Plant supports - upping the stakes

by James Alexander-Sinclair

A lot of plants are, like stragglers from a hen night, not very good at remaining upright without some support.

Plant support made from twigsA lot of plants are, like stragglers from a hen night, not very good at remaining upright without some support. (Although they are much less likely to wear unnecessarily short skirts or disgrace themselves in shop doorways).

I'm very lucky to live next door to a wood. At this time of year, my younger son and I venture forth with loppers and bow saw to coppice some hazel. Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management where cutting particular trees down leads to regrowth from the stump. Where you once had one stem you then have many which, depending on the variety, have different uses. Ash has always been used for arrows, sweet chestnut for fencing pales, willow for weaving and (in this case) hazel for pea sticks and hedge-laying.

We drag back bundles of branches that I then stick in the ground around the borders. Initially, the place appears to be colonised by enormous nesting birds, but this framework will soon be covered with plants which will, like matrons in whalebone girdles, benefit from firm support.

There are, of course, alternatives as not everybody has access to sufficient twiggery. I also have an unattractive, but very effective, pig wire cage to support my very tall rudbeckias - acceptable because it remains hidden behind a hedge, invisible from the house. There are a number of metal plant supports widely available that link together, making enclosures for each plant. Wonders can also be achieved using bamboo canes and string. With larger borders it's often effective to use wire or plastic netting stretched horizontally and supported by posts about 60cm high. The plants then grow through the netting. All very well, provided that you don't need to do much weeding - preparation is all. However, gardeners are nothing if not ingenious and I've seen delphinium flowers supported by bedsprings and clematis growing through old window frames. I'm sure there are other examples out there.

It is really, really important to get any necessary staking done early, before plants have grown too much - or at all. Otherwise you end up trying to drag collapsed plants upright, which never works. We've all seen things tied to canes, looking very uncomfortable and more like tethered voodoo effigies than plants.

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Gardeners' World Web User 15/05/2008 at 20:13

I have recently had a pergola built on a patio with squares of soil left for planting. My climbers are already planted & some came with small supports but have you any ideas on how I can support the plants as they grow apart from nailing green garden twine round the wooden posts which would look very obvious as the wood is oak & at the moment is pale yellow in colour. I have seen pvc coated mesh which you can cut to size - do you think this would do the trick?

Gardeners' World Web User 24/05/2008 at 18:07

Galvanised wire nailed to the posts would be much less obtrusive - especially as the oak ages and turns silvery. If you have two wires running parallel on each side of the post (top to bottom) then that not only looks smart but is very effective. The climbers can then be tied into the wires with string.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/06/2008 at 20:36

We built a pergola over our pond last year and to grow clematis and passion flowers up the wooden posts we screwed some small pretty angle brackets with sun catcher in them at the top then ran green garden wire from the metapost at ground level up to the bracket and back down already we have a clematis which as made it to the top with no help from us this year the wire is not noticable at all.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:31

I use upturned, empty hanging baskets to provide super support for sedums and peonies. They are soon covered by foliage!

the enduring gardener 16/04/2012 at 06:42

Be careful using metal wire with oak. Unless you use stainless steel there's a tendency for the metal to react with the oak leaving black stains on the wood.