Even Fergus knows how important proper plant tagging is. Lately we’ve been sticking thousands of hardwood cuttings right along the Donkey Fence and let’s face it, right now they all look like sticks so making sure they are properly tagged is extremely important.
There are a couple of things you need to know about tagging plants in a nursery.
- It’s the law. Anytime you sell a plant to anybody, retail customer, wholesale customer, mail order customer, that plant has to be properly tagged.
- When selling a bundle of plants, or a flat of plants, you can usually get away with just one tag. In most states each plant, or each unit of plants has to be tagged. A bundle of bare root plants that are securely tied constitute “a unit” of plants, thus one tag per bundle.
- In most states they ask that you tag the plant with the accepted common name, the botanical name or both. Obviously putting both the accepted common name and the botanical name on the tag makes the most sense. But it is also the most time consuming and a tad difficult if you are hand writing your tags. Therefore, in our retail nursery we only tag with the common name most of the time because we use very Descriptive Bench Cards to help sell our plants.
- You can’t guess at plant names! You can’t assume that you know the plant is a Japanese Holly because your dad or your grandmother told you so. There are way too many varieties and cultivars of plants that are very similar yet different. In Our Members Area, everybody is very, very familiar of my rant about properly named plants. I suggest you read the rant that I show to them on a regular basis.
To give you an idea why I am so adamant about this just recently I discovered that a rose of sharon that I have been growing for a number of years now appears to have been mis-tagged by the person whom I bought it from. Doing some recent research I googled the plant and found that the photos being displayed on the webpage of a main stream wholesale nursery that I very much trust to be 100% accurate with their plant identifications were very much different than the plant that I have!
I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating this is!!!
There are two things about this that I know for sure.
- I will never know for sure what variety of rose of sharon I have and have been growing. At this point that would be impossible. Sure I can look at photos, but it would still be a guess and that’s a huge, huge problem.
- I will have to buy several hundred of the one that I thought I was growing from a reputable source so I can begin propagating the right plant. Providing it’s not patented. More about that in a bit.
But do you see how frustrating and aggravating this plant tagging thing can be?
What if I had sold several hundred of those to a landscape contractor to use on a commercial job. Say the grounds of a university that just happens to have a horticultural school! I could be in big, big trouble because if the plants are not as specified the landscape architect that designed the landscape could order them to be removed and replaced.
I would be on the hook for new plants, labor and reclaiming the school grounds. Plus damages I’m sure.
This is serious business and I hope you take it that seriously.
You have to absolutely, positively know the correct common and botanical name of the plants that you are selling. They only way to obtain that information is have been given it on the day that you purchased your plants.
We just stuck these hardwood cuttings. (Dec. 2015) Looks like a sea of unidentifiable sticks right?
(Are you Curious as to How Well these Cuttings Did? See this.)
So how do I keep them straight? I do two things. One, I make a map of the bed as we stick the cuttings that looks like this, and this is the actual map of this bed.
South End. 2015-2016 Hardwood Cutting Bed
Pink Whisper Potentilla
Blue Artic Willow
Gold Finger Potentilla
Blushing Bride Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon Aphrodite
Ruby Rose of Sharon
Pink Pussy Willow
Golden Curls Willow
Weeping Pussy Willow
Red Twig Dogwood
The actual map is hand written on a small legal pad. Then I simply file this map in my folder of “nursery maps”.
Hardwood cutting season begins in November and ends in March that’s why the map is dated 2015-2016.
The second thing that I do is I use Aluminum Plant Tags as you see below. I use these Aluminum tags because the name of the plant is pressed into the tag and cannot fade away. However, they still can be a little tricky to read a year later, especially if you write like me. Thus the map just in case I need it.
I staple the aluminum tags on the wood frame next to the appropriate block of cuttings. This works for me because we always make several hundred cuttings of each variety. We usually get about 50 cuttings to a row.
We don’t leave any space between our varieties of cuttings because as we pull the cuttings we are able tell them apart and I don’t want to waste the space. But if you look at the map of this bed you’ll notice that we don’t stick cuttings that look identical next to each other. For instance Pink Whisper Potentilla and Gold Finger Potentilla look almost identical unless they are in bloom. So we stick something that looks like neither one in between them. That way we can’t mix them up as we pot them.
When we pot up our plants we tag every single plant with a stick tag that looks like this;
I use these stick tags for a number of different reasons.
- They are relatively inexpensive. I think I’m paying around two cents each. When you buy 30,000 or 40,000 at a time those pennies really add up.
- Sticking these tags in a pot is fairly easy and it can be done quickly. Trust me, it’s something you don’t think about but every second counts when you have thousands and thousand of plants to pot, fertilize, tag and place in the nursery. Speed is everything. Wasted time wrestling with a cumbersome tag is frustrating!
- Since we do so many of these tags I purchased a tag printer that can print hundreds of tags in just a minute or two. Again, hand writing tags isn’t the worst job in the world, but it is a time consuming task, and hand written tags can fade if you use the wrong writing instrument.
The tag printer was an investment, but it is such a time saver it’s some of the best money that I’ve spent. For years and years my wife has, and still hand writes some tags when we need a tag that won’t go through the printer.
This is the printer that I use;
This is a plastic strip tag. This is often the kind of tag that you might want to use if you are hand writing your tags because it gives you more writing area. This tag wraps around a branch and the end slips through the loop securely attaching the tag to the plant. Obviously we put these on our Lavender Twist Weeping Redbud Trees and we also use them on many of our Japanese Maples.
A few more points about this particular tag . . .
- This tag indicates that the Lavender Twist Weeping Redbud Tree is patented. Right after the botanical name you’ll see the patent number. PP # 10328. That means that it is against the law to propagate this tree unless you purchase a license from the patent holder and if you are not going to do thousands and thousands of them it’s not worth it. Most licenses start at $1,000 per plant and you still have to pay a royalty on each plant that you grow and sell.
- The little ™ after the name of the plant indicates that the owner of the patent has applied for a trademark on the name of the plant. I’m guessing that the trademark has now been issued so a tag like this should now display the ® symbol.
- Plant patents expire 20 years from date of application. But the trademark can be renewed and last forever.
- It’s against the law to propagate a patented plant, but it’s not against the law to sell a patented plant as long as you paid the royalties that were due when you purchased your plants. I buy these Lavender Twist Redbuds from a grower on the west coast. At the time of purchase I paid a one dollar royalty on each tree that I bought and I was also required to buy these special tags so when I sell the trees, the purchaser knows that the plant is patented and the name is trademarked.
Pretty much the same story on these two tags. I purchased several hundred patented heuchera. ‘Blackout’ and ‘Caramel’. Because these cultivars are patented I had to pay a royalty on each plant that I purchased and I also had to buy these color stick tags.
I don’t remember exactly what I paid but it seems to me that the tag and royalty added about 25 or 30 cents to the price of each plant that I bought. Not a big deal as far as I’m concerned. I only look at the bottom line and I know that I paid about $2.75 per plant altogether and I’ll sell them months later for $5.97 each and really I could charge a lot more if I wanted to.
The back of these tags also tell a story.
On the back of the tag you can see the plant patent number, the registered trademark symbol and the admonishment about the legality of propagating this plant. Along with important information about the plant that a customer wants to know. Sun, shade, hardiness zone and all of that.
It’s important to know what you are looking at when you look at one of these plant tags.
The numbers at the very top of the picture I believe to be inventory numbers for the plant tag itself and having nothing to do with the plant. That’s why they are printed perpendicular to the rest of the text on the tag.
Right above “Unauthorized Propagation Prohibited” notice is the plant patent number.
The text below the “Unauthorized Propagation” notice also have nothing to do with the plant but pertain to the plant tag. The plant tag is copyrighted, see the © symbol? Plants are not copyrighted, but plant tags are. It would be against the law to make copies of this plant tag. There is also a ™ symbol after the words DataFlora indicating that they have applied for a trademark on the name of their company.
That’s all important information, but most importantly, know what applies to the plant, and what applies to the plant tag.
Hand Writing Plant Tags.
There is nothing wrong with handwriting plant tags. It might be a tad unprofessional, but nobody that you are going to sell to really cares about that. They know you are small, they know that you have to make do with what you have. They want nice plants, they really don’t care that you hand wrote the tag.
In most cases they are elated to be able to buy from an actual grower and not a “big box” or a garden center that just “brokers” plants. Never lose sight of how important you are to your customers. They love you, the admire you for what you do, they admire you for what you know, and they are in awe of what you’ve accomplished.
You can take that to the bank!
Another huge tagging secret!
Pencil. Writing on tags with a pencil works incredibly well. Pencil holds up far better than a permanent marker. Permanent markers are not permanent at all and if you use one to tag your plants you will be sorry, sorry, sorry. In the video that I am about to show you we were writing on a plastic strip tag with a pencil. Danielle hand wrote the tags in the video, with a pencil last summer. When I checked them this spring to shoot the video they were all very readable.
Pencil, for whatever reason, does not fade!
Now in the video I tell you that I couldn’t find the box of number three pencils that I bought on Amazon because we recently moved and things are a bit in disarray. But I found them! Guess where? On the seat of my truck! Because I knew that I needed them to make the movie!
Yes! You can buy #3 Pencils on Amazon. They are awesome for plant tagging and a lot of Our Members just cut up old mini blinds for tagging many of their plants.
Watch the movie!
And most of the time they are envious because you get to do what you do. They might be locked in a cubical all day. That’s why I always include these two crazy donkeys in my posts. People love them and some are envious and wish that they could share a hammock with a couple of Whackadoodle Donkeys.
and now a quiz!
Which of these do you think works the best for marking plant tags?
The top one is a “nursery marking pen”. They work okay but they are not as permanent as many people want them to be. Growers often go out into the nursery to find tags they can no longer read. And the tip is a bit wide and difficult to write with on a plant tag.
The second one is a paint marker. It contains paint, not ink. A lot more permanent, but even more difficult to write with.
The third one is a permanent marker. Much easier to write with if you get the fine point one, but still not as permanent as you would expect when out in the elements. I Hear from Members All the Time about faded plant tags and how frustrating that is.
Believe it or not, the forth item in photo, the old fashioned #2 pencil works pretty darn good for writing on plant tags and often holds up in the elements better than many other markers.
What’s better than a #2 pencil?
An Indelible Pencil that’s what!
What is an Indelible Pencil? It’s pencil that was invented around 1870 used for making very permanent copies of important documents. Ink is added to the graphite before the pencil is made. If you search for indelible pencil you can find them on amazon and other places online.
What about making tags with a laser printer?
You can. You absolutely can print tags on a laser printer and many of Our Members do. I tried it before investing in the tag printer that you see here. For me, it was a very frustrating experience. Seems to me the laser tags, which come in a sheet, cost about 8 cents per tag. That’s a lot more expensive than the 2 or 3 cents that I am now paying for my pot sticker tags.
Secondly, the laser printer hated me. The stupid thing would get hot, shut down and it seemed like we were always waiting for the tags to print. I have a couple of part-time employees in the nursery and when you are paying people by the hour you don’t want them standing around starring at a printer wondering when the next tag is coming out. Especially at the peak of the potting season when you have a million things going on.
The third issue that I had with the laser printer tags is that they have to be thin to go through that kind of a printer. That makes them flimsy and tricky to stick in a pot. Anything that slows people down has to seriously be re-considered.
Our Members have a knack for finding and sharing the most awesome wholesale suppliers around so if you are looking to buy some blank tags, ask that question in the members area. If you are not a member, look on Amazon or Ebay, I think you can find some there.
Now, that’s my story about tagging plants. I know many of you have plant tagging strategies that you’d like to share, please do that below.
Also, I talked a lot about patented plants in this article. If you have questions about that, See this Article on Growing and Selling Patented Plants.
Post your questions and comments below.
I learn so much on this site! Thank you so much, Mike! I used some of your tips and planted a healing garden with my kids and the neighborhood kids, here’s how we did it, if anyone is interested! https://glad.is/blogs/articles/plant-a-healing-garden
Richard Gardner says
Hi Mike. Is there anything wrong with gluing a vinyl label printed with a laser printer on the plant pot?
No, but printing on a weather resistant sticker would be far easier. Or printing on regular plant tags is even better.
Marshall Reagan says
I was just reading your article on tagging your plants & I have a question. what if you are rooting a native plant such as an eastern redbud , how would you label it ? I am trying to figure out what I can try rooting while I get some known varieties established.
Eastern Redbud don’t do well from cuttings but can be grown from seed. Great market for them! I’d love to have some right now. You would label them as Cercis canadensis, just a generic Eastern Redbud. Named varieties would have to be propagated by asexual means. Same for Dogwoods grown from seed, they would be Cornus florida. Basic white dogwoods.
Bucky Killpatrick says
About marking tags / pens: Never tired indelible pencil, but will. My solution has been “permanent marker” on cut up mini-blinds. Twice the work, but I write info on one side, then flip lengthwise and repeat info on other. (Flip tag so writer starts from top on one side and bottom on reverse.) If elements fade/wash away info above ground, the lower portion that’s stuck in the soil remains legible for years. One problem is tags become brittle after a single winter but even if they break, you’ll have portion underground to help identify plants.
Deborah Kuhar says
Hi Mike –
Been reading and reading your related stuff (I go in circles in here) trying to find out if I can winter stick (in sand outdoors) wood butterfly shrub cuttings, and if there’s a more expanded list of possibilities somewhere – ? Thank you!
Butterfly bush is not a great candidate for hardwood cuttings. They truly are borderline hardy in cold zones. Especially the top growth.
Permanent marker is the best eraser for permanent marker. If you make a mistake write over it, basically rewet the ink and quickly wipe it off with a dry cloth.
Desiree Menke says
I understood that there was only one type of varigated Liriope and it was the Muscari variety and would not spread with runners but clump. I found some at Home Depot just marked variegata Liriope but its mostly green with very thin stripe of white -so different from what yours variegata in your pictures look like-yours almost look whitish. Do you use Silvery Sunproof?? Do you know if there is a varigated form of spicata ?? Should I be concerned it’s spicata version ??
There are almost always more than one variety of just about everything, thus having the proper tag. Some big box stores sell things that are tagged pretty generic. No way of really knowing for sure what you have.
Desiree Menke says
What variety do you have in your pictures that look so white?? Is it more then just ‘varigated’.. does it have a name of a specific variety?
I have both variegated and Silver Dragon which is white and green. The variegated is yellow and green. I bought them tagged as variegated.
CARL BRACHEAR says
What is the name and model number of
your tag printer?
Thank you, Cap Carl
I don’t remember know but it’s in the video.
Ron Kiecker says
I use Brothers Label Make, it is a cheap system and place them on Blinds material.
I have an unrelated question for Mike, How deep is the sand in your propagation beds? Is it a good practice to water them in real good for the winter? I live in TN? I am a Life Time Member in your organization. Thank You for your time and Valuable Information.
I like 7.5″ of sand in my beds. And yes, it’s always good to water them well right after sticking to remove any air pockets. And water as needed until it gets cold.
Mary Jane Naylor says
I use the small and larger plastic plant tags with a Sharpie pen. If I make a mistake or want to reuse the tag, I put them in a jar with Clorox full strength. It takes a while, maybe an hour or more, but you then have a clean tag to reuse again. Also, if you have the time, you could put a piece of clear tape over the writing and the ink will not fade.
Thanks for a great article, Mike. A wealth of helpful information.
John Wardell says
Laquer thinner will take that less than permanet marker off in seconds! A quick spritz with a spray bottle and voila!
Roger L. says
I use China marking pencils for any permanent labels. The upside is they never fade. The downside is it is like drawing with a crayon.
I use venetian blind parts as well, and have found a source at Home Depot. When they custom cut a blind, they let me have the ends.
Thanks Roger, someone else told me about the free blinds years ago and I had forgotten. My handwriting is bad enough that I can’t use a grease pencil. Nobody would be able to read it! Of course if the tag were big enough it would be fine. The other thing, not sure if I even mentioned it in this post, is securing tags because they do get lost, blow away, get pulled out etc. It really depends on what you are tagging.
Ev Gilmar says
You can make hundreds of tags very quickly and easily from a $2.00 thrift store Venetian blind. For years I used the plastic ones, which only last for a season or two, but now they come in Aluminum which is great and indestructible. They come in all widths…
Cut off the cording and strap the whole bundle together with masking tape then cut the whole bundle to length with a jig saw or some such. For just a few you can cut the individual strips with your kitchen shears.. I usually use a Sharpie pen but I wish that their “permanent” was a little more permanent. I use my little hand engraver on the metal ones that I use on trees and other long-lived plants.. You can wipe over the engraving with paint or marker to make them more visible but even over time the engraved writing is still there.. I drill a hole in the bundle for a wire to attach them to the tree..
The masking tape sticks on the edges of the tags so they stay in a bundle until you pick off how many you wan, then you don’t have a bunch of loose tags rattling around in your gardening box…. .
Interesting Ev, thanks for sharing!
Patenting plants is disgusting and unethical. It’s led to our toxic GE food lies, lying labels and animal suffering too. Stealing law should cover it not these stupid laws from too clever by half dumb lawyers. No one needs to patent plants. It’s a grave miscarriage of justice to all who must be supported by the natural world. End plant patents, they’re a sick sick joke and no self respecting person would do it. This practice is supernally stupid. So stupid, half baked and ill conceived. Spare us all.
Many new plant introductions well deserve patent protection. Some plant innovators work for years on a new introduction. One case is the Vanilla Twist Weeping Redbud tree. Tim Broztman spent years trying to produce such a plant via cross pollination etc. That’s why we have a patent system, to give inventors an incentive to bring us new invention s.
Hello. I am in the process of breeding plants, and consider it to be my passion and lifelong dream. Plants are carefully selected and crossed, and re crossed. The seeds are then planted; often thousands of plants are grown, evaluated over a process that may take years just to develop one plant. My dream is to develop a line of plants to sell exclusively to small growers and nurseries to give them exciting new plants not available through big box stores. One large local nursery here sells plants to a big box store who sells these plants for less than they paid for them wholesale,. They don’t care because they make it up on other higher profit margin products once you are there, making it difficult for small nurseries to compete selling the same plants. To survive, small garden centers need to compete on higher quality, and sell different or unique plants.
Taking a patented plant and selling it is like recording a movie off the screen and selling it without doing any of the hard work of creating it. Propagation is easy, but it takes thousands of plants an years to evaluate them, so I feel he amount is very reasonable. I do think here are mediocre patented plants, and some that are exceptional. If you want, you can cross two plants of your own, and watch them grow, and propagate them. See how you feel about the exciting process of waiting for he first bloom, wondering how hardy it will be, and see if you feel the same after going through the process yourself. happy gardening!
I commend you for the work that you are doing and I do agree that those who truly work hard to develop new, superior plants should be entitled to patent protect and royalties just as the system allows for 20 years. I don’t necessarily agree about the box stores, many of their plants carry what I consider pretty stiff prices for rather generic plants. We as backyard growers don’t compete with them at all. What we do is so unique and so special that people come to us for the experience and the expert advice. And of course the value.
Henry Birdwell, M.D. (Ret.) says
Mike, where did you get your thermal printer , and how much did it cost? How can I obtain one?
Doc Henry Birdwell, Ft. Worth, TX
United Label in Cleveland, Ohio. Cost was almost $1,000 with the PC software. But the tags are about 1/4 of what I was paying for laserjet tags and a thousand times less aggravating. This thing prints labels lightning fast.
Hi Mike and all,
Tag printers are freely available on Ebay. These printers are commonly used to print shipping bar code labels . For permanent labels which are waterproof you need to use what is called thermal transfer, where you use a ribbon that melts onto the tag and a plastic tag of some kind , they will also print stick on pot labels, and shipping labels . The great part about these printers is that you can get them starting for less than $100.
Look at the ones bade by Brother if your budget is tight !
Thanks Alex, we’ll take a look. I do use a thermal tag printer.