Tag Archives: garden stakes

At the stake

Mindful of how badly most of us stake plants, I have been looking at alternative strategies.
DelphiniumsDelphiniums are usually problematic. Rather than staking each flower spike individually, having a clump of them enables them to be retained invisibly. If natural fibre string is used for any ties required, the entire structure is fully biodegradable. This type of support is probably the most time consuming to construct. Whether it takes longer than to stake each flower stem individually, tying it with synthetic stretch tie to a plastic cane is debatable however.
the weaving approachAlstromerias are inclined to fall apart in our climate with rapid growth rates and often torrential downpours. Here the weaving approach has been used, adapted from its traditional use in rural fences and hedges. Stems of willow have been pushed into the ground at regular intervals and then bent and woven, side growths and all, at the desired height. If you are using a material like willow which can root easily, you need to either treat the ends (boiling water should do it if you are shunning herbicides) or keep an eye out for the support starting to grow.
natural alternative, tying bamboo lengthsIn this case, wire mesh has been laid at about 30cm above the ground to support the plant, a tall thalictrum, as it grows. While neither invisible nor attractive, the plant growth will fill out and hide it as the season progresses. If you want to try a natural alternative, tying bamboo lengths together in a grid will work. We have used a vertical bamboo grid to give an unobtrusive frame for a seasonal climbing plant – Tropaeoleum tricolorum.
environmentally friendlyIt depends on what visual effect you want in your garden, but the use of natural materials to create a seasonal growing frame is as efficient while more environmentally friendly than tanalised timber, plastic or metal. It is just not as permanent but this may not be a requirement for some gardeners, certainly when it comes to annual crops such as sweet peas. The natural alternative will usually age more gracefully.
005 - CopyWe make bamboo teepees here, but any longer stretch of branch can be used and there is charm in the irregularity of using natural materials. Solid branches will last longer than bamboo, maybe longer than cheap metal ones you may purchase. Depending on what you are trying to grow, it may not be necessary to weave the horizontal supports. A top tie may suffice. In most situations it will be necessary to push the long supports into the ground to prevent the structure being blown over.
hazel is the traditional English materialIf you have the space, coppicing plants is the traditional means of ensuring an ongoing supply of fresh, green wood. We are very impressed at the coppicing potential of michelias here. Others coppice cornus already and hazel is the traditional English material. However, most gardens will have some suitable material available for gathering – grapevine, bamboo, willow, phebalium, wisteria canes – the choices are many. The growth needs to be flexible for weaving, more rigid if it is to be pushed into the ground, twiggy if it is to form a natural support for bushy plants – one material will not fit all situations.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

A step-by-step guide to staking and tying plants

1) If you can avoid staking a plant, do so. A plant can rely on the stake and not build the strength to hold itself up. If your plant has a small root system and too large a top (referred to as the sail area because it catches the wind) reduce the volume of foliage and branches to cut back the sail area.

2) This is heavy duty staking carried out on landscape grade plants put in to a windy situation on a road verge. Two, sometimes three or even four tanalised batons are used with wide ties. This allows some flexing of the tree without it blowing over and the stakes will last for several years. The flexing of the tree in the wind encourages it to develop a natural taper to its shape which gives it strength. To allow this flexing, the ties should never be more than a third of the way up the tree. All this staking will be removed when the tree has developed the root system and strength to hold itself up.

3) Avoid tying with string, rope or wire which will cut in to the bark and cause damage, potentially ring barking the trunk. For the home gardener, old pantyhose or strips of stretch fabric are commonly used or you can buy balls of interlock fabric tie at garden centres which are cheap and easy to use. Black, grey or muted green are less obvious in the garden. Strips cut from old inner tubes are another traditional tie.

4) Commercial growers use tying machines called tapeners which staple a flexible plastic tie in two movements so they are quick to use. However the tape does not break down in the garden situation so we avoid using a tapener except in the nursery because we don’t want little bits of black plastic through the garden.

5) Never force a stake hard in by the trunk of the plant, large or small. If you do this, you are damaging all the roots on that area of the plant, usually severing them entirely. If you think of the roots like a piece of pie or an umbrella, you are potentially damaging an entire segment of the root system. How far out you place the stake depends on the root system but even a couple of centimetres can make a big difference on small plants. You can see in the photo how much more damage the stake near to the stem will do compared to the one a little further out.

6) Bamboo stakes will usually last about a year before rotting off at ground level and this is often long enough for a plant to get established. Tanalised batons are a better option for longer term staking such as the trees in step 2 which will need stakes in place for up to 3 years. Where semi permanent staking is required for plants such as standard roses, metal stakes gently rust and become less obvious over time than other options.