If you're anything like me, you gaze in wonder at those cute little plant labels made of wrought iron, ceramic, wood, or painted rocks, wood, "whatever." You know — the ones that just say "Basil," "Tomatoes," "Sage," etc. You wonder if it's possible for you to make something like that says "Purple Basil," "Thai Basil," "Beefsteak Tomato," "Roma Tomato." After all, it's pretty easy to figure out that a plant is a tomato plant — there's nothing quite like it. Zucchini squash is pretty easy to figure out, too. But if there are three different varieties, well, that's a different story.
There are many, many homemade plant label instructions and ideas online: painted rocks, spoons with a decoupage of the seed package in the spoon bowl, seed packages inside plastic zip baggies placed upside down on a stick, permanent markers on sticks, etched aluminum or copper tags. But they all have their drawbacks. Too short, too tall, too hard to make, not durable, fade or fall apart by the end of the season/harvest, or just plain ugly. I've tried many. But I think I've now hit on the perfect plant labels. They are tall enough to see over most mature plants. They last at least two seasons (so far), are easy to make, inexpensive and easy to store. Let me share my experience with you.
- Wide, wooden plant label sticks. They aren't easy to find, but I found some that were 6 inches long and 3/4" wide. Popsicle sticks aren't quite wide enough, unfortunately, but they could be used in a pinch.
- Labels made using a label maker. The one I use has a cartridge, and the laminated tape comes in 2 different widths. I found that labels printed on a laser jet printer from the computer just don't hold up. No matter what you do, the ink eventually fades, and it takes way too much work to put enough sealer on the paper to make it last outdoors.
- Metal plant sticks. I like 28" simple metal stakes with the end bent into a flat circle. Some are also available where the bent circle is angled back a little, for easier viewing. The 28" height allows it to be pushed into the ground to hold it and yet still tall enough to be able to see it above a mature plant. I think mine are powder-coated... it seems more durable than just paint.
- Liquid Nails or other glue that bonds wood to metal. I haven't tried glue sticks yet. If you have used glue sticks to bond wood to metal for outdoor use and it works, please comment.
- Spar Urethane. There are several brands, but all of the ones for outdoor use must be applied by dipping or with a brush. None of the clear spray sealers will hold up for long-term outdoor use!
- Print labels on the label maker with a large print. Multiple plant names can be lined up one after the other, leaving extra space in between for cutting. Two lines can be used if you want to shorten the length of the finished label, but that's more difficult if typing multiple names on a single pass.
- Peel the label adhesive off the label and stick onto the wooden plant label stick. If you haven't added enough spaces between the plant names when you printed the label, cut the labels first so you have enough room.
- Cut the wooden plant labels apart and sand the corners and any rough edges.
- Glue the wood labels onto the circle of the metal plant sticks. Use plenty of glue. Make sure the wood label is straight.
- Let dry completely. As a guide, use the maximum amount of time from the glue instructions. It may say something like "dry to the touch in 15 minutes…allow to dry 24 hours before use." In that case, let it dry for 24 hours. You want to make sure the glue is thoroughly dry.
- Cover with at least two coats of spar urethane. The instructions on the brand that I use say to put on a thin coat, let dry for two (2) hours and lightly sand before putting on a 2nd. These are so small, that I actually dip them into the urethane, let them drip for a bit, then wipe with an almost dry brush.
At first, I had difficulty arranging them to dry. Then I hit upon the perfect solution. I have a vinyl-covered wire rack with drawers of various depths. I took two drawers of different depths and put them upside down inside each other. Placing the "wire stems" of the plant labels through the same vertical space and varying the horizontal spacing worked perfectly.
Finally, after drying completely, here they are, ready to place in the garden.
Photos property of Loretta Liefveld.