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How to make/upcycle some durable plant labels

 
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I'd like to have labels on the trees/shrubs/plants that I currently struggle to remember.  

Currently I pick up soda cans along the road, cut them into 1" by 4" strips, etch the plant name on them with a ball point pen, hole punch holes in them and thread them onto a wire label holder and stick it in the ground next to the plant.  Or if it's a tree or a grafted branch on a tree, I use wire to tie the label to the rabbit guard or the branch above the graft.

This works passably, but I still find labels that tore off through the punched hole.  Also, as the snow melts, it folds the labels in half around their support wire.  I suspect that in 5 years most of my labels will be hard to find.

Does anyone have a good way of labeling plants that is durable and possibly uses/upcycles something commonly available?  

I haven't tried some sort of permanent marker on window blind pieces...  I suspect there aren't markers that are long enough lasting.  If I ever do tours I'd want the labels to be somewhat easy to read and to look halfway decent.

I was thinking about melting down aluminum cans to make beefy ingots that I could then etch.  Not sure if that's worth the time and if it would be readable without getting really close.
 
pollinator
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I do the same as you, except I put the labels on wire loops around the plant trunk. I am going to switch to copper wire from old household wiring as rusting wire is the current failure mode. Loops must be well oversized and still will need eventual resizing on larger species.

Steven Edholm(Skillcult vlog) uses strips of oldschool aluminum printing sheets, they look excellent if you can find some... the copper wire idea also came from him.
 
Mike Haasl
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The wire I've been using is household copper wire that I removed in a remodel.  I found if you run it through a hole punch hole in the aluminum it will wear through in no time if the label can flail in the wind.  So I pinch the wire tight to the label as it goes through the hole to avoid that failure mode.
 
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I've had good luck so far with the soda can strips, but I don't have heavy snow burdens.  

One thing I do is snip the corners of my aluminum label tags and fold all the edges over about a quarter inch, giving them a "seam" for stiffness and durability (also making them much less of a cutting hazard if one gets lose and I "find" it in the dirt with my fingers someday.)  

I also use aluminum wire (even softer than copper).  It comes from some twisted-wire industrial electrical cable about the thickness of my thumb consisting of about 8 strands twisted like a suspension-bridge cable inside a heavy plastic sheathing.  (I found about 20 feet of the stuff behind a collapsed chicken coop here on the property that dates to pre-1970.)  It's some work to break it down into wire ties, but much easier to "work" the wire ties with bare hands than copper is (I usually need pliers for copper).

I use the plastic blind strips extensively for labeling plant starts and in-ground plantings.  The best marker I can find doesn't last a single summer exposed to sun and rain.  So what I do is write the plant name four times -- once each on each end and on both sides.  Then when I stick the label in the soil, the soil protects one of the sets of markings.  When I can't read the "up" exposed end, I flip the marker, buying me a couple more months.  Having each name on both sides of the strip extends the life further, because one side is usually less exposed than the other, and because having two degraded scribbles can make it possible to decode very faint markings due to redundancy.  

I am still looking for a permanent tree tag that's better/more durable than the soda can strips.  A better way to mark the strips would be welcome also.  (I wouldn't mind a set of those letter-punch tools that engravers use to stamp lettering into metal surfaces, but they are eye-wateringly expensive.)
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Dan for the folded edge trick!  Do you just fold the corners in or do you clip the corners and fold the four edges over?  At least if the hole erodes it would become reinforced when it reaches the fold.  

Oooh, another idea...  Make soda can label blanks that are 3" wide by 2 inches high.  Find a magical way to roll the top of the label down into a cylinder so you end up with a 1" by 3" label with a straw sized tube at the top.  Then slide that onto a wire to hang it with.  

I have a set of those letter stamps, I think they were affordable from Harbor Freight.  But it would take forever to stamp out each name so I'm not terribly interested in that approach unless it's very permanent and I only have to do it once.
Rolled-soda-can-plant-label.png
Rolled soda can plant label
Rolled soda can plant label
 
Mike Haasl
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For the mini blind strips, I've heard that a #2 pencil may last longer than a marker.  I use a sharpie on mine and they tend to last through seed starting.  My old labels from prior years still have the writing on them but they usually aren't out in the sun...
 
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I saw a video on YouTube where a guy used cedar shingles to make permanent markers for trees.  The go into the ground rather than hanging on the tree, so in a very crowded food forest, this may not be the best method, but my food forest is young.  By the time the trees have grown to the point of producing, I'm hoping I will know what they are :)

Cedar Shingle Tree Markers
 
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    I have a surplus of white and light colored rock hunks for markers, which I use a black crayon to write on.  The crayon marks don't wash off easily in the rain, and it does not fade and become brittle like plastic/sharpie.  So far two years is the longest I've had a label last, but that's how long I've used stones like this.


    Pondering aluminum sources, to mimic traditional tree ID tags.  Roofing and siding construction sites use lots of aluminum trim/flashing.  The scrap pieces they throw away would make good sturdy tags.  Sheet metal off of old washing machines or other bulky appliances could be cut into strips.  Old HVAC aluminum ducting could be hammered flat and used, or a broken vent housing.  Broken screen window frames could be cut up and etched/carved into ID tags.  Broken fluorescent light reflectors would work too.

   

edit:  would folding a coda cans unrolled sheet 4+ times make it thick enough to not be cut by wire securements?
 
Mike Haasl
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I like those cedar labels Trace!  I have a source of 1/4" cedar boards I could pilfer.  I'd be worried about how long the wood burning would stay visible.  I know for signs at Wheaton Labs they put linseed oil on them to keep the char visible but I'm not sure how long that protects them for.
 
Trace Oswald
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Mike Haasl wrote:I like those cedar labels Trace!  I have a source of 1/4" cedar boards I could pilfer.  I'd be worried about how long the wood burning would stay visible.  I know for signs at Wheaton Labs they put linseed oil on them to keep the char visible but I'm not sure how long that protects them for.



I would use exterior paint for the letters and clear coat them myself, but I know that isn't "permie".  I'm willing to compromise that to some small degree for longevity, as well as not having to use my time and materials as often to redo something.  Maybe connecting your metal tags with the imprinted letters to the shingle somehow would work.  I wonder if you could make your metal tag, but rather than cutting them square you cut the ends to sharp points, or just bent a couple corners in, and then hammered them into the cedar boards.  If you could do it without splitting them, that may work.
 
Dan Boone
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Mike Haasl wrote:Thanks Dan for the folded edge trick!  Do you just fold the corners in or do you clip the corners and fold the four edges over?  At least if the hole erodes it would become reinforced when it reaches the fold.



I fold all four edges.  It's kind of a pain but the overall durability is greatly improved.


Mike Haasl wrote:
Oooh, another idea...  Make soda can label blanks that are 3" wide by 2 inches high.  Find a magical way to roll the top of the label down into a cylinder so you end up with a 1" by 3" label with a straw sized tube at the top.  Then slide that onto a wire to hang it with.



Way too fiddly for me ... but clever!  And it's doable.   You just need to build a jig.  In this case, a hardwood dowel the size of your desired tube, with a slot cut halfway through it lengthwise.  Put the edge of the metal into the slot to hold it, then wrap the metal around the jig a couple times.  Slide the work off the dowel and you've got your tube, but you've still got the metal tab blocking half the tube.  A reaming rod slightly smaller than the tube should let you flatten the tab against the inside of the tube.  

I have known people (mostly jewelers) who make this sort of fiddly fine metalwork look easy.  But for me, it would be a torture.
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Dan, I was imagining the whole part with the dowel with the slot but hadn't figured out how to get rid of the tab.  

My label stands are pieces of remesh which is heavy duty rusty metal wire.  I cut them so that I have a horizontal piece to hang the label on.  With the tube I could slide it on and if the wire is bent a bit, it should lock in place.  And melting snow will just slide around it.

I do love the large wooden signs though...  If the words stayed decent for 8 years it would be worth it.  I don't really like the guys way of using pvc parts.  It's very effective but it's plastic and epoxy and all that...

If I had a computer controlled router I could have it route out the words and then burn them.  But I don't have a computer controlled router...
 
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I saw an idea where someone used old silverware with metal letter punches to create some pretty unique plant labels. One can even find old silverware that already has holes as part of the design (I have old silverware that I found at a yardsale like this).  I am hoping to be able to do this someday, once I've gotten the lettering stamps.
  :) Edited to remove soup can idea-obviously steel would rust. ::facepalm::
 
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I use the aluminum containers that take-out Chinese food comes in - I think it's heavier than a pop can would be. They do still occasionally fail during our wind-storms, so I need to fold over the edges by the hole as suggested above. I make them fairly large so it's easy to press in "large print" names, but that also means that if the do get knocked off they tend not to travel too far and I can rescue and re-attach them.

Alternatively, have you considered taking photos and labeling the photo? That's for trees - not little plants!
 
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The marker You're looking for is a Paint Marker. I've used them for 20 years. I've used them to do the art work and lettering on the signs for my Antique Shops. If you're using the blind strips I would go over them once with an 80 grit sandpaper.Give the paint something to hold to. Give them a few hours to really dry before putting them out in the weather. They are sold in the craft and sometimes paint section.
 
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