Monday, February 25, 2013

Blind Labels

Plants labels made with Venetian blinds

I use a great many plant labels. First I use them in the flower beds to identify new plants (old favourites do not need a name tag). I use them with vegetables, for instance, to remind me where a row of carrots was seeded before they come up, and to list the variety. Most of my labels though identify the numerous plants I start from seed in the spring.
I have tried the various kinds of labels that are offered for sale. The wooden ones have the advantage that you can write on them with a pencil and as long as the written part is out of the ground, it will remain legible. However the end of the label that is stuck in the soil breaks down in one season and any writing in contact with wet soil disappears. The thin copper labels are very permanent but very hard to read after a few years. They come with a tie and they are too thin to stick in the ground. The zinc ones held on a wire stem are very good but too expensive to use extensively.
Plastic labels can last a few years in the shade. The more exposed to sunlight, the faster they get brittle. You can also write on them with a pencil (preferably a grease pencil). Usually, one side of the label is less shiny than the other and is easier to write on. The use of a pencil allows you to erase a mistake or even to re-use a label. A permanent marker is ideal when it is indeed permanent. The problem is that some are much less permanent than others, and it is only when the label has sat in the sun and rain for a year that you find out if the ink lived up to expectations.

I now make my own labels using old aluminium Venetian blinds. The idea is not mine; over the years I have seen it more than once in gardening magazines. I usually buy my blinds in a Habitat for Humanity store that sells used building material and fixtures. This year I paid $4 for a white Venetian blind that was about 90 x 90 cm (35 x 35 inches). That blind held enough slats to make about 360 labels, each roughly 10 cm (4 inches) long. You have to make sure the slats are not made of Vinyl as these are even more brittle than plastic labels. I find that one inch wide slats work best. At one inch wide, your home-made labels end up being slightly wider than bought ones which allows you to write down more information besides the plant name, such as provenance or germination and growing requirements.
First cut out the strings that hold the blind together. Then, take two slats, bend them into two equal lengths and cut them up at the bend. Each half slat is then also bent in the middle and cut into two. Keep on cutting till you end up with pieces about 10 cm (4 inches) long. Sturdy scissors work better than tin snips. You can cut a maximum of 4 slats at a time but you get neater results if you limit yourself to two slats.

Once you have lengths of 10 cm (4 inches) or so, you cut one end of each into a point to make it easier to push in the ground. That is all there is to making aluminium labels. They do feel a bit flimsy but in fact, being thin and made of metal, they push into the soil quite easily. A few of your labels will include a small slit where the blind string went through. That slit does not impair much the integrity of the label. These labels are long-lasting and very cheap, and as you make them you will feel good since you are recycling.
The slats are quite shiny so a fine point permanent maker is better than a grease pencil as long as it is permanent. The most expensive ones are not necessarily the most permanent. The writing will get fainter with time but should remain legible for several years. 

It is a winter job for a retired person. I never found the time to make labels when I was working. Andrew Osyany, a long time member of various rock garden societies, has the good idea of keeping all his old labels as mementos of the plants he had grown or seeded over the years, like a list of departed friends.


  1. That is a very clever idea! :) Way to reuse!

  2. Now that sounds like a plan! I too, keep old labels in a box, and it is very simar to looking at old photos when I look through them, as the memories come flooding back, not just of plants, but of people too.


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