Planning now puts next year's garden at stake
If you are one of those organized gardeners who like to keep notes on what to do next year, grab your notebook and start a section titled "Staking." This is the time of year when it is obvious what staking methods work best for what plant.
A quick note before we tackle the many varieties of stakes: Don't wait until the plant is grown to stake! Trying to drive a bamboo stake next to a 10-foot sunflower in late summer is practically futile. Stake in spring, as plants are just starting to take off.
These stakes are typically vinyl-coated metal frames with cross-hatching designed to support the weak stems of taller plants. Placed over the plant in spring, the stems grow through the hatching and stay tidy. Use these types of stakes for Shasta daisies, shorter dahlias, Canterbury bells, and other clumping perennials with top-heavy blooms.
Flexible Y stakes
Y stakes are great for situations where you need some flexibility. I like to use them in perennial borders where I need just a touch of definition between plant groups. Shaped like a big Y with the arms horizontal, the arms are flexible so that you can customize the support you need.
Designed to support one stem at a time, these stakes are ideal for lilies, gladiolas, foxgloves and other plants that produce one large stem of blooms. They are especially handy for those flowers that lean at just the wrong angle. I know this sounds a bit uptight, but the best borders don't happen by accident!
Rings are often used on peonies, asters, and tall annuals such as bachelor's buttons. I especially like using them on peonies, as it allows the plant to have some natural droop without having the flowers sitting on the ground where no one can enjoy them.
Linking stakes are designed to allow gardeners to customize a series of stakes that you can move as the season progresses. Full disclosure: I've never used these, even though they are quite popular. Much as I love attention to detail, I am simply too lazy to keep tweaking my supports. (I spend that time tweaking my drip irrigation system!)
These have become quite popular in recent years. Made of twisted rebar or vinyl-coated metal, the spiral shape gives tall plants such as delphiniums a moderate level of support. The best part of spiral stakes is they can be quite ornamental and look whimsical in the winter time.
I keep a large supply of bamboo stakes of all sizes on hand. I like to use my thin stakes at a cross-angle to gently keep ornamental grasses clear of the pathways. The large stakes are ideal for creating bean teepees or supporting the larger sunflowers. While the smaller stakes tend to get brittle with time, the large stakes are virtually indestructible.
If you have a wire trellis or even a stake and want to secure plants to it, take care to use an appropriate material. For my climbing roses trained against wire supports, I used to like untreated jute. Now I use old stockings and leggings, as they last longer and provide the same flexibility. Plus, I'm recycling.
The goal with any staking material is flexibility. You want to avoid girdling the plant over time, and you don't want to secure it so tightly that in a strong wind it doesn't have any give. I use a loose figure-eight tie to secure stems to supports, with one round of the eight going around the support and the other circled around the stem.
If you decide to build a custom wire support, I recommend using vinyl-coated wire. While my garden is full of these do-it-yourself wire jobs, I neglected to use a long-lasting vinyl-coated wire and opted instead for what I had on hand: galvanized wire. Rusty and ugly, the plants can't hide them fast enough! I suspect I will redo them this winter.
Where to buy
Most garden centers carry a great selection of stakes, and the late summer sales are a great time to invest in supports for next year. On the Web, try Gardener's Supply Company at www.gardeners.com or call (888) 333-1412.
Linda Plato is a garden designer and consultant. E-mail your questions and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.