Plant labeling

Think about solutions including plastic strips and DIY metal markers and printed labels.

Every fall and spring it happens again. Raking leaves from the gardens, I find them, the little plastic tags with pretty pictures or not, half broken and sometimes faded. They are the precious common and scientific names of my cherished plants, misplaced little pieces of information, difficult to reconnect to their appropriate plants and places.

I started my career as a summer undergrad assistant botanist at a major botanical garden where plant names are all important and everything is labeled twice, one identification label for the public and the other for plant inventory purposes.

When it comes to labels for my own garden, I have tried almost everything over the years. The commercial labels provided by nurseries or garden centers have a very short lifespan because of our icy winters.

Besides keeping an extensive Excel Spreadsheet of my plant listings and pinning a photo of each of my plants on Pinterest, labels are a necessary obligation for a serious plant collector like me.

When dealing with my dahlias from potted tubers in the spring, to borders in the Summer and then crates of tubers in the fall, I use two labels: a 4″ plastic colored garden stake (costing a few pennies each) buried in the soil, paired to a plastic strip (wrap around style) attached to each tomato cage. The plastic strips come in rolls and are somewhat expensive because of the quantity one has to buy but they are particularly useful when I dig out the dahlia clumps. An alternative is an individual strip attached to a metal wire. I make sure the name is written with an indelible marker or with a pencil. But the task has to be redone every year, and even sometimes during the growing season!

Engraved metal ones work the best as long as they are well buried. Unfortunately, I have mixed success with them when it comes to easily deciphering the names of plants after digging them up!

A few years ago, I recycled PVC blind slats cut to 4-6″ pieces with names both written with a permanent marker and a pencil (pictured left). The latter writing lasts longer but I found that the white PVC is not really aesthetic, and in dire need of being periodically rewritten.

Towards the end of last summer, as I was planning to plant 58 new peony roots, I decided to invest in a new labeling system: galvanized metal markers with a label printed by the Brother Label Maker PT-D600. Plant names can be printed individually on a durable, easy-peel, sticky, laminated tape in a 1 inch (24 mm) width. Individual labels are automatically cut to a preset length. The tape is advertised as withstanding water, heat and fading, but only time will tell in my garden. So far, it is standing up well!

Note: In the peony garden, I take for granted all these labels are for the genus Paeonia, allowing the varieties’ names to be printed in larger fonts. For other plants, I use the complete scientific name.

The printer is also connectable to a PC or Mac, and may be wired or battery-operated. Printed characters are formed on the tape with a thermal transfer ink and sandwiched between two protective layers of PET (polyester film) assuring a longer durability. Note that the tape cartridge recommended by Brother is more expensive than generic brands found online.

The metal markers which I chose measure 10.6” high (some may be shorter). Their label area measures 3.5” x 1.2”, perfect to apply the printed label. It is slightly tilted upwards, so it can be easily read without bending down. There are optional sizes and brands of these markers. Mine cost less than one dollar each. Some markers’ label areas are colored with a powder paint and I’m experimenting to see whether they will be as durable as the basic galvanized ones.

For labeling plants other than peonies (mainly hostas, lilies, irises and daylilies), I opted for less expensive vertical markers using narrower tape.

When I set a plant in my garden, I inter the label provided by the nursery so it will not be visible and lost. I just hope that they will not disappear into the compost pile!

Disclaimer: This post does not represent advertisements for the described products.

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