Given perfect growing conditions, plants grow upwards straight and tall. Unfortunately, perfect conditions rarely exist.
Plants often take a beating from wind, rain and sometimes snow. When the plant does not have a sturdy enough stem to take this type of abuse it will bend and break unless supports are used.
Supports that are in place before the plant grows tall and topples over, tend to blend into the landscape going unnoticed as opposed to stakes and ties that are used after the fact. At this point the only choice is to lift the plant back up and hold it in place with stakes and ties.
There are many different types and styles of plant supports available.
The traditional peony ring is still available and very popular. It consists of a circular top with wide grid wires and four stakes to secure it to the ground. The plant grows through the grid on the ring which keeps all stocks upright regardless of the weather and the weight of the blossoms.
Open metal rings are also available. They can be bought in the shape of a complete circles or two sides that are placed together to form a circle. They work well for keeping the plant upright, but the plant can and often lean to one side depending on the width of the support.
The height of this type of support depends on the variety of plant it is supporting. The taller the plant, the taller the support needed.
Supports should be one-half to two-thirds of the height of the mature plant. If the support is too short the plant will bend and break at the top of the support.
All metal rings are not made of the same material. Make sure that the support has enough strength to hold the plant upright and will not bend with the weight of the plant.
Metal or plastic rings that attach to a stake are also available.
Small rings are used to support individual stems with larger rings supporting larger plants. Take care to ensure that the stake does not injure the plant or bulb it is supporting.
Supports can also be decorative. Obelisks, a pyramid style support are available in wood, metal or plastic. Traditional obelisks are solid structures but more modern ones consist of a crown and stakes. This gives the gardener the option of height and easier storage.
For a very natural effect, gardeners can fashion supports from dead willow branches. The branches are usually bound together with a strong twine, wire and the occasional nail. The shape of these structures is up to the builder.
Vines need to be supported by trellises, fences, garden arches or arbors. The key to keeping a vine upright is to make sure that the supporting devise is strong enough and secure enough to hold the plant’s weight.
Plant supports in the vegetable garden can be decorative but they are usually utilitarian. They too are best set up before the garden is planted.
Fences made out of netting or chicken wire work well to hold peas or beans off the ground. All poles should be placed firmly in the ground and the mesh must to tight otherwise the weight of the plants and produce will collapse the supports.
Alternative solid fences are also available. These fences are usually rust resistant wire panels that are held upright by prongs. Placing the panels together in a zigzag format as opposed to a straight line allows the panels to support each other.
Solid supports are sold in garden centres with similar versions being sold at farm supply outlets. They are panels to keep animals enclosed.
Go through the garden this spring and have plant supports in place before the plants have a chance of being damaged by the elements.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org