The Art of Staking Perennials

Article written by Saturday6 blogger Matt Mattus from Growing with Plants

Experienced gardeners pride themselves on their staking skills, which are often developed over years of trial and error. Truth be told, many of us have a longer list of staking fails than success stories. More often than not, we simply forget to stake a plant until it is too late, resulting in a broken stem or crushed plant after something as simple as a brief, summer cloudburst.


Staking is one of those garden chores that often gets pushed to the bottom of ones to-do list, but there are ways to make it less tedious and even fun.


My best advice is for you to prepare a staking kit (HINT - great gardener's gift). My staking list consists of balls of hemp or soft twine, flat, vinyl staking tape (without adhesive - a must for sweet peas), outdoor scissors and lots of bamboo stakes ' I prefer natural tones, 6 feet tall ½ to ¾  inch bamboo, which I order from a garden supply website in cases of 100.


Keep the kit on your back porch, in the garage or on the deck. You can even make this part of your gardening display, using an old galvanized bucket for the tools and materials, and an old umbrella stand or pot for the stakes. The goal here is quick access when you need it.


Like many tasks in the gardening world, there is more than one way to stake a tomato, but with perennials or any flowering plant, you want to take aesthetics under consideration ' no one wants to see a wire cage around a spectacular delphinium.

My first go-to item are those premade gridded rings, which can be placed over and above perennials in late spring, or before the foliage can even reach their height. The goal here is to allow plants to grow into and through the grid, making the gridded ring virtually invisible by the end of June. Since these rings are expensive, I try to add a couple each year to my collection. The rest of my plants need to rely on old-fashioned bamboo canes and twine which involves some craftsmanship. Thin bamboo canes, those found at most garden centers are often too thin and weak. I look for those, which have a diameter wider than a pencil. For a large Dahlia, for example, you will need 2x2 snow fence stakes or even 2x4 posts.

The real art comes in tying plants. Snooty gardeners may turn up their noses at poor staking skills, as many believe that a stake or twine must never be seen. I believe that if you use attractive staking materials, then who cares if one can see it. Truth be told, most plants will outgrow their stakes anyway, and by mid-July, all will be invisible. Better to over stake than under stake.

Here are my secrets to proper staking when using twine:

  • Use stakes that are thicker than you think you'll need.
  • Find natural twine that is not too thin, as thinner twine will cut through a tender stem. Never use twist ties with wire, for they will cut the stem. Try to use biodegradable materials whenever possible (I do use plastic tape, but I carefully dispose of it at the end of the year.
  • When using single stakes, start by tying a knot to the stake, then bring your twine around the stem once, and cross over figure 8-style back to your stake and tie it. The plants stem should be able to move a bit, and grow without being choked, yet it should hold firm in a heavy wind. The first knot on the stake, should be the tightest, but anything around the stem, loose.
  • Check every two weeks with tall growing plants, such as Dahlias, to see if additional ties need to be added. Know the final height of your plant, to ensure that your stakes are high enough.
  • In perennial beds where you are not using rings, create a grid above plants. A common mistake happens when gardeners use only three or four stakes around a perennial, and then wraps the twine around everything. This may seem sufficient, but by the time the plant matures, a heavy wind and rain, will still push the entire cluster of heavy stems in one direction, resulting in a plant, which looks unstaked. Learn to use six stakes placed in a circle around the plant early enough, so that you can create a grid of twine weaving in and out of the plant. This method works best with phlox, asters, helenium and other weak perennials. Imagine weaving a spider web with holes around 6 to 8 inches wide. It doesn't need to be a perfect, but a complex grid offers more support.
  • If you prefer a more natural look, cut branches in the winter from birch, hornbeam or other deciduous trees to use as "pea branches." In spring, you can place them around clumps, bending in the tops by snapping them, creating chimneys of twigs for plants to grow within. Oh, so British!