We tested 21 different plant labels in a range of materials to find the best alternatives to plastic
Labelling your plants is an essential part of gardening, whether you’re sowing seeds, potting up bulbs or planting a prized specimen shrub outdoors.
We’re all used to the standard plastic stick labels that come in a variety of colours and, while these can sometimes be used again (once the writing has been cleaned off with white spirit or WD-40), they often snap or get lost in the garden.
You can buy labels made from a range of alternative materials. So next time you need to get new labels, why not try some that aren’t made from plastic?
Other label materials
We tested outdoor labels made from a range of other materials including solid bamboo, blackboard-painted wood and zinc. The bamboo and wood had begun to rot after six months, but they would do the job if you don’t need anything permanent.
They’re still a better option than brand new plastic, as they will eventually biodegrade. The zinc labels are recyclable and looked good throughout the trial, but the pen supplied with them washed off within two months.
Most of the seed-tray labels were made from wood in some form. They quickly discoloured as they absorbed moisture from the seed trays, before splitting and rotting.
How we test plastic-free labels
Our Experts selected labels made from wood, aluminium, slate, bamboo, bamboo resin, copper and zinc, all of which were widely available at garden centres and online. We chose13 labels suitable for using in the ground outside and eight smaller types that are intended for seed trays and indoor use.
We bought a range of garden marker pens and pencils. Some of the labels were supplied with a pen. We chose which pens or pencils to use for each label based on suppliers’ recommendations.
For each label type, we wrote the same plant name on four labels, photographed the fresh ones then put three in the ground for the outdoor labels and three in a seed tray in our polytunnel for the indoor types.
The fourth label from each type was kept indoors in a sealed container for comparison purposes. For some of the labels we tried more than one type of pen.
We rated how easy it was to write on each label with the selected markers and the appearance of the writing when fresh. We assessed the labels once a month from April until October, comparing them against the stored labels.
We rated them for any fading or wearing off of the writing and for durability, checking for deterioration of the labels. Towards the end of the trial, we cleaned and reused labels, where possible, and rated them for reusability.