A piece of natural garden twine with a bamboo stake holding up a single stem of a delphinium. Note that the stem is not tied to the stake. Rather, a figure 8 is used to encircle the stem with the other half encircling the stake. This gives the plant room to move with moderate winds and breezes without snapping. ANDREW MESSINGER
While you may have trouble finding the stake (it’s protruding above the tallest stem) the tying material, quarter-inch vinyl tape, is quite evident midway and is a poor color match. ANDREW MESSINGER
The plants in the front (center) are a variety of thalictrum that will grow to about 6 feet tall. In the picture, they are only three feet tall but well staked and tied. Look carefully to the right side of the last stem and you’ll see one Takiron stake above the foliage. ANDREW MESSINGER
Here a piece of foam-covered wire is used in a figure 8 to bind a lily stem to a Takiron stake. The rigid stake and rigid stem tend to move together with the stake offering an extra measure of wind resistance ANDREW MESSINGER
A number of plants in this picture are staked. Can you find the stakes and ties? The clematis in the center are growing up three pieces of rebar with ties coaxing the vines up the poles. ANDREW MESSINGER
The binding tools of the trade. Three types of covered wire top left and two more on the bottom left. The foam-covered wire in the center is my favorite. One-and-half-inch vinyl stretch tapes center and right top and lastly a roll of natural garden twine. At some point these all come in handy. ANDREW MESSINGER
This tall garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) needs staking or it can be damaged by wind when the flowers make the stems very heavy. Staking in this garden is practical, not for aesthetics. But look at the front of the plant and you’ll see how the fanned branching of a Beech stem can be very handy. Branches and stems can be woven among the Beech stems making the Beech virtually invisible. ANDREW MESSINGER
Staking and tying plants in the garden seems particularly relevant this year because most of our gardens are quite lush and in need of support. As noted here a few years ago, this is one area where art and aesthetics need to combine with some science. Having worked with masters in this pursuit, there is no denying that there is plenty of art and skill involved.
We’ve gone over staking tomatoes, and this time we’ll skip trees and shrubs. Annuals must be included in this discussion though, as some get quite tall and can use vertical assistance. A good example is Ricinus communis, or the castor bean plant. These can get 8 to 10 feet tall and are easily blown over by coastal winds and thunderstorms. But for the most part, it’s the perennials that need our help. Roses and peonies are easy, and when needed we can give these plants hoops and cages.
There is an important distinction between plants that are being grown improperly in too much shade — forcing them to get leggy and lean or fall over — and those that are simply and naturally tall. Staking overly shaded plants that need more light often just exacerbates the problem, leading to disaster.
The object of staking is simple. It’s to give a plant support and stability. To do this, you’ll usually need two things. First, a stake, and there are many choices here. Then, in most cases, you need a way to bind or attach the plant to the support. Again, many choices here. The challenge is to add the stake and binder into the garden without them being seen or at the very least, making sure they blend in. This involves a bit of subterfuge and thought.
If your garden beds are double sided, like the classic English island beds made famous by Adrian and Allen Bloom, you need to ensure that the stakes and ties aren’t seen from two views as just about all the plants can be observed from two points of view. A single-sided border is a bit easier as most of the stakes can be inserted behind the plants as the plants are only viewed from the front of the garden.
There is also the significant fact that plants continue to grow. Stakes don’t. There are times when you’ll use 2- or 3-foot stakes early in the season only to replace them with 4-to-8-foot stakes come June and July. If you’re on your own, this restaking can be a challenge since you need to get into a garden that has filled in, and it will seem that no matter what stake you use it’s either too short or too long.
Having the luxury of time allows us to slip stakes in and slip stakes out as plant height demands. Sometimes, though, a stake that’s taller than a plant can and will blend in — if the stake and the tying material are well placed and properly colored.
Color is a big issue in both staking and tying. Stakes come in many hues of green and brown. Bamboo, one of our oldest staking materials, is available in its natural dried brown color or dyed green. The green die eventually wears off and since bamboo can be used for at least two years, this year’s green may become next year’s brown. Bamboo can also be cut to the size you want. Metal stakes don’t have that option.
Metal stakes are a bit more of an issue. When you stick to one brand like Takiron, each stake, no matter the diameter or length, is the same color. There are also smooth Takiron stakes and “knotty” ones. The knotty intended to look like green bamboo with the knots or ribs keeping ties stable on the stake. Takiron comes in lengths from 2 feet up to 8 feet and have a tapered end so you never need to guess which end goes into the ground. These stakes will last three to five years, but once bent they become nearly useless.
Knockoff metal stakes tend to have weird colors and seem to break easily. Hardwood stakes don’t blend too well in the garden, but I use these for staking tall ornamental grasses since the stakes can be set on the interior of the grasses and thus aren’t easily seen. But for the most part I relegate hardwood stakes to the veggie garden or where there’s no chance of them being seen. Fiberglass stakes should be avoided as they tend to splinter, and the splinters can be annoying and irritating on the skin.
Another staking material is natural and you may find it on your property: The twigs of beech trees make great pliable stakes.
I cut my beech stakes in late winter. The twigs can be up to 4 feet long and — due to the fanning nature of the twig structure — they are like miniature trellises. When properly installed they can blend into a garden and become invisible. Beech stakes are perfect for large border plantings of taller Echinacea or Geums and Lychnis (Maltese cross) when they get tall and flower.
The winter prunings (often called whips) taken from year-old growth on apple trees also make great stakes. These will be long and straight without branching, but the wood is very strong and will last all season in the garden. They can be tied in bundles and saved for months if cut while dormant.
This isn’t as simple as just using a stake, though. In most cases, you want to have a method of tying or binding your plant to the stake. This is the second aesthetic challenge as once again there are a variety of materials that come in several shades of “natural” and green.
Garden twines (green and natural) and raffia (dried, thin strips of palm fronds) are adequate for some needs, but with their small diameter they can result in broken stems in high-wind situations. However, when used to tie vines like clematis they are well suited as gentle supports. And, speaking of clematis, most will need at least to be tied or “nailed” to a support. If they are not allowed to grow vertically and twine, they won’t flower. And if the stem is broken, that stem won’t flower.
Twist-Ems have been around for years. This is a thin metal wire covered with a flat, weather-resistant, paper covering. These are available as pre-cut pieces or on rolls. Great for small jobs and similar in use and issues as twine.
Another option is garden tapes. These are generally vinyl tapes of a half-inch or 1-inch width that are very flexible and pliable. These tapes have the advantage of being light, reusable and very pliable. Careful of the color, though, because as you may notice, all greens are not the same color. There are also Velcro tapes, which I find difficult to work with but helpful on tomato plants.
My favorite and probably the one binder I use the most is soft foam-coated garden wire. In various thicknesses, this material is easily bent, curled, tied and made into figure 8 knots, so it’s an incredibly versatile material. Called soft wire or foam wire, the material comes in rolls of about 30 feet. Best cut with a wire cutter it can also be cut with a pruner, but it won’t do wonders for the pruner.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest staking challenges is with plants that continue to grow. Two of my taller plants — the lilies and Delphiniums — need to be staked at least twice a season. The stakes can often be easily slipped into the original smaller stake holes, but the ties will need to be changed. If you tie your plants and stakes loosely this can allow you to slip the tie up the stake in increments before restaking.
When making the connection between the plant and the stake, try to use a figure 8 tie so that one loop goes around the stake and the other the plant stem. This allows both the stake and plant to move a bit without strangling the plant. Again, when choosing the material for the tying make sure that wind or heavy rain won’t cause the tie to break the stem. Keep growing.
Now is the time to note where your poppies are. The plants will go dormant during the summer and at that point you can dig and divide the roots. If you don’t flag or tag the plants now, you’ll never find them in August for root digging.
Neem oil as protection for disease and some insects may be a viable, organic insecticide/fungicide to consider. It also can act as a repellent on many plants.
Where have all the voles gone? A major winter garden pest, but I haven’t seen any since early April. But the chipmunks are back. Hummingbirds were noted early in the spring on bleeding hearts, hellebores and columbines. It was a surprise to see them on the hellebores. And while hellebores are now quite popular their older leaves can look awful when the plants flower. Great plants, but they do need some early-season cleanup of old foliage.
Slugs are plentiful. If you don’t have ducks or chickens, then you need a repellent. Don’t use chemical slug baits in the veggies. Coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth, beer and iron phosphate baits can be used there.
Last chance to trim and clean up Forsythia. Later pruning results in fewer or no flowers next year.
Time to collect seeds from columbines if you want to spread them around. Seeds get surface sown, never covered, and should germinate in 2 weeks.
Continue to water new trees and shrubs through the summer several times a week but don’t give them any fertilizer.
Watch for sales at garden centers.
Fertilize your veggies if you haven’t since planting. Best for most is a side dressing of an organic fertilizer.
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