How to . . . stake plants

by Rhiannon James

One minute, stems are surging upwards quite happily, the next, maybe because of strong winds, heavy rain or just the weight of their own flowers, they have hit the horizontal.

For this reason, staking is a job that’s best done early and it’s also much easier to do when the plants are still small.

The good news is that only certain plants need any help in staying upright. Some of those most likely to need support are plants with big, heavy blooms such as dahlias and peonies; clump-forming perennials such as nepeta which can collapse outwards leaving a bare middle on show and plants with tall stems, especially if they’re topped by large flower spikes.

Although there are a bewildering variety of stakes on sale, you can also prop up your plants with some simple pea sticks (small twiggy branches) or with some canes and some twine. These stakes might be quite visible at first but after just a few weeks they’ll disappear under a lavish covering of leaves.

When to do it: spring and early summer

The earlier you can put in supports for the plants that need it the better. Flower beds are more accessible in the spring and stakes are much easier to put in place without damaging the plants.

If your plants are already big and bushy though, don’t worry, you can still put supports in, you just have to be a little more careful as you do it.

When plants do flop over, cut off any broken stems and lift and secure the rest as best you can.

Things you’ll need

1. Stakes: this might include pea sticks, bamboo canes or metal stakes depending on the plants that need support

2. Biodegradable twine

3. Scissors

Method 1: pea sticks

1. This is a simple, traditional method of staking that uses small branches from hazel and birch trees as supports.

2. Pick branches with plenty of twigs (if you are cutting pea sticks after leaves have appeared on the trees, leave the branches out in the sun for a few days so the foliage shrivels and becomes brittle. Then, with gardening gloves on, you can strip the sticks by running them through your closed hand). Then cut the sticks to length – when pushed into the ground, they should be about six to twelve inches shorter than the eventual height of the plant.

3. Push the pea sticks into the ground in a ring around the plant. Angle them so the twigs form a kind of grid which the plant can grow up through and lean on for support. To make a stronger, cage-like support, bend twigs on opposite sides towards each other so they overlap then wind them around each other until you’ve created a dome-shaped structure over the plant. As the plant grows, the structure will be hidden by leaves.

4. If you have left your staking a bit late, remove the thinner twigs from the pea sticks. Then push the pea sticks into the ground in a circle around the plant and gently ease the fans of twigs between the stems so they act as supports.

Method 2: single staking

1. This is a quick and effective method for plants with tall flower spikes that can become top-heavy and fall over.

2. Push a bamboo cane into the ground, about three to four inches from the stem that needs support and then loosely tie the stem to the stake.

3. Start by tying the twine around the stake. Then, allowing at least an inch of slack and twisting the twine into a figure of eight (to stop the stem and the stake rubbing together), tie a knot around the stem. Repeat the process every six inches or so along the stem. As the plant grows, you may need to add further ties – the highest one should be at the base of the flower spike.

4. If the stem has already started to flop over, be very careful when trying to straighten it as it may snap. Slowly ease it upright, working upwards from the base, and then tie it to a stake as before.

Method 3: bamboo and twine loops

1. A cage made from bamboo canes and twine will stop tall, clump-forming plants flopping outwards.

2. Start by pushing the bamboo canes into the soil in a circle around the plant. Once they’re in the ground, they should be about six to twelve inches shorter than the eventual height of the plant.

3. Then wind a length of twine around the canes to make a circle which will prevent the stems of the plant falling outwards. Repeat this every six inches or so – you may need to add more rings of twine as the plant grows.

4. If you’re dealing with a large clump, you can also run twine across the circle in two different directions to create a grid which will provide extra support.

5. If you’re staking your plants later in the season, you can use the same method but if you create a grid, thread the twine gently between the stems and be careful not to damage them as you pull it tight.

Method 4: metal stakes

Commercial stakes are expensive but they’re very easy to install and will last for a long time. They’re available in all sorts of shapes and sizes and twine diagonals can be tied in to give extra support if it’s needed.

Method 5: Y-shaped supports

Some plants such as peonies and dahlias produce large blooms that can need extra support. A twig with a Y-shaped end can be placed under the section of stem just behind the flower to hold it up.

Other thoughts

There are ways to reduce the number of plants you need to stake. You could, for example, go for the ‘Chelsea chop’ on plants such as phlox and sedums. Cut back the stems by about a third before they flower and you should get a stronger, bushier clump with more blooms. Alternatively, more tightly-packed beds allow plants to protect and support each other. It’s helpful to keep an eye on what happens each year so you know which plants will need staking the following season and which can be left alone.


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