KC Gardens

Dennis Patton: Plant labels help in your garden, and there are lots of ways to do them

By Dennis Patton

Plant labels - many options.
Plant labels - many options. Submitted.

As gardeners we more than likely have visited a garden and asked the question, “What is that plant?” Many times the garden owner just gives you a blank stare. If it’s a commercial garden there is often no one around to ask. Labeling plants in the garden is a difficult task, even for the most organized.

The problem with plant labels is some gardeners view them as an unpleasant chore. Others do not want the garden looking like a “cemetery.” But plant labeling is important for several reasons. It provides a history of what is planted so we can share with others. Or they just help us remember what we planted, keeping us from making the mistake of buying the same plant.

No matter what style of garden labeling you use, there should be a system in place. Labeling can either be high- or low-tech, depending on your style. Traditional garden markers are the most common. The problem is how to label them. Permanent ink markers have a tendency to fade over time. Luckily, home label makers and computers and printers are helping to simplify the process. Water and sunproof plastic labels, available at office supply stores, can be easily printed and reprinted, as needed.

Then comes the next potential problem, what to affix the label to? Metal markers are readily available on the market. Less expensive brands tend to bend and become a tangled mess. Heavy duty markers can be pricy, costing several dollars or more apiece. But I have found that with plant markers the greater the investment the better the return in terms of longevity. And, if you order in quantity the price per piece drops.

If the cost and hassle of traditional plant labeling is not for you then try some of these other options. The plant label notebook is one low-tech system that some gardeners use. This system takes the plastic label that comes with most plants and places them in a notebook. The label is attached to a sheet of paper and then slid into a sheet protector. Additional information can be recorded on the paper, such as year planted, price, special care instructions and garden location. Plant profile sheets can easily be removed if the plant dies.

The notebook can be organized in multiple ways; by garden bed, or by alphabetical order. There can even be a section for those plants that have died. Call it the plant cemetery to remind us never to purchase again.

Another easy method is what I call the plastic bag system. Start by dividing the garden into sections. Each section gets a labeled Ziplock bag. Plant labels are then placed into the bag. Each spring the labels are sorted and labels of plants that died are discarded. The problem with this system is identifying the plants in the section. For instance, if the area has a dozen hostas that look alike how do you remember which is which?

A similar method is even less sophisticated. This method just throws all the plant labels into a tote or a recycled coffee can. This is probably best for the laid-back gardener. Under this system you have the information if you desire to dig for it. I must admit I use this system on plants that are easy to identify. If I want to keep better records I will print labels for metal markers for the special or prized hosta or coral bells.

If you don’t want to be burdened by labeling just don’t do it. It’s your garden. If someone asks about a plant just say, “I don’t know.” Gardening is for your pleasure, not necessarily to please others. You will quickly decide what fits your style.

My hunch is labeling the garden mimics your organizational skills in other parts of your life. For example, if your spice rack is labeled and in alphabetical order the garden is labeled. If you spin the lazy-Susan several times looking for a spice, your garden will probably have few labels. When I put it in those terms I am a spice-rack spinner. The bottom line is to enjoy your garden and do what makes you happy.