In last month’s article on basic garden markers, I talked about how to make garden markers with colorful wooden sticks. These are great for labeling seedlings and other annuals, because they are cheap and easy to make. However, if you need something that will last a little longer, don’t worry! Here I’m going to talk about clay markers, a project that was inspired by this article. They’re a tad more complicated and a bit more expensive to make, but they are also a bit more durable and definitely worth the effort. Plus you can get more creative with the marker designs.
Clay Markers Supplies List
You want clay that can be baked, which comes in several different varieties. Modeling clay doesn’t harden; it isn’t what you want. I got a small pack of 4 different colors for $5 from Hobby Lobby, which had a better selection of this stuff than our local Walmart. Larger packs with a wide assortment of colors ran about $10 to $13. The cheaper of those options was found at Walmart. Or if you’re on a tight budget, you can get small blocks of 1 color for about $2.50 each.
Heavy Duty Glue
Regular Elmer’s glue isn’t going to work for very long. Get a stronger variety. I went for a small tube of Crazy Glue that was about $2 at Hobby Lobby and came in a two pack. Other more robust options include epoxy and hot glue.
I got approximately 8 wooden dowels for about $3 at Walmart. I had looked for metal barbecue skewers to use instead because they would be far more durable. Although I had no luck, yours might be better. They’ll probably cost a couple of dollars more, but they’ll probably last longer. Then again, they do tend to rust.
You need this to bake the clay. It’s not something you can microwave.
These are for writing names on the labels.
Just something to set the clay on while it bakes. It’s also a good idea to line the tray with parchment paper or aluminum foil to keep the clay from sticking.
You could cut out small square or circle shapes using knives or appropriately sized bottle caps. However, for a couple bucks you can get set of three small clay cutters at Hobby Lobby. They had a couple of different shapes. I went with the star because it is my favorite.
To keep from using up all your clay in three seconds flat, you are going to need to roll it out so that it’s in small shapes. If you don’t have an actual rolling pin, just use a smooth glass to roll out your clay. If you use a textured cup, the texture will transfer to the clay.
Ziploc Plastic Bags
If you have any clay left over, you will need these to store it for later use. If you have different colors wrap each one individually in plastic wrap before putting them in the baggie. This will keep the colors separate.
I got a bottle of the glittery stuff for in the craft section of Walmart. The paint section probably has similar varieties without the glitter. Also, keep in mind that if you’re not using the labels for houseplants the glitter will eventually wash off.
This is another way to protect your project and help it last longer. I got a bottle of Glow-in-the-dark paint for $4 at Hobby Lobby to go with my celestial theme.
You don’t need anything fancy here, just something that will keep sealant and paint off your floors or porch. Leftover plastic shopping bags will work so will an unused garbage bag.
Total Project Cost: $7.50 to $22, depending on the supplies you have already.
Each Marker: about $.75 to $1.65, depending on cost of supplies and how elaborate you get.
How to Make Clay Markers
1. Assemble your supplies.
2. Preheat the oven to the appropriate temperature. (The clay package will have baking instructions on it.)
3. You have to handle the clay for a bit in order for it to soften up. Once it does, roll it out on a flat surface and cut it into evenly thick shapes. You can mix the colors to make new ones. Or you can half-blend two colors together to create a marbled background if you’d like.
4. Place the clay shapes on a lined baking tray and cook them for the recommended time. It usually takes the full 30 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
6. Label them using a sharpie. (If you’re using paint that isn’t translucent, reverse steps 6 & 7.)
7. Paint them on both sides. Let each side dry before flipping them over and paint the other one. After they’re dry, move on to the next step.
8. Attach the clay markers to the sticks by putting a line of glue on the back side. Place the sticks on top of it and turn it on its side to dry.
9. If you are going to be spraying the clay markers with sealant, do so in a well-ventilated area. You can even set up the liner on the ground while you wait on the glue to dry.
10. Either store your markers in plastic bags for later use or put them directly into your garden.
Store any leftover project supplies to use later. Be sure that you’ve turned off the oven and put all the dishes either in the dishwasher, or the sink for someone else to clean for you.
Additional Project Notes
The project I was using as a guideline said to put holes in the clay prior to baking them. But my sticks ended up being a tad too big and I didn’t want to use a ton of clay on each one. I was going to glue them to the base but that didn’t work either because the stuff was too runny to hold. I ended up having to paint the backs of the sticks where they were attached to the clay so that the shapes would show up in the dark. Using thicker glue and/or thinner sticks might make things work better.
I also ended up using about .25 oz of clay for each marker, so you may want to factor that into your plans as well. Shorter plant names worked better than longer ones, which often ended up looking a bit squashed. Likewise, the text showed up better on lighter colored clay. But it was very hard to read on the dark blue. Use only a thin layer of glow-in-the-dark paint over the text and/or dab off any excess paint, so your label remains readable. Don’t forget to paint the sides. Also, make sure each layer has a chance to fully dry. Otherwise, the letters may get smudgy.
I think a hot glue gun might work better than CA glue. If you have one handy and you’re not letting your children help you, (this would be a fun project for older kids). As always, happy gardening!