by Matt Gibson
Let’s learn about staking plants in the garden. Providing your plants with a stake, or another type of support, is often necessary in cases like these to keep stems from snapping and plants from flopping over or falling down to the ground completely.
Perhaps a plant grows fruit or a flowerhead that is too large and heavy for the stem where it sits. Sometimes plants need a bit of support in order to stand up and look their best. Sometimes plants simply get too tall for their own good, and other times a plant might have trouble standing up to forceful gusts of wind.
Important elements to manage in your garden include soil quality, available light, and watering and pruning practices. These play important roles in how well the plants in your garden develop, which can prevent the need for staking and help make sure their plants grow strong enough to stand up tall and face the elements without resting on a stake or some other kind of support.
There are cases when circumstances will allow a gardener to avoid having to use stakes by trimming back or pruning plants as needed or by using alternatives to stakes, such as support plants or trellises.
Some gardeners, however, dislike the look of stakes so much that they’ll do just about anything to avoid using stakes in their garden, while others recommend using stakes because they’ve experienced a lot of success doing so themselves.
Still other gardeners take the natural approach, simply leaving their plants vulnerable to the elements. Those of us who choose this last path may learn the hard way that stakes are sometimes necessary when our plants eventually flop to the ground in protest of high winds or excess weight on their stems and branches when they don’t have something nearby to lean on for support.
Staking can be a pain to keep up with, as plants can outgrow small stakes very quickly. A bunch of stakes can also be an eyesore in a garden that’s otherwise filled with the plants’ natural greenery and beautiful blossoms.
If you haven’t yet noticed stakes in a garden, it’s easy to imagine how much the clean lines of the stakes can distract the eye of a garden’s admirer—or how a garden full of mismatched stakes in different sizes and colors can feel out of balance or disorganized compared to one that spares the stakes.
On the other hand, a garden full of plants that are all drooping and falling down to the ground, with flower faces dragging in the soil or fruits resting atop the surface of the ground, is no gorgeous sight. If you are struggling to decide between an all-natural approach and using stakes in your garden, each path comes along with its own drawbacks to consider. So, what is the best choice for you?
Unfortunately, there is no one answer. However, there are lots of different measures that a gardener can take to provide their plants with support and get optimal results without having to stake every plant that grows above a certain size.
Avoiding the Need for Staking in Your Garden
There are a few steps that gardeners can take to avoid needing stakes in their plots. First, you must start at the bottom, with the soil that your garden is growing in. Use plenty of organic matter when creating and amending the soil base that you are using. Working in lots of organic matter is especially important if the soil base where your garden will grow consists mostly of clay or sand. In this case, organic matter such as sawdust or manure is a great amendment.
Clay soil is not the best choice for garden beds because the texture of clay forces the roots of your plants to work extra hard to penetrate deep into the earth in search of vital nutrients. Clay soil also tends to hold too much water and often has insufficient drainage to work well in a garden.
Sandy soil usually doesn’t supply enough nutrients to support healthy and balanced growing conditions for most plants and also tends to drain too quickly, retaining very little moisture after the initial watering, Whether you’re amending clay soil or amending another soil type, incorporating tons of organic matter will keep the blooming tops of your tall flowering perennials from needing stakes to stand up of their own accord.
Another trick of the trade that you can try is to create raised beds. Perennials that need extra support but are situated in environments that don’t provide much foundation, such as a rock gardens, could easily have their needs met well enough to avoid staking if moved to a raised bed.
To add raised beds to your garden, simply build the bed on top of the soil using lots of organic matter, then top it off with a light layer of mulch. The mulch will help keep your plants from drooping by covering the soil, which keeps it shady and cool even when the sun is bearing down with all the force of its summertime rays.
The mulch layer will not only help to keep the soil on the surface of your raised beds from getting too hot. It will also protect the root systems of your garden’s plants, keeping them cool and oxidized all year round.
Too much fertilization can lead to leggy plants, and leggy plants tend to need support, so another way to avoid the need for stakes in your garden is to avoid overfertilization. If you really need to feed your plants and give them a boost, make sure you choose or make a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and potassium but also high in phosphorus. This fertilizer blend will tell your plants it’s time to cut down on production of new green shoots and communicate that plants should focus their resources on growing in a compact and bushy form instead of growing to be long and lanky—and therefore prone to drooping.
Maintaining the proper spacing within your garden beds when you’re sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings started elsewhere can influence your plants enough to prevent the eventual need for staking.
If your garden allows your plants plenty of room to grow without other plants encroaching on their space, they won’t have to struggle and waste energy fighting any of the competition for nutrients, water, or sunlight. Competing with unwanted neighbors for resources can weaken most any plant and make it more susceptible to the drooping, flopping, and broken stems that cause gardeners to supplement with stakes.
To encourage strong growth and avoid the need for stakes in your future, water your garden more deeply than usual and less frequently. Check often to make sure your beds maintain ample drainage as you’re providing moisture.
Deep watering teaches plants to stretch downward and encourages them to grow strong roots and stems, which will naturally make them less reliant on stakes and other supports to prop up heavy blooms and fruit. Avoid overwatering, as overwatered plants tend to become leggy and therefore top heavy, leading to a need for staking to support those weighty heads.
One of the most important factors to consider when you’re considering whether or not to stake your plants is the amount of wind exposure your garden receives during the growing season. If you place plants that often require stakes in locations where they’ll be exposed to lots of high-speed winds, you are increasing the likelihood they will need stakes to stand up straight.
Instead, place plants that normally require some staking against a wall or in a corner to lessen the wind they will have to face and provide at least minimal reinforcement. Alternatively, you could place vulnerable plants near larger, hardier specimens if you use support plants to help to block the wind before it does its damage.
Pruning can also get a droopy plant to
straighten up, as it encourages strong growth. Deadheading spent blooms can
help as well, as this practice should result in a bushier plant—one that will
be better capable of supporting its own weight.
Supporting Plants with Stakes
Some plants will not stand up straight without support, no matter what measures you’ve taken to prevent them from falling over. In these cases, you have to provide the support if you want the plants to thrive. Must-stake plants include: peas, blackberries, cucumbers, pole beans, tomatoes, melons, gourds, peppers and pumpkins.
Some tall perennial flowers may need staking, but most of them can stand well enough on their own if you take the precaution of some of the previously mentioned measures to avoid staking altogether.
When Staking Is Required, Consider These Methods
Some stakes, all by themselves, are eyesores. Instead of resigning yourself to seeing those ugly plastic stakes you have laying around, why not repurpose some sticks or branches from the trees on your property instead? A bamboo shoot, a stick, or a single tree branch is all that many plants need for support, and the organic materials blend in better with garden landscapes. Use these alternatives just like you would use a single stake.
For some plants, one support won’t suffice because they need multiple levels of support to stand proud and tall. In this case, you can use multiple branches or bamboo shoots with string or twine tied between the poles to keep them steady.
You can also construct a tripod with any three sticks of the appropriate height tied together to make a teepee or cone shape, then use the tripod to support the base of super-tall plants. Decide exactly what kind of support you’ll use with each of the plants in your garden.
Vidoes About Staking in the Garden
This DIY tutorial teaches you how to properly stake plants when necessary:
Tomatoes are one of the more involved plants that gardeners must learn how to stake properly to grow successfully. This video will show you just how to do it:
This interesting video discusses the pros and cons of staking and compares it to caging as a support method for large plants:
This tutorial will show you how to make nice-looking garden stakes yourself: