A well-labeled flower garden is a joy to behold -- especially in spring when all the plants (including weeds) tend to look alike. The problem? Many flimsy labels and plant tags get lost or faded, or fall victim to marauding pets. We asked our newsletter subscribers how they keep track of their plants, and they responded with a gardenful of interesting ideas. Below you'll find the cream of the crop (with thanks to those who suggested them).
Quite a few gardeners have had good luck with garden maps. Typically, this involves drawing out beds on graph paper, then using circles and numbers to place the plants. (Use pencil, one reader suggests, so you can move your transplants.) A creative variation on this approach: One visitor prepares a business-size envelope for each garden bed, draws that bed's map on the outside of the envelope, and stores the plant tags inside.
Usually, maps were used in conjunction with a detailed journal that records each plant's vital stats, including a photo. The journals mentioned varied from simple notebooks to albums capable of holding store tags and photos. One reader uses trading-card sheets to hold items; another uses a photo album. Another visitor simply throws the plant's store tag into a shoebox for safe keeping.
Digital cameras are all the rage, judging from the number of respondents who mentioned them. You can get instant results and there are no film and processing costs. Several users said they record plant locations; a few use their camera's date function to track blooming times.
Quite a few respondents have found a host of creative alternatives to the standard thin wood or plastic stake-type labels. Venetian blind slats proved popular, as did wooden paint stirrers, plastic picnic knives, wooden shims (available in home centers), and cut pieces of old metal tape measures. Some folks just write the plant name on the stake in marker; others, particularly those using wood, paint the stake first, then add lettering with a contrasting color of paint. Another reader uses a woodburning tool to write the plant name on wood stakes, then coats the stake with sealer to prevent decay. Yet another reader staples the seed packet to the stake, then covers it with a zip-top plastic bag.
Two visitors said they use brightly colored golf tees, presumably labeled with numbers rather than names.
One visitor uses plastic light stakes (like you'd use to string Christmas lights along your driveway) to mark the locations of bulb groupings.
And how do you keep those stakes from getting knocked over or heaved by frost? One reader covers her in-ground labels with colorful mason jars purchased on the cheap at flea markets.
There were a couple of variations on the idea of painting flower names on decorative stones. One person paints bricks in bright colors, then adds the name in marker. Another uses pre-cut decorative wooden shapes from a crafts store.
Many garden centers carry metal tags that you can engrave with a sharp stylus, then attach to a plant using wire or plastic ties. A more cost-conscious visitor suggested that the bottom of disposable aluminum metal baking pans can be engraved with a sharp pencil. Another visitor uses pre-numbered "cow tags" from a feed store -- probably easier to come by in Manhattan, Kansas, than in that other Manhattan. The tag approach is best suited to plants like trees and shrubs that don't die back to the ground each year.
Gardeners with laminating machines used them to create weatherproof labels out of handwritten or computer-generated paper labels, which they then attach to wooden stakes. Another reported good luck with Avery Weatherproof Labels (an admittedly expensive option) and a laser printer. Another option: Use a plastic label maker (like a Dymo or P-Touch). Finally, one reader uses self-adhesive plastic letters, like the ones used to label mailboxes.
...to everyone who responded to our call for ideas including: Arlene in PA, Sande in MD, Marcia in OR, Linda in WI, Genevieve in KS, Marina H., Wally C., RMarr, Jennifer in TX, Bonnie in SD, Ramune C., Jennifer C., Frances M., Betty, Jane P., Susan, James M., Steve S., Charlie T., Cecile in MA, Huston, Letha in IL, Joanne, Bill D., Sandy, Michelle N., Betty R., Teresa, Brent in IL, Hedi, Carol in OH, Mickey C., Gail, Kathy in MI, Jim & Connie, Anna, Murray, Mary W., Jean in OH, Errald T., Deb in IA, Debra L., Jim & Pat S., Carlotta E., Warren in WI, Billie C., David H., Loren R., HW, Laila C., Roberta in FL, Carrie S., Heidi W., Sandi R., Carol P. in PA, and Patty in WA