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The best way to label your plants

The best plant label

Background:

  • There are many different opinions about how to best label your plants.  And admittedly, many non-gardeners may not understand why this is even an issue.
  • However, if you are reading this, you may just appreciate the frustration of finding a system that works.
  • After some trial and error, I am happy to share an excellent plant labeling solution that is not only professional looking but is also reasonable and durable.

 

Why bother to label your plants?

  • This is certainly a legitimate question; labeling plants is definitely not necessary.
  • However, if you are someone who really likes to keep things organized (like myself) labeling your plants may be unavoidable.
  • Besides, labeling your plants can help you to keep track of a plant’s unique requirements (such as fertilizer or spraying schedules).   In addition, your friends/garden visitors may also appreciate the identifying plant markers when roaming around the yard.

 

The best plant labeling method that I have found:

Best plant label method

An example of the plant labeling method that I use. This label is about 2 years old.

  • The label marker itself:
    • For my fruit trees, I use metal plant markers; they are durable, reasonable and professional looking.
    • There are a many different styles of metal markers to choose from.  This is really a personal preference thing and I don’t think a particular style matters a whole lot.  However, silver-aluminum is a bit cheaper than copper… and copper tarnishes over time.
    • As far as the size; you just want the marker to be big enough to fit the plants name on, again a personal preference thing.
    • All of that being said, I think it is nice just stick with one single style throughout the garden.
  • Applying the text:
    • In my opinion, the key component to the whole thing is the actual text writing method.
    • I use the p-touch label maker that I hook up to my PC.  I really like this thing, and not just because it gets around my terrible penmanship.   This gadget allows me to use my computer keyboard and just ‘cut-and-paste’  the plants name on to the label without having to stumble through some handheld interface.  Therefore, this is a fast and efficient method for me.
    • Note; if you want 2 lines of text you can make 2 different labels and past them both on top of each other (as I did in the photo above).  If you use the clear background label tape, you can overlap the tape without blocking out the text. 

     

      • But the most important thing of all is the actual specific type of label tape you use with the label maker.
        • You need to get the outdoor rated label tape that has a clear background.  The outdoor rating will allow the label to endure the elements.  The clear background is perfect because it almost makes it look like the text was directly printed onto the metal label. The specific label tape that has both of these important components is the Brother TZe131 Black on Clear.
        • I am going on my third year with the oldest labels that I have created with this method and they have not shown any signs of fading.

     

    Problems with other methods:

    • The label marker itself:
      • There are all kinds of label options available.  However, all of the plastic ones that I have purchased  become brittle and fall apart after about a year’s time.  Wood labels have the same durability issues.  Therefore plastic and wood labels are fine for seasonal plants, but not really an option for longer-lived trees and bushes.
      • The plastic “tie-on” labels that are attached to the trees branches have several problems.  Most notably, the tree will eventually outgrow the diameter of the tie-on label.  This will result in the tree branch either growing around the label or pulling it apart (see photo below).  In addition, the growing leaves and other branches on the plant will eventually cover the label making it irrelevant.
    • Applying the text:
      • Pencil and “permanent markers” actually don’t last that long in the rain and sun.  There’s no point in having a tree label that is faded beyond recognition after a year.  Some people like to use grease pencils-but I have not tried that method.  Besides, I have terrible handwriting and therefore, using a label maker is the only realistic option for me.
      label being pulled appart

      Plant label being pulled apart by the growing diameter of the tree.

    Even cheaper labeling methods (the veggie option):

    • For seasonal crops such as veggies you can successfully use all kinds of stuff to label your plants.
      • For example, specialty plastic plant markers in bulk are rather cheap.  Unfortunately, in my experience these thin plastic markers tend to get brittle in about a year’s time… Besides, if you are only using a label like this for a single season, there are even cheaper-more creative options to choose from.
      • A great inexpensive option is to use plastic tableware as the marker and a magic marker for the text.
      • Another option is cutting up old venetian blinds/window blinds into the desired lengths at the marker and write directly on them.
      • However, just about anything that size and shape will work such as tongue depressors/craft sticks or popsicle sticks.
      • Nick Federoff of ThingsGreen.com was recently interviewed talking about several other fun DIY options for labeling your garden vegetables.  Check out the Nick Federoff video here.

     

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

8 comments

  1. Out of curiosity, can you give me a list of the types of plants you are growing?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Great question Nate.
      Part of the inspiration to create this blog/website was to have a list of fruit trees that grow in Southern California.
      The list is long.
      About half of them are already on the the tastylandscape.com website.
      The rest of the plants profiles are on the way.
      Thanks,
      Tom

  2. Thanks so much for this article; we have struggled for years with different ways to label our plants. My husband and I keep Bonsai trees (we have around 60, plus around 20 plants that will be bonsai in the future). I too have found that the plastic markers get very brittle, and “permanent” marker does not last long outside. I’ve ordered the label tape you suggested. Looking forward to starting this project!

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Thanks for the comment Elena.
      I had the same challenges you mentioned for years.
      This technique outlined in the article has been a great solution for me… The labels that I first created (with this method) still look great and it has been over 3 years now.
      Best,
      Tom

  3. Do you use UV-resistant ink/toner? If so, can you point me in the right direction?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Jeffrey
      Great question. I was wondering myself when I started trying different methods.
      The label system profiled in the article uses “label Tape” and the toner is part of the tape.

      Its hard to see on the amazon product site… but if you look on the bottom right hand corner of the package picture for the specific label tape I use, the package says “withstands UV” etc. (this is the tape profiled in the article.

      I have been using this product combo outside in the intense Southern California Sun for many years… I started about 7 years ago… and the oldest ones are still looking awesome.

      Best,
      Tom

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