In most garden activities there is rarely a “RIGHT” or “WRONG” way to perform it. Yet, when it comes to applying plant stakes it pays to do it correctly. At best, a poorly applied plant stake may fail to do it’s job, while at it’s worst your maligned stake could injure, maim or even fatally wound the plant it was trying to help.
The way some gardeners use plant stakes you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was more out of a sense of obligation than for the betterment of the plant. Often they’re poorly positioned, offering the plant little assistance, or they’re located so close to the plant that they almost smother it to death.
Whether you’re staking tomato plants, a prize-winning dahlia or a recently bought sapling there are some guidelines that will help you support your plants the most effectively. The reason we stake our plants are multi-faceted but here are the two key reasons;
- Support: – a well-positioned stake can offer a plant strength against harsh winds, heavily fruiting branches or even some assistance until the plant’s stem is strong enough to support its own weight.
- Training: – gardeners often like to stake plants in order to train them to grow certain ways. Multiple-trunked trees are often the benefactors of such staking forcing the stems to grow in predetermined directions that naturally they wouldn’t achieve.
While there may only be a couple of reasons for using plant stakes there are certainly a ton of different materials that you can use;
- Rough-dressed garden stakes
- Kopper logs
- Bush poles or Dried straight branches
- Steel reinforcing “Reo” bars
- PVC tubing
… just to name a few.
How to offer Support with plant stakes
The main purpose of using plant stakes is to offer support to the plant. There are a few considerations that need to be taken into account such as; (1) the growth rate of the plant, (2) the time that the plant will require staking, and (3) the extreme conditions that the plant must weather as it begins to grow.
- Plant’s Growth Rate: – this is an important factor for it will determine the size of the stakes needed. The last thing you want to be doing with your plants is re-staking them every few months because the plant has out-grown their effectiveness. Consider how large your plant should be in the next 12 months – 2 years and size the stakes accordingly.
- Time Required for Staking: – this factor will determine the material required to stake your plant. If you have a slow-growing specimen that may need 5-10 years before the stakes can removed it pays to consider materials that will last this time period. Obviously, those plants that only require a short period of time can safely be staked with more lightweight, and usually less expensive, materials. A slow-growing tree may require star-pickets or kopper logs while staking tomato plants can be achieved with some nimble bamboo sticks or garden stakes.
- Weather or Growing Conditions: – the prevailing conditions the plant will have to face in its attempt to grow on your property will determine the number of plant stakes required. If your location doesn’t suffer from constant strong winds then 1-2 stakes may be all that is needed while areas that are regularly battered by prevailing gusts should opt for up to 3 stakes to protect and support their plants.
How to apply Plant Stakes
Now that you know the required size of your stakes, the material to use and how many are needed for your plant, it’s time to get them into the ground to offer some support.
For a New Plant.
1 Stake: strike this into the ground using a hammer or mallet. It’s best to place it on an angle rather than directly vertical as it offers far more support to the plant. Then, place the plant into the ground back-filling, fertilising and watering in as normal. When the plant is correctly situated then you can tie it to the garden stake by using non-wired plant ties, nylon stockings or strong wool. The best way to fasten the plant is by using a Figure-8 loop that allows the plant some movement without rubbing or scratching into the plant’s stem.
2 Stakes: strike these two vertically into the ground at opposing sides of the plant and fasten using similar tie materials as above and apply using the Figure-8 loop.
3 Stakes: using three stakes gives the plant the most protection but can be overkill for some. Use this method for plants that will require a long period of staking. Locate these in a triangular form around the outside of the plant’s location and tie off as mentioned with the 1 Stake. This is the best method for keeping a plant or tree growing perpendicular.
For an Established Plant
The problem that you will face trying to stake an established plant is trying to miss any roots as you strike the stake into the ground. Failure to do so may eventually kill your plant, or certainly injure it in any case.
If your plant needs staking after it has been established for some time, then try and locate the stakes as far away from the stem as possible. It may even pay to try and uncover some of the roots to see where the main ones are located and steer clear of them.
Once your plant stakes are in position you can tie them off as mentioned above.
How to Train with plant stakes
This is quite simple provided you follow the directions as mentioned for staking an Established Plant. The idea of training is similar to supporting a plant although in this case you are trying to direct future growth instead of just keeping the plant supported.
The main difference in supporting plants via staking versus training is that training plants, especially trees, doesn’t always require the stakes to have one end located in the ground. Often training a tree with stakes can be attempted utilising stakes that push branches apart or hold them close together. In this process, the plant stakes will require some form of cushioning between the stake and the plant so that they don’t lance, or inflict injury upon, the plant’s outer layer.
Plant stakes are an ingenious way to help your plants grow and support them against the many pressures to grow properly. If you use them correctly your plants will appreciate your efforts and reward you accordingly but mess it up and it could just end up killing your plant.
Trial and error is a great teacher but if you can glean some basics from above it can save you a heap of frustration and possibly some dollars as well.