How to Stake the Stems and Stalks of Leaning Plants
From using tying techniques to tomato cages, a gardener shares her tips.
Make no mistake about it: Staking the stems and stalks of certain plants, particularly tall ones like peonies, dahlias, and tomatoes that have a tendency to lean, is essential to their success. "If you don't stake a leaning stalk, the plant will not stand upright, and will not receive sunlight and air flow that it needs to thrive," says CaliKim, host of the CaliKim Garden & Home DIY Show on SHG Living. "The plant will be more susceptible to disease, pests, and likely won't be able grow to its full potential."
So, how does one determine whether or not a plant needs staking? "If a plant is too heavy to stand up under its own weight and/or withstand wind, rain, and other outdoor elements, it needs support," CaliKim explains. "A stake should be sturdy and tall enough to support the plant at its mature size."
Know the stakes.
Before you stake a plant, it's important to know the correct support system to use. Single plant stakes are often composed of a single piece of wood or metal and support one plant at a time, while double plant stakes, such as a tomato cage, are designed to support multiple plants or a large heavy plant with minimal effort. "Unlike a cage which can support a plant as it matures, single plant stakes require you tie the plant stem or stalk to the stake as it grows," she explains.
Build your own support system.
Although plant stakes, cages, and arches are widely available online and at garden centers, CaliKim says making your own is easier than it sounds. "For a sturdy single plant stake, attach three smaller stakes, composed of trimmed tree branches, scrap wood, or bamboo, at the top to form a narrow pyramid that you can tie your plant up to as it grows," she says. To easily fashion a sturdy and inexpensive DIY-style cage or arch, CaliKim recommends using welded wire fencing, cable ties, and tin snips, resulting in a cage or arch that can be customized to the space in your garden.
Stake when planting, if possible.
When it comes time to stake your plants, CaliKim says you'll want to place your support six to 12 inches into the ground and three to six inches from the stem or stalk of the plant. "Ideally a stake for tall plants should be installed at the time of planting to avoid damaging the roots," she says. "If necessary, stakes can be added to support mature plants, you will just have to install them more carefully."
If you're employing a single plant stake, CaliKim says you'll have to regularly tie it to the stem or stalk of your plant as it continues to grow. "Using twine, flexible string, or plant clips, tie the plant stem loosely to the stake in three- to four-inch intervals," she says. "This allows room for both stem movement and plant growth."
Keep a close eye on single plant stakes.
If you have enough space in your garden, CaliKim recommends using cages whenever possible to ensure vining plants or plants with multiples stems get all the support they need. However, if you can't make room for a cage to support a tall plant, she says you'll need to constantly monitor the plant as it grows, and continue to tie the stem of the plant up the height of the stake as needed.