Homemade plant tags give gardens personality

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Horticulturist
Coastal Research & Extension Center

Like many home gardeners, I used to put plants in my landscape without
worrying about labels because I was sure I¹d remember what was planted
where. And like most of you, I would end up scratching my head wondering
what I had planted where.

One of the best gardening tips I can share, especially in the spring when
you¹re putting so many new things out, is to label your landscape plants.

You don¹t have to buy plant tags to do this. Most gardeners have items lying
around the house that are perfect. DIY plant tags can give your garden and
landscape a custom look and add interest as pieces of garden art. They can
be plain or fancy. Use your imagination and creativity.
Making plant tags is a great way to get kids interested in the garden.

Since much of the garden ends up on the dinner table, it makes perfect sense
to use kitchen utensils for garden tags.

Recycling wooden kitchen utensils only takes markers and a little paint. If
you don¹t have any to recycle, buy some at the local dollar store. Paint
them, write the plant name, and then apply a clear coat of polyurethane to
help keep the tag readable all season long.

A fun idea I found browsing online is to use antique metal spoons as plant
markers for the herb garden. The spoons are easily flattened, and you can
use letter punches available from the hardware store to customize each one
for the particular herb grown. These plant tags are permanent, and they
provide a new way to display your spoon collection.

My wife was looking for tags to use in her mint garden and came up with
another nice DIY idea. She printed the variety of mint on a mailing label
and used clear tape to protect the label and secure it to a wooden
clothespin. Using a bamboo skewer as a stake, she can reposition the
clothespin as needed to remain readable as the mint grows. The tags get a
natural look as the materials weather.

Some of my favorite recycled tags are old Venetian blind slats. One set
could provide plant tags for many seasons. Simply cut the slats into 4- to
6-inch lengths. If you are not ready to redecorate and remove your current
window treatments, see if your local home improvement store can give you
leftover slats or loose ends from custom-cut venetian blinds.

I¹ve learned a few lessons as I¹ve made my own plant tags. Perhaps the most
important one is to make sure tags remain readable. Don¹t use ink that will
run when the tag gets wet.

It may seem logical to use permanent marker pens since they write on nearly
anything and come in so many colors. The downside is that ink fades rather
quickly, even the black ones. Industrial varieties last a little longer, but
even these will fade in time.

The best writing instrument I have found for plant tags is a simple, soft
lead pencil like an HB or a 2B. You can find these at office supply or hobby
stores. Pencils work great as long as the surface of the tag is a little bit
rough. For really smooth surfaces, you are probably stuck with the markers.
Making and using your own plant tags in the garden as markers clearly
states, ³That¹s my garden.²