Staking Your Flowers

Staking Your Flowers

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

University of Vermont 

If you grow a range of perennials, some will probably need a means of support or staking to keep them from falling over. There are many ways to provide this, some quite creative. The methods you choose depend partly on the growth habit of the plant.

Single stems such as delphiniums often are best supported with single stakes, one per stem. Any material that is stronger than the stem can be used, even recycled wood such as broom handles or scrap strips of lumber. Special wooden stakes can be purchased, often in bundles. Bamboo stakes are also used, ranging from short thin ones to thicker ones and longer for the taller stems. Keep in mind that wood rots, so wooden stakes may need replacing yearly.

Longer lasting stakes are available in aluminum, usually coated green. My favorite stakes are the iron reinforcing rods used in concrete construction. These are available at complete hardware stores and home supply centers, are about half inch in diameter, and can be cut to various lengths. Being a rusty color, they blend in with the landscape. Being iron, they last almost indefinitely.

When using single stakes, whatever the material, keep three things in mind. When purchasing or cutting, make sure you allow about 25 percent more length to pound into the ground. So for a stake you want 4 feet above the ground, you'll need at least a 5 foot stake. To avoid injury from the tips when working around them, use a "cane topper" as they're called. Sometimes these can be found in specialty catalogs, or you can use recycled tennis or other balls, or styrofoam balls sprayed green.

Finally, use a soft twine or similar material to tie stems to the stakes so you don't injure the delicate stem tissues. If you have old sheets or panty hose in your home, strips of these work well. There are thick and soft twines sold at garden stores just for this purpose. There are even styrofoam or plastic cord materials you may find.

If you have a tight group of stems, rather than stake each individual stem, stake them as a group. One way to do this is to place 3 or 4 stakes around the plant. Then at various heights string twine between the stakes, around the outside, and if a large area diagonally as well. This will allow stems to move some, but not topple over if the stakes are high enough.

Another method is to place a cage around the stems. This may be a circle of flexible fencing, supported with 3 or 4 stakes. Very effective and long lasting is the iron mesh used to reinforce concrete, similar to the iron rods already mentioned. This rusty iron also blends well with the landscape. Once large perennials such as mallows, perennial sunflowers, New England asters, or Helen's flower grow through such cages, the wire is hardly noticed.

For shorter perennials, you can buy special support rings, such as for peonies. Or you may use inexpensive tomato cages, cut down to size if needed. One clever idea I've heard is to use the plastic rings that come on 6-packs of soda and beer. Place these over shoots as they emerge in the spring, such as of peonies. As the shoots grow the plastic holders wont be visible, yet will rise with the shoots and keep them upright.

For vining plants there are many clever solutions. The traditional support is from trellises of plastic netting, poultry wire, or strings attached to a horizontal support or nails. A variation on the latter is to used recycled bicycle rims. Simply remove the spokes, place one on the ground and one above on a stake. Then string twine from top to 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 cloth, open the frame, and place over the plant. The vines will then grow on and 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 to plants such as sweet peas. These then grow over the branches, covering them, 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 perennial stems to grow through, and is effective for single plants or large groupings.

Whatever support you use, make sure to install it as shoots just emerge and before stems get too tall or plants too dense. As an alternative to staking, when choosing plants, consider dwarf varieties if they exist. For perennials that bloom in late summer, consider cutting them back half way in early summer. For most this wont affect bloom time, and will result in bushier and shorter plants.

About the author:

The following article was taken from Green Mountain Gardener news issued in the past from the University of Vermont. You can email Dr. Perry at


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