University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
When you garden, unless you’re just growing
groundcovers or have a rock garden, some of your plants invariably
some support. This applies to perennial
flowers, vegetables, berry bushes, and even perhaps some taller
flowers. There are three main methods of
staking tall plants, the most unobtrusive and successful method
on plant habit.
the simplest method of support, and one most know, is with a single
stake. Many are familiar with the one-inch or so
square (in cross section) wooden “bean” posts you see in spring in
and garden stores. You can buy these
sometimes singly but more often in bundles.
These are good for heavier single stems, such as from dahlias and
lilies, and to combine with other supports.
You may have wood you can recycle too, such as old broom handles.
Keep in mind wood rots, so you may only get a
season or two from such stakes.
bamboo stakes are less obtrusive visually, but support less weight
too. Use them for thinner stems, such as taller
annual flowers like some zinnias. A
hybrid stake is a tall aluminum rod, wrapped in green plastic, which
some weight, is less obvious than wood or untreated metal, but is
prefer stiff solid iron rods, similar to what are used to reinforce
rusty they blend into the landscape, and being iron they last
indefinitely. You can get these at full
service home or hardware stores, and have them cut to lengths
needed. Keep in mind when buying single stakes that
you will need to plan on about 25 percent (one to two feet) below
the ground in
addition to the height needed above ground.
tying a stem to a stake, use soft string (that
sold for garden use may hold up better than regular household twine)
the flower stalk is fully elongated. You
may find plastic or Styrofoam staking cord at garden stores. Wrap
the tie around the stem, then make a figure eight before tying to
stake. This extra wrap of twine between stem and stake will keep
stems from rubbing on
the stake. Do not use bare wire as this will damage the stem. For
woody plants you can use wire, enclosed
in a piece of old garden hose, around the stem, or plastic
chain-link ties made
just for this purpose.
sure you place some form of “topper” on bamboo or iron rod stakes to
accidental eye damage while gardening around them. Some specialty
catalogs sell these toppers,
or I like to make my own from a 2-inch or so piece of garden
plastic hose (as you find in hardware stores) for thinner stakes.
old tennis balls, or Styrofoam balls sprayed green.
support method, and one most effective on multi-stemmed plants such
perennials, is some form of cage. You
can buy heavy metal ones (make sure to get ones of thicker wire, as
ones wont provide much support), such as tomato cages or the rings
around peonies. Some of these have grids
on top which support the stems as they grow through.
If the plant has a lot of weight as
with some tomatoes, and the wire cage isn’t up to the task and
starts to lean,
you may need to support it with heavy wooden stakes. The cage needs
to be the right height too, as
I’ve learned with peony rings. Too low
and the stems fall over the ring edge with the heavy weight of some
flowers, particularly after a rain. I’ve
had a similar problem with delphinium stems, tied too low or
twine encircling plants too low.
You can make your own cage as I
often do, placing 3 or 4 single stakes (the latter for larger
plants, and connecting the stakes at various levels with twine. You
plant, or weave the twine back and forth between the stakes for more
a cage is often
called a “corset” as it resembles one.
These are effective for larger plants and clumps, for which premade
are not available or too expensive.
The cage may be a circle of flexible
fencing, supported with 3 or 4 stakes. Very effective and long
the iron mesh used to reinforce concrete, similar to the iron rods
mentioned. This rusty iron also blends well with the landscape.
Once large perennials such as perennial sunflowers, New England
Helen's flower grow through such cages, the wire is hardly noticed.
Timing is critical in caging plants.
Do it early, usually in May, just as soon as the new stems appear or
planting. The stakes and ties will be hidden once the new foliage
The third method of support is from
a trellis, fence, arbor or similar structure.
You can buy many attractive trellises from garden centers or home
garden stores, suitable for vines such as clematis and sweet peas.
Or you can make your own trellis using
plastic netting, poultry wire, or strings attached to a horizontal
nails on cross beams of pipe or wood. Such homemade and temporary
are seen in vegetable gardens.
Consider recycled materials
for trellises, such as old bicycle rims. Simply remove the spokes,
one on the ground and one above on a stake. Then string twine from
bottom through the spoke holes left in the rims. Another recycled
support for lower vines such
as morning glories is an old umbrella frame. Simply remove the
open the frame, and place over the plant. The vines will then grow
cover the wire supports, making an umbrella shape.
A natural method for smaller vines
is to use a dead branch with many twigs, pushed into the ground next
such as sweet peas. These then grow over the branches, covering
and creating the
effect of a flowering tree. Popular in
England is to use branches, such as from alders and other
fast growing shrubs, stuck in the ground, then bent over and
interwoven about 2
feet off the ground. This provides a natural looking plane for
stems to grow through, and is effective for single plants or large
groupings. I’ve used cut limbs from small trees and
stems from large shrubs, laced together into a teepee shape, for
If you have a row of plants, such as
peas, consider a fence of netting or poultry wire. For fruiting
shrubs and vines that need
support, many use wooden supports at the ends, with heavy-gauge wire
between them on each side of a row of raspberries, or down the
middle for grapes.
and design will affect the need to stake plants. Generally,
the more formal the garden, the more likely staking will be needed
plants in their place. You also may need to stake plants if your
garden is in a
windy spot, or where there is heavy rainfall. Sun-loving perennials
usually get taller and
weaker when grown in shade, so may need staking there but not if in
sun. If plants are too crowded, they may get
taller than normal, so need staking.
Many perennials, like snakeroot,
ornamental grasses, daylilies, Siberian irises, beebalm, and purple
usually can be left alone. If a plant such
as Autumn Joy sedum flops, perhaps it merely needs dividing, or less
As an alternative to staking, when choosing plants,
consider dwarf varieties if they exist. You
might grow bush beans instead of vining ones, for instance. For
perennials that bloom in late summer,
consider cutting them back half way in early summer. This may delay
a couple weeks, which helps pollinators, and will result in bushier