Garden Word of the Day
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Some plants need help staying upright. That’s where garden stakes come in.
Growing up and falling down
Some of your plants, such as peas, cucumbers, and pole beans, need something to climb, while tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers often need help staying upright. As these plants begin producing fruit, the load they have to carry can sometimes be more than they can support. When that happens, stems can bend or break and fruit ends up touching the ground. This allows fungal diseases, slugs and snails, and other pests and diseases to threaten your crop. These problems can be prevented with garden stakes, tree supports, and tomato cages.
Most gardeners are familiar with tomato cages. Tomato cages provide a framework within which plants can grow and produce without risk of falling over. In some cases, using simple garden stakes can provide similar support. Peony supports look similar to a tomato cage, but with bars across the middle.
Tree supports are used when trees are young and newly planted. These supports provide protection from mechanical damage from lawn mowers and careless drivers (or walkers). They also prevent breakage from strong winds. It is important that tree supports are used properly and removed when they are no longer needed.
Garden stakes are available for purchase in many different materials, or you can make your own. Garden stakes from retail outlets are generally made from wood, plastic, or metal. I have a collection of bamboo stakes, in various lengths, that I find very useful. You can also make your own from tree branches (called pea fencing), sunflower stalks, scrap lumber, and whatever fits the purpose.
How to tie plants to garden stakes
One common mistake new gardeners make is tying plants too tightly to garden stakes, or using material that is too thin. Thin string or wire can easily cut into stems. You can use cloth, insulated wire (I found a huge roll of insulated wire at a yard sale for $3), or commercially available plant staking tape. When tying plants to stakes, be sure to allow room for growth and some movement.
When to install garden stakes
Sooner is better than later. It is much easier on your plants (and you) to install garden stakes while plants are small. This way, you don’t have to maneuver around stems and fruit, and root systems are still relatively small, so there’s less damage.
Getting creative with garden stakes
Have some fun with your imagination, when it comes to garden stakes. You know that old umbrella that was turned inside out during a storm? Remove the fabric and the U-shaped handle and mount it on a pole. Attach strings to each arm and allow peas to climb up! You could repurpose an old bicycle wheel, create a tower out of some old chicken wire, or, install plants near a picket fence or stock panel for built in garden stakes. Plants don’t care what you give them as garden stakes, but your harvest will be significantly improved with these handy tools.
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