Many ways to stake your garden
Whether it's to keep heavy blossoms off the ground, to prevent fruits and veggies from hitting the dirt or to keep foliage from splaying about the garden, supporting our plants with a staking system preserves their form and beauty. Not all plants need to be staked, but, for those that do, relying on natural materials rather than store-bought contraptions saves money and is often far more attractive.
Most of the natural materials suited to supporting plants are right out your back door. Branches and twigs of all sizes can be used to create staking systems. The only material you're likely to end up buying is the twine needed to hold it all together.
Getting to your plants at the start of the growing season is critical. Better to stake early and allow the foliage to mask the materials holding them up than to tie them up after they've become unruly. Stake plants after the first flush of growth, well before full growth is achieved.
As with all things gardening, there's a hundred different ways to complete a project. Staking your plants is no exception. Here are my favorite techniques for propping up plants of all types and doing it naturally.
Single stakes: Undoubtedly the easiest of natural-staking methods, a single-staking system relies on an individual stake to keep the plant upright and straight. Perfect for plants with single, heavy blossoms such as delphiniums, lilies, gladiolus, foxgloves and the like. For natural single-staking systems, select a large, near-straight branch and insert it into the soil a few inches from the plant's crown, making sure at least 1⁄4 of its total height is below ground. Use a piece of jute twine to fasten the stem to the support several times as it grows.
Y-stakes: A slightly modified single-staking system, a Y-stake relies on a forked branch rather than a straight one to support a single, heavy blossom. Instead of relying on twine to hold up the stem, the flower is allowed to rest in the crook of the Y. Again, the stake should be inserted into the soil a minimum of 1⁄4 of its total height and a slight angular insertion toward the plant itself adds another measure of security.
Peripheral staking systems: Peripheral systems surround the plant from all sides to prevent collapse. To make one, insert four or five straight branches, sharpened to a point at the base around the perimeter of each clump of foliage. Then gently slot one into the center of the plant. Push all the stakes down until their lower quarter is firmly underground. Use natural twine wrapped around the perimeter branches and back and forth to the central stake, to create a wagon wheel effect over the plant. If done early in the season, the plant readily grows through the twine and hides it completely.
Whip arching: Another great support for multi-stemmed perennials, whip arching uses young, straight, flexible branches (or whips) to create a “cage” for the plant to grow through. Willow, forsythia, apple and water sprouts (or suckers) from just about any tree, make good whips for arching. In the spring, when perennials begin to grow, the whips are sharpened at both ends and the bottom ends are inserted in the ground around the perimeter of the plant. They are then bent over the plant top and the upper end is inserted into the ground on the opposite side, making a dome of crossed branches over the plant. As the plant grows, it passes through the whips and hides them.
Though these four techniques are a good start, your imagination is the only limit. With a bit of time, the right materials and a dose of creativity, natural staking can give your garden, and you, a whole new attitude.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
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