tongue depressors: plant labels on a budget

I AM A FOOL, but thanks to reader Debi, who added a tip to the site in a comment today, you don’t have to be. You don’t have to buy special wooden plants labels as I just did for far too high a price; you can buy non-sterile, 6-inch tongue depressors from your local pharmacy (or even Staple’s, apparently, or e-Bay or Amazon). In a quick survey they range from under $5 per hundred to $13 for 500 and everywhere between. (If you need wooden labels small enough to fit in a seedling cellpack, or foot-tall ones big enough to holler out to you from long rows in the large-scale vegetable garden, Johnny’s and Grow Organic have them, among other places, but the tongue depressors will work for most uses, and far more cheaply.) Where would I be without all of you and your unending cleverness? Keep it coming!

  1. Judy from Kansas says:

    Cut up yogurt/cottage cheese/etc. containers are even cheaper. Just cut them the size of a label and write on them with a Sharpie.

  2. Charlotte Cantrell says:

    I’m sure you probably already do this, but back when my mother would put in a garden, we would forget what we would plant where, so she started saving peanut butter jars, or mayonnaise jars, And we would put the used seed packet in them seal them up, turn them upside down in the dirt, and bury them just a little at the end of the row. That way, they stayed dry, and we could remember what we had planted. She also wrote the date, that we planted on the envelope. It seem to always work for us. We also used newspaper laid out between the rows, and plants to help keep weeds to a minimum. When they would finally dissolve into the ground it was usually time to pick the vegetables, or we would just put out more newspaper.

  3. Linda Secrist says:

    popscicle sticks work well for small areas and use china marking pencils[grease pencils] to mark with-very water proff.

  4. Liz Davey says:

    Cheapest I have found for the sticks are in craft store where they are called “Craft Sticks”. I use them on the plants I send to plant sales marking the name of the plant, size, sun/shade requirements and color of bloom.

  5. Joanna says:

    I had one of those Doh! moments this year. Here in Latvia there are bags of thin pieces of wood for helping to start a wood fire, They are easily spilt if you need a smaller label but are great for writing on and there are lots and lots and lots in a bag all for vey little money. Not sure what they would be called in America :)

  6. Daedre says:

    I’ve tried tongue depressors before and the ink always bleeds so much that it is illegible. I’ve tried writing in pencil too, but once the wood wicks up moisture, the pencil is illegible. And, after you use them for a while, they always seem to get moldy and dark (and illegible). Do you see a trend?

  7. Vicki says:

    I go with the packages of popsicle or larger-type wooden sticks from craft stores. They seem to be tight enough wood to handle a sharpie pen, and as log as you use a permanent fine point sharpie, they work just fine! I like the tip above about putting the seed envelope in an old peanut butter or mayonnaise jar. I had forgotten that one – my grandmother used to do that! Thank you for the reminder!

  8. Brenda says:

    I had my children paint smooth stones with the names of different herbs and veggies (we used Sharpies and model car paint in different colours)…they were very charming and it brought the kids out into the garden with me

  9. lindsey says:

    I agree with Daedre–the wooden sticks absorb too much moisture and become illegible after a few months.

    I try to save the name tags from annuals I buy. I reuse the ones with a blank back side, writing the name of seedlings with a permanent marker on the back. Normal permanent marker gets bleached out by the sun before the end of the season, so I’ve learned only use the “industrial strength” type.

    I have to say, I like the idea of using the cottage cheese containers. I’ll have to try that this spring. Possibly ugly, but effective.

    1. Margaret says:

      I reuse all my plastic ones, too, Lindsey — and yes, the stronger markers are key. Thanks.

      As for thoughts about infection from fungal spores, of course overwatering (not allowing things to dry between waterings) and poor air circulation (a fan on low in the area is a good idea) can also contribute.

  10. Gwen says:

    I’ve tried popsicle sticks and tongue depressors, but the writing always runs, and if you check the bottoms of them after a while, they become really fuzzy/moldy so I prefer not to use them.

  11. Jennah says:

    Like Gwen, I’ve used popsicle sticks, but find that they don’t last a whole season (they start to break down and crack or become unreadable). Are tongue depressors thick enough to combat that?

    1. Margaret says:

      Don’t know, Jennah. Out in the garden I use the very big wooden ones from Johnny’s or another source (as per link) and they last for years. This year I am going to try both.

  12. Teresa says:

    Are the tongue depressors made in China? So many wooden sticks now are. I won’t put a made in China in my vegetable garden. That’s why I bought the sticks from Fedco. They are made in USA.

  13. Beverly says:

    For years I have bartered with fresh baked goods to get the scraps at the miniblind store nearby. He saves me the cut ends or the “mistakes” and I bring him something delicious. Normally these miniblind scraps would be thrown away.

    After trying grease pencils and Sharpies repeatedly, I have found the most longlasting mark on a metal miniblind scrap is a soft lead PENCIL.

    The graphite stays, the other two wear off or fade.

    With a pencil, one can write a lot of plant information in a small space, such as the source, the year, the cultivar name or the total number of bulbs/plants in the area. I write on the front and back if necessary.

    I use a lot of plant markers because I share perennial divisions with a lot of other gardeners.

  14. Jacquelyn says:

    For a few years now, I have been using those white plastic knives (from takeouts),(keeping them out of the landfills), that are all too ubiquitous. Having marked with Sharpies, I have had to re-mark most springs or autumns. Through the new info gleaned here, I might look for the ” industrial” strength markers; after my Sharpies have run dry, of course.

  15. CHERRY says:

    If the wooden labels are greatly more economical than plastic, why not protect them with a bit of tape ? Wrap tape so the back and front are protected from seepage .
    That’s what I’m going to try today. I have seem the craft type sticks in Dollar Tree and I’m going there today after I’ve got the heads up to use them. I ‘ve seen them on several occasions but never thought about using these super cheapos for labels instead of speading $10-15 for a few hundred plastic PLUS shipping!

  16. Charlotte Cantrell says:

    If you are going to use the wooden ones, why not write on them with permanent magic marker, and either spray a quick coating of acrylic clear spray on them, or buy a cheap bottle of clear nail polish, and coat the label in that.

    1. Sylvia Klassen says:

      Now that is the best solution I have heard. I like this idea of spraying with acrylic after labeled or even before to seal the sticks. I think you can write on it afterwards. Good idea!!!

  17. CHERRY says:

    Hello again ! Well I Just went to Dollar Tree and they had the “craft ” sticks at 150 for a dollar. Daedra, you said the ink runs? Well guess what, I tried a pencil and it works. As a matter of fact, I only bought three packs in case there was a problem inscriibing them that I couldn’t deal with. Now I’m sorry I didn’t buy the whole shelf.

  18. Joy says:

    Hello … this is a great idea for markers and I will be checking it out for sure.
    I do have a question not related to this though .. I went to the resource page and I was dumbfounded about no Canadian sites listed as far as I could figure them out .. is this a Canadian blog/site or have I got this mixed up ?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Joy. I am in the Northeastern US, and do keep meaning to make a Canadian links page as well, but have not. The to-do list keeps getting away from me!

  19. Brenda Rose says:

    I used the tongue depressors last year, but they ROTTED before one season was out, so I consider that a big failure. THey rotted at the soil line, so they did not even stay in the correct location.

    I use paint pens, instead of Sharpies, and that lasts forever. Even though the sticks rotted, I could still read the names.

    I now use brown vinyl blinds. The brown vinyl is unobtrusive and doesn’t scream for attention like the white ones.

  20. Brenda Rose says:

    FYI Margaret, your new font type in the comments is TINY and I can hardly read them. The font in the article is big enough for these middle aged eyes, but I need to put my head about 2 inches from the screen for these comments. (meant to be helpful, not critical)

    1. Margaret says:

      I agree, Brenda — it’s on the fix list. We have lots of things like that to tweak today, thanks for the feedback!

  21. john says:

    I like the plastic silverware idea ….thanks to the person posting that. So often when I get take out there are plastic knives I never use.
    I use rocks. You can buy a paint pen and just write the info on it and reuse it the following year. In the winter you can paint them and make them look very professional with pictures of corn cobs or pea pods etc. Happy gardening to all!

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