Aluminum Can Plant Markers

by Daisy on 03/09/2009

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This is not the easiest way to mark your seedlings. It’s not the most gorgeous. But it’s free, lasts indefinitely and it’s kinda fun. Besides, I gotta keep up my aluminum can skilz.

Supplies & Equipment:
Aluminum Drink Cans
Cheap scissors
Dried up ball point pen
Straight edge (for the straight plant markers)
Impressionable work surface, like the cork back of a place mat or coaster, mouse pad, etc.

1. Cut off the top and bottom of an aluminum can. Cut down one side so you have a rectangle of aluminum.

2. Work on the cork or similar surface (Yep, set that puppy right on the heating element in the bottom of the oven. Don’t remember why. Nice scorch mark, though.) Using your straight edge (emory board seen here), square up one short edge and trim it off. With your dud of a ball point pen, scribe cutting lines for the markers to your desired dimensions, here about 3/4 in. wide.

3. On a sheet of paper you can see through, ordinary notebook paper works fine, write the name of the plant you want to mark. Turn the paper over and trace it, backwards. I had a teacher in high school who could write backwards, in cursive, with BOTH HANDS– SIMULTANEOUSLY. I can barely do it this way. On the back of the aluminum, use the backwards lettering as a guide to scribe the name with the pen. Make additional decoration, etc., if you like.

This is how it will look on the right side now. (You don’t have to outline the shape like I did in this photo–I was just trying something out):

4. With the ballpoint (here is where you really need it to be inkless), outline the lettering on the right side to make it pop out.

6. Make as many as you want and cut them out. Trim one end to make a point for pushing the marker into the soil. Round the top end off with the scissors, too. Lightly sand edges with fine sandpaper. If they aren’t flat enough, a rolling pin will help straighten them out.

You can make them any shape you can think of besides the typical “stake”:

Soda can aluminum is relatively soft. It is not the scary stuff of yesteryear. However, use normal caution when working with it. I don’t recommend this as a project for small kiddies. Don’t slide your skin along the edges or you will get a monster “paper cut” type injury. Wear gloves to be safe. Carefully sand off any burrs that might be created while scissoring. If you make the pointy end somewhat blunted it will still go into the soil easily and will make the end product friendlier. I kinda like the soda can graphics on the back side, but it can be sanded off if you prefer.

If you are not feeling up to aluminum can cutting–and I understand completely, a lovely reader sent in her way of using old mini-blind slats, cut into stake form, and labeled with a Sharpie marker. Easy, cheap, and a great way to recycle. (And a much better way to do a lot at a time). Thanks, Nicole N.!

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

kedi June 12, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Unless you are very handy and adept to working with metal, I think it is foolish to mess with metal – the cost of cutting yourself and perhaps a visit to the doctor is not worth the saving of making the labels!

Starrpoint June 13, 2009 at 3:59 am

What good ideas! reuse what you have a lot of or will never use again. Both ideas are good.

Patti Jo Andrews June 14, 2009 at 1:25 am

This is a wonderful idea. Thank you

TL June 14, 2009 at 6:52 am

Yep, don’t hurt yourself.

TL June 14, 2009 at 6:55 am

Thanks. I like your name! Are you named after someone special?

TL June 14, 2009 at 6:59 am

I need to make some for my new blueberry bushes before the writing washes off the nursery tags. I didn’t for my old ones and now I don’t know the name of the really good one.

Raeann June 29, 2009 at 9:32 pm

I like the idea of re-using something however…. This is just like running your fingers across a chalkboard to talk about…. I cringe to think of small animals (or large ones for that matter) slicing themselves on these as they pass by a plant.
Just a *thot*. :~}

MotherOfBlessings June 29, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Great idea! It is easy to “nickle and dime” your budget into the red buying things you “need” that are ready made. Since I have cans and do not have used mini blinds I will use what I have. Yes working with metal can be dangerous. So can cooking but that does not mean one should avoid it. It is just another life skill to learn.

Tomato Lady June 29, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Mother of Blessings–I like your style. Something tells me you will never have blood pressure problems . . .

Tomato Lady June 29, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Raeann–No doubt. Best not to try it if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable about it.

Clare June 30, 2009 at 12:53 am

Kedi, I would agree that a person might have problems if they weren’t careful. But how do you get adept at working with metal if you don’t try things like this?

Judy June 30, 2009 at 7:53 am

I use recycled miniblinds, but Sharpie marks fade. I find using a china marker/grease pencil to be more lasting.

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Very smart. Have to get a grease pencil.

Isabel @ Fennel and Fern July 9, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Fantastic idea!

Tomato Lady July 9, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Thank you Isabel!

Janice July 9, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I love these plant markers and what a great way to recycle!

Tomato Lady July 9, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Thanks, Janice!

Matt July 10, 2009 at 8:39 am

I was thinking about the whole “getting cut” issue, and couldn’t you build in a bit of extra space on the sides, then fold them over? That would give you a non-cutting edge.

R.Nark July 11, 2009 at 2:42 am

be careful with the mini blind slats,most come from china. they are made with lead in the plastic, to help them to stand up to the sun.

Tomato Lady July 12, 2009 at 9:00 am

Right, good point. Thanks. The aluminum ones are okay.

Kc July 17, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Love this idea. I work with aluminum cans and have never cut myself on the edges. They are not as sharp as most ppl think.

Tomato Lady July 17, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Thank you, kc. Yep, I think people are thinking more along the lines of tin cans while can aluminum is pretty flimsy.

Dawn July 20, 2009 at 11:28 am

Super idea! I work with used coke cans all the time, have never been hurt, not even nicked. Not nearly as bad as people are worrying about. I will have to try this soon!

Tomato Lady July 21, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Thanks, Dawn. What do you do with your cans?

Eugenia August 7, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Hey TL!
I thought this was a great idea, and now that I have my own garden, I couldn’t wait to try it out. After reading the concerns about animals cutting themselves, I switched up the pattern to protect my dogs. Instead of the above design, I cut the can into rectangles, folded them in half short ways, and then folded over the edges so that the 3 sharp edges are folded under, and the 4th edge is the fold. It ends up making a nice little square. (Does that make sense?) I used a 1-hole-punch to punch a hole in one of the corners, so I can tie them to the cages. :) I thought I would share.

Tomato Lady August 7, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Eugenia–Good idea! I wish I could see them.

Kathie March 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Wow, this is a great idea. I got an empty coke can, stabbed it (carefully) with the kitchen shears to make a beginning opening, cut the botton and top off, cut a square piece out, folded it twice to make two smooth long edges, and wrote on it with an old ballpoint pen. I could have made it a lot neater but I was in a hurry to see if it would work! You do have to be careful handling the can while you are cutting it up, but it’s certainly manageable. Thanks!

Refrigerator January 12, 2011 at 5:07 am

great DIY project. Yeah, those always come in handy…especially when months later…I have no idea what I planted. good job.

landscape steve January 18, 2011 at 5:45 pm

This is such a nifty little idea. Looks pretty easy to make as well. I am forever forgeting what I have planted so ths will help heaps. thanks

Flea Beetle January 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I’ve done something similar cutting up empty yogurt containers for plant marking.
Had the sharpie washing off dilemma – grease pencil to the rescue!

Xiangirl January 31, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I have more plastic bottles than aluminum cans. How would you suggest I use plastic bottles to do the same thing?

Tomato Lady January 31, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Xiangirl–Here are some suggestions of ways to use plastic bottles in gardening:

Ali March 7, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Very cool tutorial. I decided to go with a label maker that I bought a few years ago for some other purpose. I have heard they should last a few years outside and they look so neat and tidy.

Your way is cooler though!

Miami Landscaping March 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm

aah!!! recycling at its best and it looks nice too.

Susan April 27, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Is there a secret to making the edges of aluminum slightly turned under or smoother.
When I try to cut the aluminum the edges are so super sharp. I like the way you do the lettering from the right side, this way you could color in darker with a sharpie, then sand to remove what’s not in the groove.

Tomato Lady April 27, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Susan–Perhaps my scissors were so dull they made them bend that way. You could try sanding them lightly on the edges. I like your coloring idea, maybe with a wax pencil?

Siren January 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm

actually I had cut out a bunch of the mini-blind markers, but the tutorial I got the idea from called for aluminum tape (the kind used to seal duct work, but not ‘duck/duct tape’) which is outrageously expensive per roll!! (I tried the sharpie, but it faded before the growing season was over!)
normally I don’t even have soda cans coming into the house – just a lot of 3ltr soda bottles (which get remade into mini-greenhouses for seedling starters) – but friends brought over cases of canned soda for the holidays… and I *hated* just putting them into the recycling! (must reuse, reuse, reuse!!)
but with your tutorial above, I figure I can do the ‘etching’ on the aluminum cans instead of very expensive aluminum tape – and glue them together with E-6000 glue. And if I cut the can strips just a tad narrower than the blind slats, I won’t have the sharp edge problem!
Will let you know how it goes!

Little Blue Mouse February 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm

“it’s not the most gorgeous” – well I beg to differ, I think they are gorgeous!

I’ve used aluminium cans to make ‘art’ to hang in one of my trees.

Tomato Lady February 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm

LBM–Thank you kindly! I appreciate your kind words. Art can be found in unexpected places.

Lauren March 21, 2012 at 10:08 am

Thank you for the great idea! I found your blog on Pinterest. I made some of these plant markers and I think they look great! I shared your blog with some friends and they are all making them too. Thanks again!

Tomato Lady March 21, 2012 at 11:06 am

Lauren–Thank you! Got pics?

Cindy March 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm

What a GREAT idea. I think I’ll make some thank you

wendy May 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm

great article, please don’t worry about danger. Does anyone have ideas for utilising glass bottle? Whats the best way to take the top of say a cointreau bottle.

Tomato Lady May 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm

wendy–I’ve seen doing this with a glass bottle cutter, and a technique using oil and a heated pipe. Check They have a how-to.

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