Make your own garden plant markers

Decorative plant markers may seem more fun than function, but they’re actually quite useful to have in the garden, especially in the vegetable beds where they help you track emerging seedlings. How many times have you forgotten where or what a row of budding plantlets are or worse yet, weeded them away before they’ve popped? Since plant markers do indeed serve a purpose, why not experiment with making your own clever and interesting ones to sport in your outdoor space?

I’ve had success crafting plant makers using two popular hobby utensils: a wood burning tool and metal letter punches. Both take a little practice to get the hang of, so allow yourself plenty of trial and error. Keep the names basic (basil, arugula, impatiens) so they’re easier to letter and also re-useable and then tuck the empty packets away for specific reference.

Wood burning, also known as pyrography, is an ancient art that’s easy to learn. The wood burning tool is inexpensive, at as little as $20 for a simple one, and requires only close care and patience – rushing is the enemy of wood burning. You can find the tool at craft or hobby stores and many hardware stores. Smooth wood surfaces are easiest and most effective to work on and produce the sharpest results, so the wooden mixing spoon in the example work perfectly. In the example with the twig, I took a new, sharp vegetable peeler and sliced away a few layers to get create a smooth palette on which to burn. Practice a while to get the feel for the process.

At first, it’s helpful to write out your plant names in pencil before you begin burning. You can even print them out from your computer in a font you like, and trace them onto the wood by pressing firmly enough to make an indentation. One technique is to take a pencil and rub the back of the paper that the word is printed on until it is covered with graphite, place the paper on the wood, graphite down, and trace the word, transferring it onto the wood. Experiment with the tips that come with the burner, I prefer the round tip that is like a very dull pencil. Move slowly and consider working outdoors or with a window open to dissipate any fumes. Nothing beats practice and experimentation when learning wood burning.

Metal punches or stamps create striking seed markers. Also available at craft or hobby stores and many hardware stores, they are metal rods, like thick nails, with letters and numbers on the end that you place on a piece of metal and strike with a hammer to create an impression of the letter. It’s easy to learn to work with them and it’s easiest to work with softer, more malleable metals like aluminum and pewter.

The basil seed marker is made by stamping on a rectangle piece of aluminum cut from a soda can and wrapped around the end of a paint stirring stick and secured with a staple on the back. Aluminum soda cans are easy to cut using a regular scissor, though you do need to be careful as the metal edges can be sharp. Use the end of the wooden stir stick to flatten the piece and smooth rough edges. Allow yourself practice pieces to get the feel for how hard to strike and how far to place the letters from one another. In the example, the stamped aluminum piece is secured to the wood using an electric staple gun, but a tiny brad nail or construction adhesive would work as well.

Canning jar cover. A quick and easy plant marker is a stick in the ground and empty seed packet slipped on it. Elevate it a notch by covering with an inverted canning jar. It protects the seed packet from rain and watering and creates a vintage, homespun look.

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