DIY Projects

DIY Recycled Plant Labels

Growing plants from seed is such a hopeful, optimistic thing.  Every year, when I see my first pair of cotyledons, I envision their potential so intensely that I can almost taste the summer’s garden.  Of course, those baby seedlings have a long journey ahead before harvest day comes.  They will battle weather, insects, disease, and hungry herbivores.  If they win all of those battles, only then will I taste the sun-warmed, juicy potential I see in my day-old seedlings.

My first year of gardening, I tried to make plant labels out of popsicle sticks.  At first, it worked well.  But as the weeks went by, water caused the wood to swell and the ink smeared beyond recognition.  I ended up with about a hundred unmarked plants!  I could of course discern the peppers from the broccoli, but I never did sort out all the varieties of tomatoes I had planted.  The next year I purchased plastic plant markers.  They were expensive, but I thought at least I would be able to reuse them.  However, the summer sun baked the plastic until it became weak and brittle, and their broken pieces will probably haunt the local landfill for centuries to come.  Finally I came across this technique of cutting labels out of empty soda cans.  The writing is etched into the metal, so it’s completely permanent.  They are reusable, they can be cleaned in a dishwasher, and ultimately recycled when the garden has no more use for them.  I cut fancy shapes, engraved with decorative designs for my perennials.  When I’m starting dozens (or hundreds) of seeds, I love to make simple rectangular labels.  The creative and useful possibilities are endless!  Best of all this project is:  FREE!  ECO-FRIENDLY! CRAFTY! and PRACTICAL!  A set of beautifully embellished aluminum plant markers could even make a great gift idea for gardeners.


Step 1:  Using a box cutter, carefully slice off the top off the can. 

Scissors are useful for cutting off the last little bit.

Step 2:  Rinse any sticky stuff out of the can

Wash it by hand or run it through the dishwasher on the top shelf.

Soda can with top removed

Step 3: Remove The Bottom

Using scissors, make a clean cut from the open end of the can to the closed bottom.  When you get to the bottom, pivot the scissors and continue cutting all the way around the bottom of the can, until it comes off.  Discard the bottom of the can.

Step 4: Trim off Sharp Edges

Unroll the cut piece of metal into a long flat rectangle. Trim off any sharp or rough edges that may have resulted from uneven cuts with the scissors or from using the box cutter knife.

One hand is holding the flattened out sheet of metal made from the recycled soda can while the other hand is using scissors to trim the rough edges off the can

Step 5: Cut Into Plant Label Shapes

For simple rectangular plant markers, begin cutting strips along the short edge of the metal sheet.  For fancy shapes, draw or trace the shapes first, then cut along the lines.

Step 6: Engraving The Labels

Pressing firmly with a pen, engrave each plant marker with any information and embellishments you desire.  Glue a popsicle stick to the back side for added support, if desired.  Or, punch a hole in the top and lace a string through to hang ornament-style.  Or do neither of those things, and slide it carefully into soft ground or potting soil.

Engraving the plant label