The tricky business of staking is on the agenda chez Willburn; but with the heat, humidity and resulting malaise affecting all forms of life whether flora or fauna, it is difficult to do more than wave a hose out there and call it good. These are the times that try men’s souls (and this particular ‘man’s’ desire to use appropriate language around her children).
Yet the garden grows. Tasks must be completed. There’s even a remote possibility that someday I will want to enjoy my outside world again. So, back to staking. Staking while baking. It must be done. Very little point in planting things like tomatoes and trees if one is going to turn one’s back the moment the weather turns sour.
There are many people who feel that staking plants is time consuming, overly meticulous and fussy. But it must be stated that staking is not solely about appearances, and can positively affect the production and purpose of a plant. If you choose to plant, say, an old fashioned peony with heavy double blooms that smell sweetly, something is lost in translation if you have to pull the blooms out of a mud puddle in order to sniff them. The purpose of this plant is scent and ornamentation – both of which are compromised by lying face down in the dirt.
Tomatoes can flop, and the Italians often grow them thus – in an orgy of vining, twining summer stems reclining atop beds of straw, but I find that there is more production and less waste when they are (at the very least) leaning against an upright cage. This sentiment might reflect the uptight English part of my nature, but it is also very practical when one is dealing with a small space and a humid, fungus-loving climate.
And, if you’ve ever dug a huge hole, amended it with love, and within, planted a small, precious tree, only to leave the staking for another day; I trust that the resulting 60 degree angle of the trunk five years later is to your liking. Trees settle in their holes. They stretch toward the sun and must be gently reminded that building good character starts with boundaries – yours.
So, staking should be undertaken, and just like any good undergarment, the stakes should be discrete. But how, and with what? I am not a garden-gadget person, but a few years ago, I found green metal stakes in two and four foot lengths topped with a half circle hook at one end, allowing the gardener to quickly pop in a stem and secure it without ever getting out the twine. I love these reusable, camouflaged stakes and add a few to my collection whenever I see them at garden centers. They are great for plants like foxglove, large iris, Echinacea, and other perennials and annuals that throw up tall blooms that could be damaged by winds or rampaging guinea hens.
For larger clumping perennials whose blooms grow more as an extension of the foliage (peony, Montauk daisy, hypericum etc.), hoop style staking is preferred. You can either buy such hoops (and spend your life trying to get all three stakes at equal depths), or work with twine and bamboo to create something similar with the added benefit of an inner cobweb-like structure.
Such staking won’t secure a small tree. But ½ inch rebar can be pounded in on either side of a newly planted specimen and connected with a bit of rope sheathed with rubber hose to protect the trunk from being gouged. Use a figure-eight configuration with the rope and don’t secure it too tightly – it’s important the tree is able to move a bit (just a bit mind you) in the wind.
Some plants will require an immediate staking, others can grow into it, and still others will get by with a stake thrown in on an as-needed basis. Use your discretion, and for Heaven’s sake, when you’re buying plants in the first place, think carefully about their need for extra support. If you disapprove of underwear in the garden, you can easily find cultivars that make such trappings unnecessary – burning one’s bra and letting it all hang out however is not the answer.