Good Long term labeling

Orlando, FL(Zone 9b)

Hello plant world.

I've been doing a lot of cuttings and growing from seed over the past few years. My labeling system frankly stinks, though. I had been using tape on the pots and a sharpie and now have 1/2 a greenhouse full of mystery pots.

How does everyone else label? Anyone out there have a good labeling system that will last 2-5 years until these guys start flowering, seeding or fruiting so I don't have to keep ending the relabels with question marks or maybe (as in: Date Palm - (maybe))?


McMinnville, TN(Zone 6b)

I have found that a good quality white stick label written on with a #2 lead pencil or a lead pencil made for labels will out last the sharpie many times over. The ink in the sharpie will fade quickly when exposed to the sun and weather. I quit using the sharpie for labels years ago for this reason. You can also purchase thin metal tags that can be "written" on with a pencil. These are not good for small plants, but for larger ones they work okay. They must be tied onto the plant with a small wire that comes with the tag. Hope this helps.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Paint markers or markers specially sold as garden markers will also work--they won't fade in the sun like sharpies. You can use them on the white plastic plant tags or metal tags or popsicle sticks.

Lee's Summit, MO(Zone 6a)

Whatever you use, cover the writing with clear nail polish - they last a lot longer. Personally, I use the plastic stick-in labels, using a paint pen or a lead pencil, then cover with clear nail hardener.

Orlando, FL(Zone 9b)

Ooh! Good one!

The greenhouse conditions (Florida sun and wet) tend to make even the pencil and paint pens fade on the white plastic labels, but with the varnish, i bet that will last. I'll try the clear varnish next summer.


Ottawa, KS(Zone 5b)

I now use a scheme very similar to the one Blueberry uses. I use white plastic stick labels and write on them with Ebony pencil. Ebony pencils write very dark. Wooden stick labels seem to rot within months in my garden. Last year I had a debacle, using wooden craft sticks (like popsicle sticks) as stick labels. The pencil writing didn't fade, but the soil "ate" the sticks by mid summer.

The plastic stick labels don't rot and they are reusable, because the Ebony pencil writing can be erased. At first I tried using regular pencil erasers, but found that a cleaner like Bon Ami or Bar Keepers Friend removes the pencil writing faster and leaves a slightly ruffed up surface that accepts pencil writing better the next time.

I use and re-use hundreds of labels each year, because a hobby of mine is breeding zinnias, and each of my "breeder" zinnias gets an individual code name that stays with it on a label from seed to seedheads. I keep a notebook with detailed information for each of the codes. This year my codes started with E1, E2, ... up to E91. Last year my codes started with D1 and ended with D124. Next year the breeders will be named F1, F2, F3, ... and so on. The codes are almost a necessity, because I use rather small labels, and I discover a lot of different breeder zinnias that appeal to me. The labels stay with the plants in their starting trays and go with the plants into the garden, and stay with them until I gather seeds from them in the Fall.


Thumbnail by Zen_Man
Ventress, LA(Zone 8b)

Zen, very interesting.

Central, TX(Zone 8b)

I use the white plastic labels and HB (very soft, dark) leaded pencils for notations. When I'm ready to re-use the label I just rub the writing with a bit a damp potting soil - the pencil lead disappears like magic, no smear marks that erasers leave behind. For gallon pots I write on the pot sides using grease pencils (various colors) purchased from the local craft store (Hobby Lobby for example).

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

The cheapest labels to use are cut up Mini-Blinds....Any size or shape you wish.
Vertical ones work well also.
Go to your closest HD and ask them for the cut off ends of mini---or vertical blinds....
YES! Pencil writing will never fade!

You can also buy "Commercial Plant Marketer pens" available at
Office Supply stores. These are like Permanent marker pens--BUT---UVA resistant....


Titusville, FL(Zone 9b)

For my perm. plants I cut used soda cans into the length of the can into many tags.
I then use an old ballpoint pen that no longer works and push hard into the metal to create an indentation of the name into the metal, I can also use these as hanging tags for my vines on the fence with a zip tie, I just use a hole punch for the end to make the hole, they never fade and I rarely have an issue reading them. Only problem is they can be a bit sharp on the edges, but they never fade, easy to spot and if it's a bit hard to read like the first ones I made using a large nail to scratch the name into them I use a pencil to highlight the name into view.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


Seems like a lot of extra work.....The UVA resistant pens never fade---and cut up Mini-Blinds seem a lot easier.
You can get the cheapest mini-blinds for abut $4-$5 for a whole window. .

Cut therm up as you desire, angle the ends---and you have a marker.


Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

you can get a mini blind in a thrift shop for a buck or 2 and get enough labels for a season. I like the marking pen idea.

Titusville, FL(Zone 9b)

I've never come across the marking pen you speak of, the regular sharpies fade the laundry markers fade, anyway while sitting in front of the TV I cut up the cans and haven't lost a tag yet to fading so it works for me and I can put them in the recyling bin if I need to if and when something goes to the compost...

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

The other option is to use a pencil on the mini-blind markers. It never fades...

I'm experimenting with a Sharpie industrial permanent pen, supposed to be more resistant to fading, etc. Just got it from Territorial Seed so not sure yet how well it will stand up to fading. Last year all of my white plastic labels with a regular Sharpie faded to nothing and couldn't keep my tomatoes identified. Also have a "grease" pencil to experiment with but won't be good for small printing.

Columbus, OH

I have Sharpie industrial labels that are three years old and have been outside and I can still read them clearly. Pencil washes off for me, but it looks like I might need a softer lead, I'm sure mine was a #2.

I use mini blinds for the actual label. Since I have cats, I frequently need to replace mini blinds. lol

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

I have also found that, if you use a regular Sharpie on your tags--put a strip of CLEAR scotch tape over the
writing and it will keep the writing from fading.

just thought of this--I wonder if you painter clear nail polish over the writing--it might also work.
Depends how many markers you make. This could become too labor-intensive.

Just have to get resourceful here.......Gita

Lee's Summit, MO(Zone 6a)

Dip them in varnish!

I did read just recently that a paint pen with solvent-based paint is supposed to hold up well. Problem might be how fine a tip is available for writing on the tags/markers.
Thanks Celene for the encouraging comment on the Sharpie industrial. There may be hope that I can read the tags by August.

Lee's Summit, MO(Zone 6a)

Cindy, I use a paint pen - no problems so far.

Baytown, TX(Zone 9a)

Thanks for all of the great ideas. I too have a lot of mystery plants!

I still have some old mini blinds and some plastic markers that the sharpie faded off of.....will try with the paint markers or pencil and polish or varnish!


Kay - thanks for your input. Good to know for future reference if the Sharpie fades on me. I don't normally leave markers in the garden (they always get "lost" in the fall leaves) but it was frustrating trying to tell the tomatoes apart this past season.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I agree. I had the same problem with tomatoes last year. I bought some of the last ones from a grower and I know they were mislabeled. But, never did know which were which. So, don't know which ones I would like to get a repeat of. I like to try some new tomatoes each year.

Ottawa, KS(Zone 5b)


"I like to try some new tomatoes each year."

I don't know if they would be to your liking, but my favorite tomato is Burpee's Seedless.

I have been growing them since they were first introduced a few years ago. The seeds are expensive, and obviously you can't save seeds from them. Incidentally, you can grow tomatoes from cuttings rather easily. And some people graft fancy tomato varieties on specially powerful rootstock tomato varieties, that are bred especially for that use.

That is sort of like rose growers and many fruit tree growers do. I haven't tried it myself, because all of my tomatoes seem to develop awesome root systems in my sandy loam. Last year my Burpee's Seedless tomatoes grew much taller than the "normal" amount, and grew out the top of my 5-foot tomato cages. Of course, I had started them indoors under fluorescent lights, so they got a good long growing season here in Kansas. And they are indeterminate, which I guess means they could keep growing indefinitely.

(not associated with any product or vendor mentioned or linked)

Zen - very interesting about growing tomatoes from cuttings. I wonder if one could use the suckers that are removed (sometimes).

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


You want heirloom tomatoes--and you never told me that......I have 3 kinds. Bah--Humbug!!!
Could have put in some seed in the package i sent you.


You know how tomatoes grow 'suckers" between their stems and leaves--in the axils? The ones we are always told to pinch out?

Welll--Pinch away--and then root them. They are not, exactly cuttings, but they do all root.
Sort of, like, accomplishing two good things at the same time....
Besides--this way, you will get a later crop of Tomatoes....


In retrospect, sorry to have caused a tangent in a totally unrelated thread. Yeah, I figured it would have to be the suckers but later isn't always better here. If I had a longer growing season, it would certainly be fun to play with rooting tomatoes.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

You know guys, that was exactly what I was thinking. What Cindy M (Just noticed both of you named Cindy) LOL, said about the short season. By the time I get the suckers we are well into our season.

Can't remember where it was, maybe Burpee's website some time ago, they were selling a lot of grafted tomatoes. I'm sure they were directing their sale to the folks in Texas and the rest of the Southern states. But really thought that interesting.

I just looked at the site with the seedless tomato Zen. They really look good. I bet it was where I saw the grafted plants. Have you ever gotten any plants from them? Are they good ones, and packaged good? Their growing time is about 2 weeks more than I normally shoot for to get a good crop. Might try the plants. Wonder what the s&h is? Probably expensive.

Will have to look into it when we get closer to planting time.

That is ok Cindy., It sounds like you sent me more than enough.


Ottawa, KS(Zone 5b)


I have never ordered plants from Burpee -- just seeds. Burpee says they do a good job of shipping plants, but of course they would say that.

I sow my tomato seeds a few weeks earlier than they recommend, and they are usually in bloom and with small tomatoes on them when I set them out in the garden. The same with peppers and eggplants.


This message was edited Feb 4, 2012 10:41 PM

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I would do that too if I had room for them. My kitchen is not that big. I can just barely do 8 or maybe 12 trays of 3 inch pots. But you see, I not only do tomatoes, all of the annuals for my containers on 2 decks have to be in that space too.

Gallon pots of tomatoes just don't cut it. Even tho I only do about 10 or 12 tomato plants. They would not get enough light and end up being very leggy.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Where do you buy paint pens? Staples only carries silver and gold. Do they come in black?



Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Also Zen, my sister has a greenhouse and she always has small tomatoes on hers when she plants them out the end of May. Those ghs do make a difference.

Pam - my local craft store (Hobby Lobby) carries paint pens (even different colors and tip thicknesses). If you have a large craft store in your area, I'd try there. I didn't have much luck at our local office supply stores.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I agree with Gitagal:

>> cut up Mini-Blinds
>> Pencil writing will never fade!

The only paint pens I've tried all had tips that were too wide, and were expensive.
But then, wooden pencils always seem too blunt to me, a few letters afetr sharpening.

I bought a 0.7 mm mechanical pencil, and a 0.9 mm mechanical pencil, to go along with the 0.5s I already had. and was delighted.

They're always sharp, even if you break the lead.
I use the 0.9 for bold letters, and if I want "fine print" I use 0.7 or 0.5

I can cut a mini-blind into 2-3 slices the thin way, and STILL get two lines of print if I want (e.g. for labelling rows in a propagation tray.

I've tried some extra-soft lead (BB), and it MIGHT be a little darker than HB.
But maybe it smears a LITTLE easier if I rub on it hard with my thumb.

Both kinds of lead look exactly the smae after being outside in the "sun" for two years. Of course, we have so much cloudy weather and we're so far north that our "sun" may be like your "shade".

I just bought some COLORED 0.7 mm mechanical pencil lead, but that seems like gilding the lily, and I expect they WILL fade in the sun.

At the peak of my enthusiasm, I tried throwing a free cheap mechanical pencil and some cut-up mini-blinds into seed trades, but it turns out that most people already have their own favorite method of labelling.

If I push enough short, narrow mini-blind labels into a prop tray or tray of 6-packs, they serve as tent-poles for supporting an 18" Saran Wrap humidity tent as if designed for the purpose.

Long Beach, CA

I use a pen called the garden marker. It works great. Also a china pencil works well. I picked it up at Lowes!

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Cindy thanks! I'm in NYC for the winter and it had never occurred to me to try an art supply store. Your suggestion nudged me in the right direction and thanks to you and Sam Flax I now have a good supply. I like pencil too, but it doesn't work on the smooth plastic labels that come free or bundled with some orders. Sharpies vanish by midsummer, so my plans to compare similar cultivars during the season have been somewhat thwarted.

Happy planting!


Pam - hope you're enjoying NYC. Is that an annual thing/winter home? Lived there briefly many years ago - lower West Village.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> I like pencil too, but it doesn't work on the smooth plastic labels that come free or bundled with some orders.

Consider cleaning glossy plastic (hard) with Comet cleanser. Rub it in with something solid, like another label, not a soft sponge or nylon scrubber.

If you scratch up the surface, pencil "takes" a little better.

Lee's Summit, MO(Zone 6a)

Rick, a Magic Eraser is excellent to rough up a mini blind label. I use these for nearly everything, and when written in pencil, then covered with clear nail polish, they last a couple of years for me.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

I'm midtown east. We're here for the winter- very old house, leaky insulation means it's
$$$ to heat. But I've been very busy already, 3 shelves up with lights in the kitchen window, all full. Next week 1 flat of various colors and heights snaps go to the country where it stays cooler, especially when we're not there during the week.


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