Staking perennials is a real pain in the butt. Sometimes it’s not until the poor perennial is lying in the mud that a gardener decides to take action. In the west where plants grow shorter and sturdier due to poor soils and arid climates, gardeners get away with staking less frequently, but there are still a few varieties that almost always need to be staked:
- Delphiniums due to their hollow stems and heavy blossoms,
- Peonies to show off their great foliage and hold up their huge blooms
- Dahlias, a non-winter hardy tuber that a gardener may choose to grow.
An interesting variety of staking materials is available, but I have two secret staking methods that Donrey and I have learned are almost infallible. But before I show you my own favorite methods, let me show you a few that I’ve tried that haven’t worked so well:
Staking Options I Don’t Recommend:
Forty-eight inch tomato baskets:
These cages are fifteen by fifteen inches wide. To use, stick the bottom spikes into the ground and square up the huge cage and then stand back and see how your Delphinium looks standing in jail.
These spirals have a pointed end to anchor in the ground and uncoil into a seven foot spiral that is attached to a wooden stake at the top. Seven foot plastic spirals attached to seven foot wooden stakes sticking up all over perennial flower beds are not a pretty picture.
Frog Vine Holders:
Another staking technique that, if it would have worked, might have been delightfully whimsical were these Gumby-like frogs. They were advertised in a magazine and when they arrived and were tried, the arms and legs were much too short to wrap around anything larger than a pencil. They would not even hold a Clematis vine to an arch. My grandsons got caught placing the frogs in an obscene chain and getting them grounded was all the frogs were really good for.
Tried-and-True Staking Options:
Round Tomato Cages for Peonies and Dahlias
Another traditional staking method is the round cage tomato baskets. Blooming perennials always topple these baskets just when the flowers reach their peak of performance. However, tomato cages with a little adjustment are my number one secret staking solution.
- 1. Cut off the puny wire stakes that are to be pushed into the ground.
- 2. Bend a crook at one end of the cut wire and use it to securely anchor the cage.
- 3. Place the large ring end of the tomato cage upside-down over the plant and then anchor the ring with the bent hook supports. The attractive Peony foliage fills this shorter ring quickly and gives the perennial a tidy vase-shaped appearance in the garden that lasts until after frost. At fall cleanup time, the removal of the obnoxious wire legs, that have a tendency to poke out eyes, makes stacking of the baskets quick and easy for storing.
Bamboo and Bandages for Delphinium
Next is the secret staking solution for showing off the elegant blooms of Delphiniums. This method is so simple, so inexpensive, and so totally natural that most gardeners will wonder why they didn’t think of it. Use the stretchy mesh bandage tape used by hospitals, (a material we call “horse-wrap”) to secure the plant. This material comes in different widths that can be sliced into an appropriate size such as two inches. Use biodegradable bamboo stakes that come in either green or tan and stick them deep into the ground for a camouflaged cage around the Delphinium bush. Then wrap the bamboo with a double twist of horse-wrap to give a totally solid foundation for the height and width of these beloved garden perennials. Delphiniums wrapped this way have a strong tendency to bloom again in August and September. The stress of being snapped off in a wind, just at June bloom time must weaken the plant and cause it to be short-lived. This staking technique eliminates that stress and gives the Delphinium more strength to return year after year. The mesh tape is a great improvement over using ridiculous old pantyhose for a stake wrap.
Other Tips For Successful Staking
1. Get it done early. As the plant fills out the staking will disappear into the foliage.
2. Choose perennials that have strong stems. Aconitum (Monk’s Hood), Aruncus (Goatsbeard), Heliopsis ‘Summer Sun’ and Echinacea (Coneflower) are typical of perennials that will not flop. Tall flowers with spikes or heavy flowers are the most prone to toppling.
3. Choose sturdy cultivars of perennials. For example, the Shasta Daisy, ‘Becky’ is one of the tallest Daisies and has huge blooms but has been bred with stronger stems. If staking is not an option do not plant: Clematis, Chrysanthemums, Delphinium x elatum hybrids, Digitalis (Foxglove), tall Asters or Campanula lactiflora. Select low growing varieties of these perennials that will not fall over. For example, Delphiniums ‘Magic Fountain’ and ‘Guardian Mix’ are only thirty to thirty-five inches tall so they are not as prone to breaking.
4. Plant an informal garden called a “cottage garden” that allows perennials to weave and sprawl in the garden.
5. Over-watering or over-fertilizing causes perennials to grow tall and leggy and so will planting sun-loving perennials in a shade garden.
6. Plant your perennials in a location not susceptible to wind to save them from breaking.
7. Divide older perennials when they show a tendency to flop open in the middle.
Using these tips plus horse-wrap with bamboo stakes and revised tomato cages will make staking a much easier, simpler task. A gardener just might decide they like staking.