Tending Your Garden – “Claim Your Stakes (or not)”

tending your garden claim your stakesStaking, to me, has never been an ideal solution in my perennial beds. No matter how carefully or “artfully” I try, it always winds up looking – well, like a bunch of stakes. Never mind the amount of work and effort involved – the end result is almost always unattractive and takes away from the overall look of the garden. A few years ago I decided to eliminate – or at least drastically reduce – staking in the garden.

So how does one get around having to stake?

Know your site. Specifically, both the kind of soil you have and the amount of light your garden receives. This is obviously important for many reasons, but especially if you’re looking to reduce staking. For example, a sun-loving perennial planted in partial shade will lean and reach towards the light – requiring you to stake the plant to prevent it from flopping over. Either eliminate that plant from your garden or plant it in a sunnier spot. Same goes for soil conditions. A plant that likes it dry will never be happy in a rich, moist soil. I learned this the hard way with my Globe thistle. Globe thistle (Echinops) does not do well in rich soil. My garden is thoroughly irrigated and as a result, the plant always looks spindly and leggy. I wind up having to individually stake each stem to keep the plants from falling over. This year I took them out entirely and transplanted them to a more arid spot.

Cut back – early and often. I’ve always cut back late-bloomers such as Goldenrod (Solidago) and Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium), to create shorter, bushier plants that produce more profuse blooms. But this same technique can be applied to almost any perennial. Ironically, the deer actually taught me this lesson last year. They “pruned” a clump of Echinacea that I didn’t get to spray in time. I noticed that these plants, while shorter than the others, had sturdier stems and did not require any staking. Voila! This year I cut them all back in late May. I plan to try this with my ornamental grasses as well as my Nepeta.
Get shorty (plants). You can now find many cultivars of plants that are dwarf, or compact varieties. This is an excellent option for creating a garden with plants that will keep their size in check, without any cutting back or staking required. Some examples are “Little Joe” Joe-pye weed, “Little Spire” Russian Sage, and “Kobold” Liatris. Choose shrubs and trees that you can incorporate with your garden’s landscape design.

Okay, stake. If you have to stake, here are some tips:

Get grow-through grids. I’ve always used these grids for my Peonies, but this year also installed them in my large clumps of Echinacea. As with the Peonies, getting them into the ground early on is crucial. You want the stems to grow through the grid openings, and for the grids themselves to “disappear” as the plants mature throughout the season. This worked beautifully and I plan to use them next year in my ornamental grasses, which are a tangled, floppy mess by mid-summer.

Twist the twine. The proper way to stake is to loop the twine around the stem and twist it before tying it to the stake. This keeps the stem from rubbing against the stake.
Go “au naturel.” Using fallen twigs and branches from around your yard lend a more natural look than bamboo stakes. When placed around your emerging perennials, the foliage gradually grows around the branches, so that they blend in with the rest of the garden.

Enjoy your garden!

[blockquote class=blue]Sheri Silver owns fiori garden design (www.fiorigarden.com) in Irvington.[/blockquote]

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About the Author: Sheri Silver