Monday, 26 February 2018

Permanent Plant Labels

Ah, the holy grail of gardeners: all we want is a plant label that is permanent. And cheap.

Permanent as in "won't fade, will remain legible for months/years" and cheap as in "yes, we could get those lovely engraved plastic ones but they cost a fortune and I'm only labelling my seedlings here."

I've tried everything over the years: different types of felt pen, so-called permanent markers (they fade), laundry markers (supposedly washable with hot water and detergents, but can't cope with being outside), pull-the-string wax pencils (hard to write neatly and they fade, anyway) and pencil: pencil was the best, especially if you can get an old fashioned "soft" one marked 2B or, better, 4B  (resists urge to quote from Hamlet).

Soft pencil doesn't fade at all, and will last for years, so I thought they were going to be ideal - right up until the first time you try to wipe off the mud so you can read it, whereupon it smears all across the label and become totally illegible.

At least with pencil, you can rub it off and re-use the labels... but it's not permanent.

Last week I found these in Wilko, my local cheapy-shop:

Oho! I thought. "Long life labels" eh?

It says "create attractive long-lasting labels that will not fade, engrave with the scriber to expose the white colour beneath."

Ooh, ooh, excitement: at last, a cheap version of those expensive engraved ones.

On the back it has an illustration of someone writing on the label in flowing, elegant italic script.

Looks easy enough, I thought!

I'll have a go, I thought!

Here's my first attempt: Peony kavachensis, it's supposed to say.

I don't know what your standards of penmanship are, but to me this looks as though it were done by a five year old.

And it was really hard work!

Here's my second attempt: using the far end of the same label, and writing in small letters to see if it was any easier, or any less amateur looking.

Ummm - no.

It looks dreadful.

I sought advice from my PGG colleagues (Professional Gardeners' Guild): surely someone must have found a way to use them.

One said "try heating up the tip of the scriber" and that did make it easier to get through the black coating, but only for a couple of seconds, and it made a really, really fine line: and I want big bold clear easy-read lettering.

I tried using a stencil, but the smallest I could find was 10mm high, which is the full width of the label, so they didn't fit on the label - which is, I have to say, a bit on the mean and scrimpy side, size-wise.

Alas, that holy grail is still out of reach...and it's back to the pencil.


*grumpy face*


  1. Thought you had the answer there for a minute! Sharpie permanent marker on white plastic works fine for me but is impossible to clean up for reuse. I couldn't justify discarding them after only one use. So I tried white spirit but only managed to melt the tips of my gloves and give myself a headache. My pragmatic solution: White plastic labels covered with matte finish writable "Magic" or "Clever" tape. Write on with Sharpie, remove and replace tape before reuse. Minimal waste - No lost data.

    1. Hey Mal, what a brilliant suggestion! I have immediately rushed out and made a trial label, it's now sitting in full sun in the back yard, to see how long it lasts.

      In principle, that's the answer to a prayer: like you, I could never properly clean a label that had been Sharpie'd, even once most of it had faded. Wire wool works, but leaves the surface so uneven that it spoils my nice neat handwriting next time you try.

      Do you have either very wide labels, or very narrow tape, I wonder: I had to trim the tape to fit, which is too much faff for everyday use, but I suspect I could find narrow tape if I tried.

      So now the only question is: will Sharpie on Magic Tape fade as quickly as Sharpie on plastic label.... or not!!

    2. For outdoor sowings I use 3/4 Inch (or 1.8cm) wide labels. This is the same width as the tape! For minipots and seed seed trays I use the smaller labels and wrap the excess around the back. If it doesn't stick I'm not that bothered. It's not aesthetically pleasing but it still works. The branded laundry markers work fine for me indors and out - it's cleaning them up that doesn't.

    3. Thanks for that, Mal - I've just measured my labels and yes, I use the smaller size. And a quick search shows that Magic Tape comes in 12mm width - perfect! I'll rush out and get some straight away!

  2. Hi Rachel, I use white plastic plant labels, 4" and a black permanent marker called Stabilo Write-4-all, comes in different versions and colours, I find 'Fine' is best for writing (0.7mm). I buy everything from Amazon, labels are £12.99 for a box of 1000, pens vary depending of single or box of 10. I save used labels and sit down in front of the TV every now and then and wash a load with methylated spirit, ready for use again. A bit of work, but I go through a lot so saves throwing them away.

    I have plants in my garden with labels that are more than 10 years, still with the original writing more or less pristine. Could not live without these pens. Now...if only the squirrels could leave my plant labels in peace so I didn't have to guess content in pots when they have had playtime in my garden, everything would be perfect...

  3. I use liquid brasso to clean off my labels, works a treat on permanent marker.

    1. What an interesting idea! I shall have to give that a try, thank you!


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