machine does it faster and more neatly, with less strain on cold arthritic finger joints.

You’ll need a pair of blunt-nosed pliers to close the gap on the skewer ‘ring’. You’ll also need some wire or twist-ties to attach the tag to the skewer. I devised a way to keep the tag from slipping down and escaping through the tiny gap that inevitably remains even after the pliers treatment.

Once the tag is on the skewer, just push the pointed end into the soil beside your plant, leaving a few inches exposed. That’s 10″ of buried steel, enough to thwart any squirrel or weeder.

screenshot from Amazon site, showing pre-cut label product
The pre-cut tag option.

As with any new idea, this one will almost certainly undergo some changes and tweaks as I see how well the system meets expectations. I’ll post an update if anything major goes wrong this winter.

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