Supporting soft stems

It’s important to provide good support for herbaceous plants with long, thin stems or heavy blooms, or those in exposed conditions.

Many garden plants, including tall or sprawling plants and those with floppy stems or heavy blossoms, need some form of support. Left on their own, they can easily be flattened by a single gust of wind or heavy rain, or a blossom may snap off under its own weight, and a year’s worth of hard work and anticipation is ruined in a day or even a few minutes.

Methods of support include traditional bamboo canes, split canes, pea sticks and modular proprietary systems available from garden centres and mail order catalogues. There are also variousclumps of perennials such as pe- DIY options, using stout wire,onies and shasta daisies are easier wooden stakes and rigid plastic orto keep under control if you sup- wire mesh netting.port the whole plant. This can be Supports should hold the plantsdone by tying several stems to a firmly while being inconspicuoussingle, central stake, by using sev- once plants are in full growth. Tryera I stakes or by enclosing the to match the strength of the sup-stems in a cylinder of wire mesh or port to the ultimate size anda proprietary enclosure.

Strength of the stem – too slender, and it won’t do its job properly; too stout, and it may visually de-tract from the display.

Insert the supports as early as possible during the plant’s growth to minimize damage to stems, buds and roots. Choose a day when the soil is workable, to avoid the extra effort required if the ground is frozen solid or waterlogged.

Bamboo canes

These are ideal for supporting wiry- or soft-stemmed perennials, biennials, annuals and bulbs that range in height from 60-240cm (2-8ft). They come in natural beige or dyed dark green, and are strong, cheap and easily available in the shops. PVC stakes After a few years, bamboo splits or rots and it can be difficult to clean and d18 infect before winter storage. You can use longer lasting but more expensive proprietary types instead, such as plastic-covered steel rods or PVC! Stakes. Some ‘designer’ stakes have moulded notches to prevent tendrils and ties sliding down. Dark green split canes These are 30-75cm (12-30in) high and are like smaller versions of bamboo canes. Often used for supporting house plants, they are also useful for more delicate stemmed garden plants, such as pinks.

Dahlia stakes, actually made of long-lasting cedar, come in heights ranging from 1.2m (4ft) to 1.8m (6ft), and can be used for other heavy-blossomed flowers.

If you have plenty of mature shrubs, you can often combine annual hard pruning with making your own garden stakes. For example, straight lengths of spotted laurel, or aucuba, can be stripped of their leaves and used instead of bamboo canes – their fresh green colour will quickly blend with their surroundings.

Y: stakes Aluminium tubes coated with dark polyester, Y stakes have flexible galvanized wire, plastic- coated arms with ‘eyes’ at the ends. Stakes range from 30-90cm (1-3ft) in height, with arms rang ing from 23-35cm (9-14in) long;

There are also strengthened extra- large Y stakes, 1.2m (4ft) high, with arms 1.5m (5ft) long.

With the arms close together, a stake will support a single heavy flower, such as a lily. Spread wider, they can support wider-spreading plants, such as dahlias.

Loop stakes can also be used to support single stems.

Inserting the support Canes or their equivalents need to be tall enough to support twothirds of the stem’s eventual height, so consider the ultimate height of each plant before staking. Always allow an extra 15-30cm (6- 12in) for pushing into the ground, a little less for split canes. Lor a single-stemmed plant, insert one cane firmly in the ground as close to its base as possible without damaging the root or crown. Tic the stem to the cane with raffia, twine, wire rings, proprietary ties or clips . Ties should be tight enough not to slip down the stem or cane, but loose enough not to cut into the stem. As the stem grows, add more ties at l5-23cm (6-9in) intervals.

Supporting multiple stems Canes and twine For a group of stems, insert several canes or similar supports at equal distances around and close to the stems, tilting the canes slightly outwards to form a circular enclosure. Crisscross twine or raffia between them. Pea sticks To support floppy, bushy plants up to 60cm (2ft)


High, especially those at risk of wind damage, you can use old-fashioned pea sticks. Hazel, chestnut and oak branches are the most durable but almost any twiggy, pliable tree or shrub branch is suitable. Again, insert in spring while plants are small.

Try to avoid using branches from shrubs that root easily, such as dogwood and willow, or by the autumn you may find unwanted but well-rooted young shrubs among your beds and borders. Mesh cages Tall, floppy-stemmed plants can be supported by enclosing the stems in a galvanized, wire mesh cage. Mesh is available in a variety of sizes, ranging from 13mm f/iin) to 50mm (2in), and in unobtrusive green, plastic-coated form, as well as traditional chicken wire.

Cut a section to make a cylinder just wide enough to enclose the stems, allowing for a small overlap. Insert tall canes vertically in the soil, inside the cylinder. Tic each cane to the mesh at several points, depending on the width of mesh used and ultimate height of the plant. If you need to add a second cylinder above the first, overlap the two cylinders and tie them securely to each other, as well as to the canes.

Flexible mesh netting

Although more often used vertically to support climbers, you can tightly stretch cut-to-fit lengths of flexible plastic mesh netting, horizontally and 30cm (12in) above the ground, on four canes or stout stakes, one in each corner. This method is ideal for large herbaceous borders; for tall plants, you can stretch one or more additional parallel layers of mesh netting, at 45cm (1 Sin) intervals, as the plants grow. This is also a useful support system if you are growing formal rows or beds of florists’ chrysanthemums for cutting or exhibiting. Linking stakes Suitable for most border plants, these consist of vertical canelike metal rods topped with a hoop socket and cross bars that slot into the socket. You can slot several together to make chains, rings or combinations of the two. Various heights are available and some brands are designed so that you can fix two or more rods together to increase height. Ring frames Made of plastic or metal, some look rather like car steering wheels, with a central clawlike clip through which a bamboo cane is pushed, to hold it in a horizontal position at the desired height. Others are made of large mesh rigid netting and need several canes tied around the rim for support. There are also models with fixed or clip-on legs. Y stakes Multiple stems can also be supported by Y stakes. Join the stakes together by threading wire ties through the eyes. Two stakes and ties can encircle stems up to l.8m (6ft) high.

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