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Eco-friendly garden markers really hit the spot for Earth Day

A little chalkboard paint makes for a garden marker that’s easy to read.
A little chalkboard paint makes for a garden marker that’s easy to read.

Spring means new plantings, and while you’re dropping seeds in the ground, you need a way to keep track of what’s what.

Sure, you can buy expensive garden markers from catalogs and specialty stores, but it’s more fun — and earth-friendly — to make your own from things you might have lying around your house or garden shed. In honor of Earth Day, let’s get creative.

Here are some reusable and found items that can give you a “green” garden in more ways than one by helping you mark the plantings you will be following as they grow this season.

Rock on

Rock Marker Wide Cmiers
Use paint pens to write on flat rocks and use them to mark plants in the garden. Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

Rocks can be a great way to mark a plant or flower in the garden because they are heavy enough not to blow away or be easily moved. They’re a snap to decorate, too.

Find an oval-shaped rock or one with a fairly flat surface, and rinse it off. Since rocks are porous, let them dry in the sun for a day or two to make sure they’re ready for paint. The size of the rock should depend on the area and plant size that you plan to label.

You can give the rocks a lighter base coat with an enamel spray paint if you need to even out the color before you write on them. However, it’s always nice to show the rock’s natural hue.

Use a fine paint brush to add the plant’s name or add some special designs, scrolls or simple dots. Even easier, buy a paint pen in a contrasting color and easily label your rock in one single color — or many colors.

This project can be so much fun for kids and it can provide keepsakes in the garden.

Make them last through watering by coating the rocks with a matte-finish clear-coat spray. Minwax’s Polycrylic Protective Finish canned spray product dries fast and works well. Do this every year to keep the writings and designs locked in for many growing seasons to come.

Flattened flatware

Kordana w Flattened Spoon Cmiers
Garden markers can be made from flattened spoons. Special to the Star-Telegram/Clare Miers

There are always a few straggler spoons in a kitchen drawer. Don’t throw them in the trash bin just yet. These extra silverware pieces from yesterday can make great garden markers.

Pull out your bulkiest, heaviest hammer with a flat end and prepare to let out a few frustrations. A small sledge hammer is fastest and most ideal.

Wrap the spoon in a shop towel or thin sock. This will help to keep the hammer marks to a minimum. If you have a thick piece of steel, iron or a stout piece of lumber that you can put under the spoon to buffer the blows, that is best.

Then, take a deep breath and let loose on the spoon head.

That’s right, hammer away to give the round part of the spoon a full throttle beat down. Check to see that your spoon is flattening. If not, keep hammering.

There are advanced ways of stamping the spoon, but let’s keep it simple: Use a paint pen to write directly on the spoon head to label your vegetation or flowers, and just poke it into the ground or into the garden pot.

Say ‘ahhhhhhh’

Chalk marker wide cmiers
Chalkboard-painted markers do well in container plants Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

Odd as it will be, ask your physician if you can keep the tongue depressor after your checkup. They really can be useful in the garden. Or, get some at the pharmacy, office supply store or online. Or just save popsicle sticks.

If you have a few paper-fan party favors from wedding receptions, the wood handles on those also make great plant markers.

Rinse lightly or wipe off the wooden stem or stick that you plan to use and let it dry. Once dry, paint it with a base coat color. Most craft stores sell small bottles of chalkboard black, a chalky matte-finish paint that is usually inexpensive. You’ll need a small quantity to make 10 to 20 markers. A little chalkboard paint goes a long way.

Brush on a little more than half of the length of your stick with the black paint. Let dry.

Next, use a white, chalky paint pen (or plain chalk) to mark the plant names on the black part of the marker.

If you are using these indoors, there is no need to seal them. However, if you are using them outside and want them to last, give them a nice spray or brushing of Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish (which comes in spray form or in a paint can) preferably in the matte finish (to preserve the chalkboard matte look). Satin finish will work, too.

Let one clear coat dry well and then spray again for a thicker, protective coating on the marker. Spray a few coats on the lower part of the stick, which will be in contact with moist soil.

Let the sticks dry, and pop them in the ground or into pots to mark your plants. The contrast of the black and white will be visible as you are passing by.

Wine or bubbly required

Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

A bottle of wine, or two, or three, will be needed to make these markers, but I’m sure you are willing to comply. You’ll need to save the corks.

Simply mark the side or top area with a sharpie and pierce the cork with a wood or metal barbecue skewer. You can drop a dot of E-6000 glue onto the end of the cork before you pierce it, but if you lose a cork to a season of sun and rain or garden watering, just pop a new marked cork on and be done with it.

These are loads of fun to see in the garden and a great way to recycle wine corks, even that Dom Perignon cork that you shot off into the sky on your last anniversary.

Think out of the window box

Floral Pick for Seedlings
Special to the Star-Telegram/Clare Miers

Look at other things in a new way to mark the garden, too.

Consider using gently used coffee stirrers. Wooden ones are good for seedlings growing indoors, and plastic ones can work outside. Just paint and glue on an old gift card, then write on it, using a paint pen.

Old door hinge nails from a remodel or large, chubby nails from a salvage yard can be a unique way of labeling plants. Railroad ties can be used to mark larger trees and shrubs.

When you get a flower delivery, the card is usually on a tall plastic pick. Save the picks and make markers for your plants. Then, laminate a piece of cardstock with the plant name on it and slide it into the pick to make it last through all the waterings. You can buy a lamination kit or have a copy center laminate a sheet of several garden marker cards, which can be cut apart, for you.

Beach shells from your summer excursions can be used in creative ways to mark plants. Look for places to write on them with a silvery gray paint pen.

The options are endless when you set your mind to looking for things to reuse in the garden and to spare from the landfill.