This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Okay, it's a little corny but a good introduction into staking and tying and otherwise containing our too tall and too rambunctious plants in our gardens.
It is time to draw the line in the garden as to how far we are going to let our plants sprawl or flop BEFORE they get out of hand because before we know it, the delphiniums are 5 feet tall, the sweet peas are all over the place, and the peonies are in full bloom. One little rain storm is all it takes to knock them all to the ground and once they are down it seems like they will never straighten up again.
Growing perennials, vines, and vegetables is where the fine art of bamboo staking is really honed. The goal of course in staking is to hold a plant in the vertical position while not drawing attention to the staking system.
When staking tall growing perennials it is best to try and stake individual stems with a single stake. Green colored wood, metal, or heavy duty plastic works and looks the best. Sometimes, even three-foot lengths of green bamboo attached to a stem in a "splint" fashion is all that is needed to give enough extra strength to a stem.
If you must surround stems with a series of stakes then at least use the green vinyl-coated ones and tie them with green-tinted jute. As you go around the stems with the jute, wrap a loop of jute around every third or fourth stem. This will keep the stems naturally spaced and allow the whole clump to move in the wind gracefully.
Manufacturers have come up with some wonderful staking systems to help us with these tall but wobbly plants. Link stakes are designed to connect to each other without the need of any ties. Each "L" shaped stake links hoop stake up to the next and can be expanded or contracted depending on the size of the clump.
Grow-Through Rings look like barbeque grills on legs and are designed to set over the top of a clump of stems before they get too tall. As the stems grow they are supported by the grill. Hoop Stakes are similar to Link stakes only they are an open half circle and can be joined together or just shoved up against the perennial clump. The only draw back to these systems is that for large clumps of perennials they are simply to small.
Last year I took 10 foot lengths of 3/8th inch rebar and made my own hoop stakes and they worked pretty well. This year I am going to cut up 16 feet by 4 feet galvanized fence panels into 4 by 4 pieces and support them with 5 foot pieces of rebar and see if that doesn't work even better.
When growing plants like peas and beans the sky is the limit. Wooden trellises, metal obelisks, free standing spiral stakes or even old twigs will all work. The goal is just to get the plants off the ground and up where we can harvest the produce. These kinds of plants will weave themselves into and over these supports all on their own (with perhaps just a little guidance from us).
For permanent vines we sometimes need to tie the stems to a support and it is important to use something that stretches or decomposes in a season. Green vinyl tape works well and now there are several interesting "foam ties" that won't cut into the stems. Check out your options and stay away from anything with wire in it.
Staking systems can be purely utilitarian and seasonal in nature or they can become a permanent part of our gardens and provide art and structure as well. The important thing to remember is that we need to be proactive and close the proverbial barn door before the horse it out or in this case before our plants are flopped over and on the ground.
Here's our next educational opportunity: "Container Gardening" with Mary Stole. Saturday, May 18th at 10am. This is a hands on class where you'll learn the elements involved in putting together beautiful patio containers. And, at the end, take home a personally-planted container to enjoy! This class has a $40 registration fee that includes materials. Pre-registration and payment is required. Class size is limited to 20.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at