Not that many years ago, the only plant supports I was familiar with were stakes and peony hoops. I used bamboo stakes of various heights to keep plants upright in the garden. They (mostly) did the job, but I wasn’t crazy about the way they looked. The peony hoops, made of dark green plastic-coated wire, were a lot more discreet, and I found I could use them to support many plants in addition to peonies. Unless you look closely, for example, you would never know that these Tradescantia plants are being kept from flopping over onto the walkway by peony hoops placed at their base, about 6” above the ground.
My plant support horizons were broadened when I learned about the products available from retailers like Gardener’s Supply Company in Vermont; in their catalog, I could find a wide range of supports that included but also went beyond bamboo stakes and peony hoops. I have not tried all the plant supports that Gardener’s Supply offers, but there are three that I have come to use extensively:
|These are designed to provide flexible support for large showy flowers where each stem needs its own support. They come in a variety of heights, and I have tried both the 4’ and the 5 1/2’ sizes. I’ve mostly used these for delphinium support, but they can also be used for other tall flowers that need individual stem support. The problems I’ve found with these are that it’s often difficult to predict which size you need, and it’s tricky to switch to a different height once the plant is already growing in the stem ladder. In addition, they aren’t really tall enough for very tall plants (like the tallest delphinium) that need support for the flowers as well as the stems.
These are L-shaped, curved supports that can be linked together to form fences, rings, or other configurations. I love the flexibility provided by the ability to choose both the number of linking stakes to connect and the configuration.
A great advantage of linking stakes over peony hoops is that they are much easier to add when plants are fully grown and blooming. When my Siberian iris ‘Tiffany Lass’ began to bloom recently, I remembered that the very substantial flowers on this cultivar make them top heavy and that the stems always flop over onto the ground when the flowers bloom. I quickly grabbed a bunch of linking stakes and used them to make a ring around the iris, thus keeping all its flowers upright.
Like the stem ladders, linking stakes come in a variety of heights; but I have found that it only makes sense to buy the tallest ones, since I can sink the stake deeper into the ground if I need it shorter. (Fellow Maine gardener Harriet Robinson tells me that linking stakes were formerly available in a straight, rather than curved shape – which was superior for some applications. Wouldn’t it be nice if Gardener’s Supply would sell both straight and curved linking stakes, increasing their usefulness still more!)
|These have turned out to be my favorite Gardener’s Supply product. They are rectangular grids (approximately 20” x 40”) made of plastic coated wire, and they are flexible in two ways. First, they are physically flexible; they can be gently bent into a variety of shapes (and then unbent when you want to use them in a different way). In addition, they come with plastic clips that can be used to connect parts of a grid or to connect multiple grids together. This physical flexibility means that they can be used for a wide array of garden applications.
I have rolled flexible garden grids along their long dimension and turned them into round cages, clipping the short ends together and then stacking them. Flexible garden grids could also be configured into a trellis. I’m hoping to use one next year to provide unobtrusive support for a planting of tall Astilbe that grows up against my house in the Deck Border and always gets beaten down to the ground by rain. (In the past, I have staked the Astilbe stems; but this required a lot of stakes and the results are not attractive.)
I have used flexible garden grids as much for plant protection as for plant support. When a newly planted Viburnum was browsed to the ground and left for dead by deer in fall 2011 and then browsed again in the spring when it tried to put on new growth, I realized that this plant would need protection during these seasons. Before I left for Pennsylvania last August, I took two flexible garden grids, bent them into a slight curve at one end, clipped them together, put the resulting tent over my vulnerable viburnum, and draped it with netting to protect the plant. This worked beautifully. In the spring, before perennials began to come up in my Serenity Garden at the edge of the woods, I protected them from hungry deer by taking three flexible garden grids, curving one end to make a horizontal surface, putting them in a triangular configuration around the vulnerable plants, and draping netting over the whole structure.
The only disadvantage I have found with flexible garden grids is that they need to be attached to the ground in some way. Gardener’s Supply recommends using bamboo stakes to anchor them, and this is what I have done; but I don’t like the high visibility of the stakes (the problem that led me to look for alternatives to stakes in the first place). I would love it if Gardener’s Supply would make stakes that clipped onto the edge of these and could be used to anchor them in place. For trellis-like applications, stakes could be made of the same material as the grids and 6-12” longer. (I may try re-engineering some of the stem ladders for this purpose.) I’m also wondering if tent stakes could be used to attach my cages and tents to the ground and intend to try this next year.
Supporting Plants the Old-Fashioned Way
I still use stakes in my garden, but now I use them only in places where they will be relatively invisible. For example, the large goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) that grows at the east corner of my house tends to get knocked down by heavy rain sheeting off the roof. (And, inevitably, as soon as this plant blooms, we get thunderstorms and heavy rain!) Each spring, before the plant grows very tall, I take three stout, 6’ tall bamboo stakes and place them in a rough triangle about halfway between the center of the plant and its outer edge. Then, as the plant grows taller, I use twine to loosely attach each stem to the top third of one of the stakes. This system keeps my airy goatsbeard plumes upright in the rain, and the stakes are hidden among the foliage.
What strategies do you use to provide discrete and/or attractive support to plants?
(I have not been given any free products or other consideration from Gardener’s Supply Company to recommend their products; I’m just a satisfied customer.)