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What you need:
  • Wooden labels
  • White plastic labels
  • Metal labels (Steel, Zinc, Copper)
  • Permanent marker
  • 8-oz. yogurt cups
  • Scissors
Do you remember what's growing in your garden? Nursery plants generally come with labels, but if you start plants from seeds, get plants from friends, or want to replace a broken or illegible label, you'll have to supply your own. There are several kinds to choose from, and each has its pros and cons.
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Wooden labels are inexpensive and you can write on them with just about anything. They are also biodegradable, so they soon rot in contact with soil, and rarely last longer than one season. As they weather, they also become difficult to read. On the upside, when you are through with them, you can just toss them on the compost heap.
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Plastic labels are inexpensive, but they generally last longer than wood - up to three years before exposure to sun and frost make them brittle. Write on them with a permanent marker. After a year or two, you'll need to write names again as they fade in sunlight. Plastic labels are generally white, making the ink easy to read but detracting from the beauty of the plants.
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The most durable labels are made of metal: zinc, steel, or copper, with steel legs. You write on them with either a marker or a pencil ("engrave" copper labels with a ball point pen). The big drawback to metal labels can be their cost. If you have a large garden with a variety of plants, your label investment can be substantial.
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If you like to recycle and you're not fussy about the look of your labels, you can make your own from things you would otherwise throw away. Yogurt cups are a good example. Cut off the bottom of an 8-oz. cup with a utility knife. Then cut the side into strips. For the price of your labor, you'll have 8-10 perfectly serviceable labels.