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Using plant name tags in the garden

This name tag has the common and Latin names on the tag as it is in a public garden.
This name tag has the common and Latin names on the tag as it is in a public garden.
Kim Willis

There is a controversy in gardening circles as to whether one should place name tags on their plants in the garden with the name of the plant. Some gardeners think name tags detract from the garden, even if tucked down almost out of sight or if made out of fancy copper. In a public educational garden such tags make a lot of sense but are they needed in a private garden?

Of course you are going to take the price tag off the plant- (actually some people leave them in case the plant dies and they have to return it, but that’s tacky,) but many of us who have poor memories like to have the name tag there to remind us what the plant is when someone asks “What’s the name of that one?” And you should remove any tags actually attached to the plant, because they will eventually damage the plant by girdling the stem or branch. Place them near the plant.

If you don’t like plant name tags look in the garden one solution is to record the plant location and name in a binder, some even paste the tag the plant comes with in a binder. You could also add a picture. There are computer record keeping programs for gardeners that help you do this too. But when strolling in the garden with a visitor how often will you have that binder with you? So those of us whose memories are not that great use plant name tags.

Plant name tags also have another practical purpose. Plant tags on perennials may alert you that the newly emerging foliage is not a weed or that there is something planted underground you may not want to disturb in early spring when you are looking for a spot to plug in the new plants you bought. If you keep a printed tag that came with the plant it may have valuable information on it you can use in the future, such as the time of bloom, and the amount of space the plant will take up when mature. Some have pictures of the plant should you need it to refresh your memory.

There are a variety of ways to keep a printed name tag that was with the plant when you purchased it. On tomatoes and other veggie plants you can use a hole punch to make a hole in the tag and then attach it with a twist tie to the tomato cage or a stake. You can put tags on fences or trellis behind plants such as grapes. Or on perennial plants you can take the plastic plant tag that came with the plant and just bury it by the plant so only a small amount of the top is visible. It can be pulled out if needed to check the name.

Get creative

You don’t have to use the printed tag that came with the plant if you think it detracts from the garden. Some creative people paint plant names on stones, wooden spoons, or tiny clay flower pots to place by plants. Paint the name on an attractive bottle and invert it on a stake or partially bury it in the ground. Some gardeners make or buy copper, brass or steel name tags. Imaginative people can find hundreds of ways to mark their plants that also look good in the garden.

For the thrifty gardener plastic window blinds cut into proper size pieces, popsicle sticks, plastic spoons or knives all can be written on with a marker and put near the plant if you don’t have a printed tag. You can use a taller piece of white window blind or a taller painted stake on plants where you might be more likely to damage them, because they are hidden or because they emerge late.

Should you use the common name of a plant or the Latin name when you label it? And should you put variety names and a species name or just one of those? Unless you are a very serious plant collector common names should be fine. Most gardeners can determine the species of a plant, such as a rose or hosta so you will only need the variety or cultivar name on your tag. For example a label on a hosta could simply say “Patriot”. When you are new to gardening or have unusual plants you may want to place the species name and the variety name on a tag, such as hosta “Patriot”, or apple “Golden Delicious”. Really, whatever you need to put on the name tag to nudge your memory is fine.

As a backup to name tags you should also record the name and location of any new perennial plant in a notebook. Pictures of garden beds in various seasons can be a big help too. You may also want to record the names of annual flowers and vegetables so that you can rate them and decide whether or not to purchase that variety next year. Having a backup sure helps when a grandchild presents you with a handful of tags collected from the garden!

Here are some additional articles you may want to read.

Identifying garden weeds

Edible Landscaping that provides fall color

How to divide bearded iris

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