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.
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.
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).
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.
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?