High Stakes Gardening

Plants with bad posture: can’t stand ’em. Which is a problem in a garden like mine, intended to have an informal, even wild feel to it. Also, I like to grow big plants generally and especially wildflowers accustomed to a lean soil. My soil is fairly rich, the topsoil deep and with lots of organic matter.


Think this will be enough to hold the Joe Pye Weed?
Think this will be enough to hold the cup plant?

The result: plants generally grow tall, often much taller than it says in the catalog or reference book.

Some gardeners don’t need stakes, they have planned their gardens so well that the plants support each other. I am not one of those gardeners.

Staking perennial Helianthus with twine at Monet's garden at Giverny.
Staking perennial Helianthus with twine at Monet’s garden at Giverny.

I don’t feel too bad about this, though, as I have seen stakes used in some of my favorite public gardens.

Over the years I have acquired a vast arsenal of staking devices. These include green metal hoops, some with grids and some without. There are also an array of stakes, ranging from cheap little 2′ bamboo poles to 10′ lengths of rebar (really). Plus I like to make stakes from the woody stems that are the byproduct of ambitious pruning projects.

It’s easy to get carried away with staking. Then you can end up with a big multi-stem plant that looks squeezed at the waist as if wearing a corset. Or worse, pinched near the top as if prepared for a hanging. This is not a good look.

In order to avoid the corset or the noose, I have learned to tolerate leaning. Plants are going to lean – it’s just a question of how far.

I do try to reduce the need for staking by cutting plants back, by not watering unless absolutely necessary, and by declaring a personal moratorium on the application of compost (except for edibles and a few coddled favorites like clematis and roses).


This Culver's Root is growing through a hoop.
This Culver’s Root is growing through a hoop.

For a few plants, especially tall plants with slender stems (Penstemon, Veronicastrum), I use hoops. The hoops with grids work wonders for my peonies.

You don’t have to buy hoops, though. I get the same results by connecting three or four stakes with green twine, making a triangle or rough circle. If a grid is needed, connect the stakes in an X across the circle with the same twine.


The wild bergamot towards the back is leaning on a length of twine.
The wild bergamot towards the back is leaning on a length of twine.

If a drift of plants is inclined to lean in only one direction, I run some green twine between stakes at either end of the clump. The plants lean against the twine – not upright, but not sprawling on the ground either. I do this with the wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), with results that are satisfactory to me.

This usually works better for me than letting plants lean against two stakes stuck diagonally in the ground to form an X (which is recommended by Traci DiSabato-Aust) – though I do that sometimes as well.

I am gradually figuring out how to let plants lean more on each other. A happy surprise this year is how mixing annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) into perennial beds can provide sturdy supports to floppier perennials. But I think I will always do a fair amount of staking.

Staking doesn’t have to be unsightly. I have left hoops in the ground over winter and they are visible early in the season. Before long, though, they are hidden by leaves. Stakes can be placed just inside (or leaning into) a clump of plants so they are unobtrusive, and I generally find twine dyed green ends up almost invisible to most eyes.

Do you have a preferred method of staking, or is your garden a stake-free zone?

40 Comments on “High Stakes Gardening”

  1. First let me just say that your last shot there took my breath away! Gosh is that a gorgeous bed! What else is in there??? And funny you should mention staking as I had to have a stiff drink when I came home several weeks ago and found that the tree trimmers were here to take off branches from the ash. Branches were falling all over the place and actually damaged several of my plants. My neighbor came over and we began the process of evaluating and supporting the ones that got the most damage. I now keep a tackle box filled with ties and what not to have on hand to make staking easier. I use the hoops too and find that if I just have the little rods from the hoops to help support a couple areas of the plant I do pretty well. But I hear you on the big guys and the fertile soil. Great post Jason! Have a great weekend! Nicole

  2. The Bergamot looks so natural so your method works well. In fact it all looks wonderful.
    I use bamboo canes and twine for most of my staking because it is the cheapest method. The trouble is I try to do it so that it doesn’ t show and that means I risk losing an eye every time I work in the garden.

  3. I also use hoops a lot, especially for my peonies . Staking is necessary, but it´s difficult to make is look nice/invisible. Bamboo canes are ok, and I also use string. The best thing is to have tall sturdy plants to support the floppy ones, as you experienced yourself.

  4. I am trying to get to the point where only my edibles need support, by close planting and not enriching the soil, but sometimes you just have to, don’t you. My problem is that I am so resistant to staking that I leave it too Kate, I found – and promptly lost – a source of metal plant supports that I think could work as sculpture of a sort over winter, which is probably the way I will end up going. No getting away from the wind when you live 200yds from the sea!

  5. The best staking is done in early spring before the plants begin to grow. Mostly I don’t need to stake, the dry conditions mean stems grow strong and not leggy, the cutting garden that is irrigated has needed staking but it isn’t so important how this looks but I will try to stake earlier next year as it helps for straight stems which is what I need for cutting for a vase. Some plants are sprawling more this year because of the rain but I’m not too worried about that.

  6. I have used vinyl covered fencing to form cylinders which I can cut to desired height and diameter, especially for peonies. A couple of repurposed sticks laid across give some internal stability. They vanish as the foliage grows. They have also been effective in keeping the rabbits away from the emerging coneflowers, etc. in spring.

  7. I find getting support in early enough is the secret but there are some that slips through the net (no pun intented). If I find it rather awkward trying to stake late on in the season then some of these plants succumb to the chop rather then destroy everything else growing round about it as I try some last minute remedies.
    Priority staking always goes to the peonies, not that they lean, it’s more a precautionary measure against the wind and rain.
    The last shot is incredible and such a lovely border with not a support in sight. Well done!

  8. Tithonia, Sunflower and Hyssop — stunning! Do you grow Tithonia from seed? The only staking I do here is for double flowered peonies. I grow Monarda, Veronicastrum, Penstemon with no staking needed. I guess that’s an advantage of wretched clay soil. Perennials are usually interplanted with grasses, I think that makes a big difference as well.

    In my old garden in Glen Ellyn IL I used to do a pretty aggressive “clean up and cut back” in late summer to eliminate the floppies. This ensured that the fall garden was bountiful and tidy.

    Northern Sea Oats was quite floppy in my shaded Glen Ellyn garden. In sunnier sections it stood upright much better.

  9. Things are really looking good there at ground level, glad no windowsills were used in this post! I’m generally too cheap to buy stakes and when I do it’s for a specific purpose. If I’m just propping up plants (my favorite method) I like to use twiggy shrub trimmings. Occasionally I’ll stick in a straighter branch if something needs tying up. My garden is not a fertile, deep soil… things grow lean here, and no cup plants, so the rebar is reserved for the pole beans.

  10. Hi Jason, I don’t tend to go in for plants that need staking, having said that, many herbaceous plants do and I’m reluctant to stake, preferring that they loll. If they are really hopeless at holding themselves up then they won’t tend to make an appearance in the garden. I don’t want to have the “forest of bamboo canes” look that can happen in herbaceous borders with tall plants.

  11. Like you, I like neat-looking plantings, and so keep experimenting with the best ways to stake plants. I have a lot of plants that want to lean toward the south (so that the whole flower bed ends up looking as though you are viewing it through a fun house mirror!), so I definitely need good ideas to keep them more upright. I’m thinking about investing in some more of the hoops with grids as one solution. Thanks for sharing all your creative ideas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: