When you collect plants, it is rather useful to label and record everything added to the garden. I wish I had started sooner. I did not do this the first few years of starting my current garden, so many of my oldest plants are unknown down to cultivar and remain unlabeled. After a few years, I began making an effort to include a metal identification tag with a waterproof label with every plant that went in the garden as well as creating a spreadsheet I could print the labels from using a label maker. Many of my labels have been in place unmolested for 15 plus years, whereas others have not made it a year. I have hundreds of unmarked plants and most if not all are due to animal activity in the garden rather than my failure to tag them. My dog Sophia has done her share. She found great sport in pulling up labels by the hundreds when she was a puppy. I despaired of ever being able to label a plant again, but thankfully she seems to have finally lost interest in the tags.
I have occasionally witnessed deer snag a hoof on a label, pulling it out of the ground, but it is chipmunks and squirrels, or some other rodents I suspect are responsible for the vast majority. I have never actually seen them in the act, but whoever pulls the metal tags up, carries them off and chews them to bits. I find tag remnants all over the yard, including crotches of trees. Sometimes it looks like they had a tag-chewing party, with all the attendees bringing their own from all corners of the garden. I have moved to a heavier gauge name plate that cannot be easily removed from the stake. So far, none of my new labels have been destroyed.
For every old label still out there, I must wait until the plant blooms again the following year to be sure I am replacing the destroyed label correctly. It is just amazing how many times two very similar looking plants planted close together both get their tags destroyed, or it fails to bloom the following year, adding yet another year to the mystery. It is never the plant I know like the back of my hand, but rather the difficult to positively identify, one that has never bloomed, or some plant I failed to enter in my inventory list and do not “officially’ know or remember I have. For those reasons, I have recently started building a photo reference library from my plant inventory to match up plants to their missing labels. I build it as I need it. I started working recently on photos of all my lilies after an unlabeled lily bloomed for the first time, and happily I was able to identify and label Lilium ‘Partner’ – Asiatic Hybrid Lily. Such satisfaction!