Making Aluminum Can Plant Tags

Keeping track of plants can be difficult. Even after making a planting plan, I’ll often walk through the garden and forget what I’ve planted where. It may be a symptom of age or a cluttered mind.  Whatever the reason, having a way to identify plants without relying on memory can be a beneficial part of a garden.

You can buy wood, plastic, and metal plant tags of every shape and size. I’ve tried many and am often disappointed. Writing on a plastic tag with a permanent marker sounds good, but every one I set out last year quickly faded in the sun and weather. Wooden markers seem to dry out or rot too quickly and metal ones are too expensive and can tarnish.

An easy option is to recycle a few of your aluminum cans and make your own durable tags that won’t decay or lose the lettering. And they’re practically free,

Begin by cutting the ends off of an aluminum can. I use a utility knife, but scissors will work too. You’ll have a cylinder. The edges aren’t normally sharp enough to cut you, but any metal burs will prick your skin. Be careful to avoid minor injury.

Cutting the ends off

With the ends off, make a straight cut through the cylinder and you’ll have a sheet of aluminum that is printed on one side and bare metal on the other. It will retain the curved shape of the can so gently roll it into another cylinder in the opposite direction with the bare metal on the outside. This will help it achieve a flatter profile.

Making the sheet

Now cut the sheet into strips. You can make them any width. These will become your plant markers. If you want you can cut one end into a pointed shape, but it really isn’t necessary; the finished marker will easily slide into the soil. If they still hold a curve, try rubbing them with a flat spoon or wooden handle to flatten them entirely.

Cutting strips

On a piece of tissue paper, write the name of the plant. Be as plain or as flowery as you want to be. Turn the paper over so you see what the name looks like backwards. This is your template to creating the plant tag.

Take one of the aluminum strips and using the backward name as a guide write the backward lettering on the printed side of the can. An old ball point pen that doesn’t write any more is perfect. You can use a sharp stick or a stenciling tool. The idea is to press the metal hard while you’re writing.

Pressing hard in the metal

Turn the aluminum strip over and you’ll see the name popping out. That’s your plant tag. At this point it’s nothing fancy, but it will hold up to the weather and not fade. You can push them into the soil or tack them to the side of your wooden raised beds. You can even add paint or glitter if you choose.

The finished tag

There are other methods for making decorative tags, but this one is a fast, easy, inexpensive way to recycle waste and identify your plants. I don’t make these tags to please others, but to help me remember what is what. This simple label makes me feel better about the memory I have left.

To see more photos of the process as a slide show, go to my website:


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Gill Boniface on September 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Great idea but it is a problem all gardeners have so why has it not been addressed by manufacturers?


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