Lending a helping hand to your tall perennials, too

“He stands erect by bending over the fallen. He rises by lifting others.” – Robert Green Ingersoll, noted agnostic and politician (1833–1899)

In Sunday’s column (July 15, 2018), I wrote about the merits of staking vegetable plants: to prevent misshapen plants and broken stems, to reduce exposure to disease from the foliage or fruit touching the soil, to keep the plant from sprawling and crowding out other

Staked tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) in my vegetable garden

plants in the garden, and to save space by growing plants vertically.

Providing support is also important for ornamental gardens, preferably before our flowers have reached the point of falling over (surely a worthy goal to strive for!). There are many ways to stake plants, but I like to be as unobtrusive as possible by using bamboo stakes cut about five inches below the top of a mature plant and securing the flower stalks with soft, non-wire ties such as string or hook and loop tape – even old t-shirts or nylon knee-highs!

The key to effective staking is to have enough stakes and ties available, and to take the time to do the job right. I have been guilty of gathering a bunch of drooping flowerstalks and tying them all together – I call this the “bouquet in the garden” effect. Staking will look more natural if individual or small numbers of stalks are tied to the stakes Be sure to provide a bit of slack for natural movement, and tie the ends to the stake rather than the plant.

Louise Westrand emailed me about staking and offered some useful advice:“Regarding cage supports, you are generally right about them; however, I find them useful even in winter. I use them to mark the spot of a dormant perennial that I do not want to stab with a shovel thinking the spot could be planted. Also, I had a tiny seedling Quercus breweriana that I did not want to trample. I left a cage over it for several years until it was tall enough to be seen by me. Sometimes I leave it over a peony that is in a spot that usually does not have a peony. Admittedly, they look out of place, but they are sparing me from destroying a plant that I really want to keep.”
Louise asked me for a garden-related quote by Mark Twain, and I sent her this one: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Twain’s advise is perfect for our garden staking tasks!
Here are some of the flowers in my garden that need a little support from me, as well as a few tall plants with sturdy stems that don’t require staking:

My sea holly ( Eryngium maritimum) needs staking. I love the vibrant blue color!

Crimson double hollyhocks (Alcea) have to reach for the sunlight so they've grown more than 6 feet tall and need to be staked. The double hollyhocks are beutiful, but they are confusing to bees.

My sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) is more than 3 feet tall and top heavy.

My single pink hollyhocks (Alcea) are bumblebee magnets. Their stalks are sturdier than the crimson variety so I have not staked them.

Sweet pea flowers (Lathyrus odorata) are trellised a bit fancier at The Bard's Garden at Hanley Farm.

My purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) have thick, sturdy stems and don't require staking.

We all have them - plants that we grew from seed but we can't remember what they are! Here's one in my garden - I think it's a kind of daylily? This plant grows about four feet tall and needs to be staked every year.

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  • About the Author

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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