Rock Solid Plant Labels

I garden with kids. My 7 year old is a dream garden helper, when I can pry her out of her books and get her to help. (I have the nicest problems, truly.) She can thin seedlings, pick peas, weed and chicken wrangle. I really don’t know what I’d do without her. 

My 10 month old is still a bit green in the practical skills, and who could blame him? Is it fair to expect the kid to be applying foliar fish emulsion when he’s only been walking for a month? No, mostly he just grabs and pulls. 
Often he grabs a recently transplanted seedling and yanks it clear out of the soil. I’m sure he believes it is the height of funny to see how fast I can leap over a 4-foot wide bed before he crushes my last hope for winter cabbage to death. But by far his favorite things to grab and pull are plant labels. I should probably sternly discipline his garden marauder action, but I don’t. He’s so freaking cute, what can I do?
I’ve tried all kinds of labels and have come to like wooden popsicle sticks. They are cheap, they compost, and when you write on them with a ball point pen they stay relatively legible oven an entire growing season. Plastic tags last several seasons before turning brittle and snapping but I always stupidly write on them with Sharpie and within a few weeks the precise label (plant, variety, date of planting) has faded into complete uselessness.
The only thing more useless than a faded Sharpie-label is a plant label Oliver has gotten his little mitts on. When I find “Rutabaga Marian 6/18/11″ in the blueberry bed, I know somebody has been helping mommy in the garden.
So recently I gave up on fancy, gardener-informative plant labels in the front beds and I went for rock solid, kid-friendly, visitor-friendly labels. No fancy varietal information, just the basics: basil, cabbage, celeriac, garlic, peas.

Our home sits atop an old riverbed, so anytime I dig a hole to plant something I sift out buckets of smooth rocks. I walked around the yard until I had collected a number of relatively large rocks and spray painted them white. When the paint dried, my daughter and I painted vegetable names on the rocks with blue acrylic paint.

My daughter was having a little trouble with the fine-line paintbrush, so we brought out the infamous colored Sharpies for a few as well.  The Sharpie-labeled rocks looked good initially but have already faded considerably. I’ll be painting over them with acrylic when I get some free time.

To label plants I just leave the appropriate labeled rocks at the front of the bed. They don’t give me the full breadth of planting info, but Oliver can move them around with impunity without disturbing anything and it’s easy enough to toss them back towards their correct bed when he makes off with them.
How do you label your plants? Anyone have any plant label toddler-proofing tips?

Comments

  1. Dreaming of Jeanie says:

    I love this rock idea! I don't have little ones anymore, but it just looks so super cute!

  2. I use old cut-up mini-blinds. They were left by the previous owner of our house and could not be more ugly as window coverings, however they are perfect as plant markers. So far the sharpie has not faded so much as to be unreadable, but it can also be removed with alcohol and reused, so that's a nice feature. I love not having to purchase plant markers, it always felt like such a silly thing on which to spend money.
    If you like this idea but don't have any ugly mini-blinds hanging around, you could probably post a WANTED message on your local freecycle and have some in no time.

  3. I pretty much gave up. She is 3.5 now. I will try again next year. She "collects" them for her garden, her nature pile, her room…whatever. So now, I don't label a thing and hope for the best.
    Which usually leads me to "Hmm, those look like brassicas coming up. Wonder what it will be?"

    Honestly, I'm just happy that she loves to eat from the garden and she has stopped picking unripe berries to feed the chickens =) Next year= labels!

  4. Brilliant! I might use this idea for my landscape plants, most of which I inherited and am slowly learning what they all are. I've been looking for a simple way to label them so I can remember their names and also so my husband knows they are 'keeper' plants and not to be killed. :P

  5. I don't use labels except on my tomato plants. For those, this year I tried a hole punch and zip ties – attaching the tag to the cage instead of poking it into the ground. I like this a lot so far – no searching through all the tomato foliage to figure out which variety I'm picking.

    For everything else, I keep it written down in a book where I draw my garden plans every year. Some things get switched around, but not so much that I can't figure out what I planted.

  6. What do you mean "mark" plants? I prefer to make a detailed graph paper plan, and then completely disregard it, putting plants in wherever and whenever I have the time, and then be completely confused later. Like this years 'is it a squash or a melon' debacle.
    Seriously though. That is one wicked cute garden sprite. Holy crap. I think I'd let him do anything if I could just pinch his fat shoulder once.

  7. Putting labels in your plants is actually good. It'll help your children know the names of the plants you put in your garden.

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  8. I like the rock idea. I’ve been using popsicle sticks but they rot. This sounds like an excellent alternative and fun.

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