Sunday, April 19, 2015

Finally switching to better plant tags

I’m sure you know how it is. Eventually the plastic tags that come with plants get brittle and crumble.

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Or they just vanish into thin air without a trace. For some reason, this always seems to happen with plants I can’t identify 100% without that tag. Is it Dyckia ‘Cherry Cola’ or something else? Agave utahensis ssp. utahensis or ssp. nevadensis?

Whenever I’m at a botanical garden I longingly gaze at their metal plant tags. Somebody asked me a while ago why I don’t use tags like that, and I said “because they look dorky in a private garden.” Plus, professional metal tags are expensive! Heck, a tag can cost as much as a small plant!

However, confronted in recent weeks with several lost and broken plastic tags in our front yard desert bed that’s just a year old, I decided to look for a more permanent solution. I knew I wanted aluminum tags you emboss with a ballpoint pen because any writing—even with permanent markers—quickly fades in our relentless summer sun.

I came across this eBay listing that promised to fit the bill at a price far more reasonable than anything else I’d come across on the Interwebs. Here is my first assembled batch:

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The tags are made from aluminum soda cans and offer enough room for two or three lines of text, depending on the size of your handwriting.

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The wire stakes are made from 14-gauge electric fence wire. You can buy it by the spool at any feed store. Aluminum wire is more durable than wire made of galvanized steel, which corrodes over the years.

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Writing on the tags is easy enough. You need to push relatively hard to emboss the text into the aluminum, but otherwise it’s child’s play.

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Here’s what the staked tags look like in the ground:

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Now I’ll always know that the plant on the left is Agave utahensis ssp. utahensis and the one on the right a dwarf form of Agave palmeri grown from seed collected near Sonoita, Arizona.

The tags flutter in the breeze and make a pleasant tinkling sound. I don’t know if that would scare away hummingbirds or butterflies. I hope not.

I have no intention of labeling every plant in my garden. Far from it since I know what about 90% of my plants are. But for those plants that you’re never sure about—or small agaves like the two above that would be fairly difficult to ID—permanent tags are a great solution.

And now that I know how the “secret” behind the aluminum tags and stakes I bought on eBay, I can make my own.

Do you label your plants? What tags or markers do you use?

17 comments:

  1. What a great idea! Gotta pin this : ) Happy Spring!

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    1. I'm always looking to provide useful information. Sometimes I succeed :-).

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  2. For those planted out I label as few as possible, for those in pots they tend to be labelled. I like your solution, so easy and the markings are permanents as ever.

    As life gets more busy all the more one appreciated the value of labelling.

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    1. I'll have an update in six months. As Alan says, it's possible crows and ravens snag my shiny tags :-).

      I really did need a permanent solution. While I photograph most of my plants, I have so many photos that I sometimes can't find what I need. Plus, it's nice being able to look at a plant tag when you give somebody a tour of the garden.

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  3. I still like vinyl blind slats with pencil lettering for tags. Your metal ones look great, but the fact that they're from soda cans makes me nervous -- I keep thinking about slicing a finger open on them!

    (Raccoons have chewed up my vinyl tags before, but I wonder if crows and ravens might try to fly off with your shiny ones?)

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    1. Kelley on Facebook uses vinyl blind slats too. I'm all for using what works, esp. if you already have the materials on hand.

      Yes, you do need to be careful with my aluminum tags. The corners are sharp. But I've managed not to poke myself so far, and that's saying something.

      I'll keep an eye on birds swiping my tags. We do have quite a few crows.

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  4. I keep an Excel file with data on everything (well, almost everything) I plant but maintaining it can be a pain as plants die, get pulled or moved, and my descriptions aren't refined enough to pinpoint exact planting locations, just general areas. I may switch to tagging some in situ, especially to keep my succulents straight (if I'm lucky enough to have a plant name to start with).

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    1. Kris, a database or Excel spreadsheet is ideal. I have one that's fairly extensive but still incomplete because I forget to update it. Wouldn't it be nice if plants came with a universal barcode that you could scan with your smartphone, triggering an automatic update of your plant database? Maybe someday.

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  5. I do have a garden plan that I try to keep upto date, but that is easy as I have a small garden. Even then like you I like to have labels even if I bury them under gravel most of the time to keep them hidden. The soda can idea is a great one.

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    1. I'm afraid that if buried labels I would never find them again :-). I want these tags to be as unobtrusive as possible while still accessible when I need them. Time will tell...

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  6. many years ago, I bit the bullet and got those hard plastic one seen at the botanical garden but because they are expensive, I only bought them for the larger trees and few specimens. I changed the garden too much that many went to a storage container, but, what ever is left in the garden is well worth the money as they are the most reliable and still looks good after all the years. I also did buy a bunch of those other aluminum that's commonly used by nurseries and yes, I have to say that the garden will start looking like a cemetery with those things but, I also try to push them low in the ground so it is not so obvious. I really just want it more for myself to be able to id them. Very hard to keep up with tags so, I stopped but not, you are inspiring me Gerhard. My next task now is to update and label. (not sure how soon this can happen) . Thanks for the ideas.

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    1. Which plastic tags did you buy? There are so many options, at wildly different price points. Plastic seems to get brittle awfully quickly in our hot climate.

      The nice thing about the solution I opted for is that you can push the stakes as far into the ground as needed to "hide" the tags. I don't think the aesthetic factor (the beds looking like a cemetery) will be a problem as the plants get bigger.

      And yes, these tags are for myself. As much as I try, I do forget plant names, esp. species and cultivar names.

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  7. Not a bad idea but I'm not sure if I'd be able to write that myself. You know why.

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  8. Hi! I use Impress-o-tags, which are aluminum with some sort of soft center making it possible to write on both sides of the tag. I buy them at Rare Find Nursery out here on the East Coast, but they are made in California. Here is a link: http://www.amekron.com/ They do bend and can get battered in the garden, but if that doesn't happen they last for years out here in Maryland. I attach them to metal landscape pins, but aluminum wire would last longer.
    I came across your site while trying to identify a plant that was given to me incorrectly identified as a Veltheimia. Barbara Ellis

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    1. Barbara, those tags work well, too. I used to use them to label my bamboos when I was into collecting bamboos. Thank you for visiting, and I hope you'll come back soon!

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  9. I like the idea that you can make your own from soda cans, though. Those would be especially useful for smaller plants, where typical size labels (including the Impress-o-tags) are way to large.

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