Flop! (in the name of love)

There is an article in the April issue of Fine Gardening entitled “Big Blooms That Don’t Flop”. Actually on the cover it says “36 Big Blooms That Don’t Flop”, but the article only lists eight plants. The editors at Fine Gardening shouldn’t feel bad about this mistake, I’ve done the same thing several times. You start writing a post about the top 1o flowers for compacted soil in total darkness and as you write you realize there are no flowers that grow in compacted soil in total darkness, but by then you’ve already written the post title and you forget to go back and change it.

Joe Pye weed 'Gateway' and cup plant, two big floppers. These are the ones that need the 10' rebar.
Joe Pye weed ‘Gateway’ and cup plant, two big floppers. These are the ones that need the 10′ rebar.


Anyhow, I am keenly interested in the subject of flopping plants. On the one hand, I like plants that are very tall and plants with big blooms (or masses of smaller blooms). These plants tend to flop, or at least lean at an acute angle. And when I see plants flopping or leaning, I have an uncontrollable desire to get them to straighten up. This is one area where my generally informal, relaxed style of gardening is not so relaxed.

As a result, I spend a lot of time staking, propping up, and cutting back. There is an arsenal of stakes and hoops – up to and including 10′ lengths of rebar – hanging out in my garage right at this moment, which will be deployed as the season progresses.

Swamp milkweed grows to about 5' and needs staking.
Swamp milkweed grows to about 5′ and needs staking.

In my experience, almost all big plants flop, and I have just accepted this as a fact of life. Naturally, the tendency to flop varies with conditions. I get a lot more flopping because the soil in my front garden is fertile with an a very high organic matter content. This makes plants accustomed to a leaner soil particularly prone to flopping.

Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet'
Swamp milkweed ‘Ice Ballet’ grows to 3-4′ and also needs staking.

You can try more compact cultivars but often these will still need staking. For example, the straight species swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows to about 5′ in my garden and needs staking. The cultivar ‘Ice Ballet’ grows to 3-4′, and also needs staking, though it can make do with a shorter stake.

To some degree you can control flopping by cutting back, and as I mentioned this is something that I do. However, to really keep plants upright over the long haul you often have to cut back more than once, and I am reluctant to do this as it can delay blooming more than I would like.

Daylily 'Aye-yi-yi', one of the few who are truly upright.
Daylily ‘Eye-yi-yi’, one of the few who are truly upright.

There are very few medium to tall perennial plants in my garden that are consistent non-floppers. There are the daylilies (Hemerocallis), such as the cultivar ‘Eye-yi-yi’. And there is ‘Northwind’ switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).

I have little to no experience with the non-floppers listed in the Fine Gardening article. These are goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), ‘Cleopatra’ foxtail lily (Eremerus x isabellinus), ‘African Queen’ trumpet lily, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ bugbane (Actaea simplex), ‘Turkenlouis’ oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), ‘Arizona Sun’ blanket flower (Gaillardia), ‘Luna White’ Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), and sedum ‘Beach Party’.

The only one of these I have grown is bugbane (though I think a different cultivar). Unfortunately I put it where it did not get enough moisture and it died during a dry summer. As to these others, there are several I’d be interested in trying out if the opportunity arose. Also, my neighbor has goatsbeard and it is indeed a handsome plant of upright character.

Do you have a permissive attitude towards flopping plants? Are there any in particular that you admire for flop-resistance?

43 Comments on “Flop! (in the name of love)”

  1. I don’t mind drooping flowers like hydrangeas and even larger peonies, I just don’t like they outright lay down. What a mess that is. Yarrow comes to mind for that. I should probably do more staking.
    What’s interesting about the Joe Pye Weed is that in the wild, I rarely see it drooping. But then it’s probably a very different type of soil and it grows where it actually desires to be. Thoughtful post!

  2. Here we have what is called The Chelsea Chop. That means chopping back floppy plants in late May, ( the time of The Chelsea Flower Show,) You get bushier, more compact plants that flower later. It doesn’t work for everything and it requires courage, but it is worth experimenting with it.

  3. I always get annoyed with my asters and achillea for flopping. My peonies also need staking. I can confirm that oriental poppies are pretty upright though – whatever the weather! Golden rod and fennel also stand very tall and straight here, and the verbena bonariensis only flops if it’s next to a path, and always in the direction of the pathway too… one of those strange laws of science! Nice post Jason – have a great weekend!

  4. In my dry soil very little flops, so I am lucky. You could try reducing the fertility of your front garden, most plants grown for flowers really don’t need a very fertile soil, which tends to lead to foliage (and stem) growth rather than flowers. It can also be good to get the stakes in before the plants start growing so that the stakes themselves are soon hidden by the plant growth. I’m not that organised but when I’ve seen it done it looks fantastic.

  5. I have a cunning plan where floppiness is concerned and try to grow them next to a more solid structure, then, if I am feeling lazy, I can allow them to lean. My floppy plants do a lot of leaning, and only when they slide gracefully over at an acute angle, do I step in and actually do something. I also tie them to fences, trees, nails in walls etc, to give them a semblance of uprightivity! I’m not saying my cunning plan works, of course, its just a cunning plan!

  6. Floppy plants are such a nuisance, I have several that flop all over their companions, taking up more than their allotted space, and often killing everything that grows nearby by shading them or causing them to turn to mush in our wet climate. I stake a few things, but for the most part if it flops really badly, I prefer to either move it to a better spot or remove it completely. I have an Aster and a Monarda that are on the move list this year, but I have so much else on my plate I might not get to it. Panicum is one of my favorite grasses for its non-floppiness. I’ve never had my Joe Pye flop, but it’s Little Joe, so maybe it doesn’t get tall enough.

  7. In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as a non-flopper. As you say, it all depends on the conditions in which it is growing. Pretty much everything flops in my garden. ‘Becky’ Shasta daisy was supposed to have strong stems that never needed staking. Hah. Stargarzer lilies are supposed to only 3 feet tall and not need staking. Hah again. Mine are 5 feet tall and definitely need a little help. And on and on it goes.

  8. Cute article. I need to stake more often to keep things tidy but instead, I look the other way. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is one I love but find it flops very easily. There is a new variety I’ll look for this year that is supposed to solve that problem.

  9. Neither my Joe Pye Weed nor Cup Plant flop–they are very sturdy. I used to have problems with Smooth Blue and New England Aster and I always cut them back hard at the end of June, which helped some. But now that they are 10-15 years old, they are not as tall, they are bigger around, and no longer fal over.

  10. I’ve had the same experience with the tall plants, Jason. The only difference is that some of my tall plants are planted amongst slightly shorter plants, and the “tiered effect” helps to keep them upright. My Swamp Milkweed didn’t need any staking until it was fully blooming. And even then, I added the stakes before it flopped because I was afraid it would get blown over by the wind during a thunderstorm. Another one that always needs staking is my very tall bearded Irises–although I tend to cut them off for floral bouquets anyway. Isn’t it great to think that we’ll soon have flopping plants in our gardens?

  11. Flops kinda bug me as well! My friend gave me some of her sedums and their floppy disposition made me a bit crazy! I enjoy plants that hold their own but have plenty that need staking. I LOVE goatsbeard as my neighbor and I have a couple in our shared side yard shade garden…that one is a keeper for sure! Lovely weekend to you! Nicole

  12. I have an urge to stake too, especially when wind is predicted as we seem to get a lot of that these recent years…my sunflowers used to remain upright but have now joined the floppers too, I find fozxgloves and hollyhocks to be the best for remaining upright.xxx

  13. I do not have my Joe pye flopping nor my swamp milkweed…wonder why? And I have grown goatsbeard , ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ bugbane (Actaea simplex), Gaillardia, Hibiscus moscheutos all of which do not flop for me. But I let my plants flop which they do if I grow them in not so ideal conditions. I do have cages for the peonies which are the worst.

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