The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to stake up garden plants

Staking up garden plantsEven though staking up plants seems absurdly simple, we've gone through a lot of trial and error before finding techniques that work for us.  But first --- why tie up plants at all?

We stake plants in our vegetable garden for their own good and to make our lives easier.  Staking tomatoes (combined with pruning) keeps the leaves drier, which holds off blight in hot, humid climates like ours.  After you stop picking your asparagus, the tall fronds can easily become top heavy and snap off during windy or wet weather, and I've found the same is true of plants like kale when you let them fruit in order to collect the seeds.  Then there's the fact that it's annoying to have to lift up those tall plants sprawling across the aisle every time you want to push a wheelbarrow or mower through.

Pounding in a fence postWe've tried lots of different materials and methods for staking plants, and my favorite by far uses light-weight metal fence posts.  (These are often called "U-posts" because they're shaped like a U in cross-section.)  Heavy T-posts are too hard to pound in (and to take back out when you need to move your stakes), while free materials like branches and bamboo have a tendency to rot and break at just the wrong moment.  Although fence posts are expensive when bought in large quantities, they also last a very long time if you're nice to them --- we expect ours to keep going for a decade or two.

If your soil's soft, you can push your posts in by jumping on the pegs at the bottom (imagine the fence post is a pogo stick).  Alternatively (especially in hard soil), you can pound the posts in with a mini sledge hammer.  I usually ask Mark to pound in the posts Pea trellisvery solidly if they're going to be in place all summer, but I just push them in the easy way for more temporary applications.

I've written before about how to make a pea trellis --- we still make our trellises exactly the same way three years later because the method works so well.  (Well, we did invest in some taller U-posts so we don't have to add the stick extensions, and we often put the posts a bit closer together now.)  We use the same kind of trellis for cucumbers, and would use it for green beans too if we didn't grow bush varieties.

Tying up kaleFor asparagus or other plants that grow in a big mass, I generally put a post at each corner of the bed and tie a piece of wire, plastic baling twine, or rope all the way around the plants.  For my flowering kale, I cut corners a bit and just used two posts per bed --- I figure I can get away with this method since the kale will be done blooming and will be ready to harvest in a few weeks.

The only other thing we stake up regularly is tomatoes.  For my tall, indeterminate varieties, I slip an eight foot piece of rebar into the groove in the U-post, making sure the rebar extends at least a foot into the ground for stability.  Then I simply tie the tomato to Tall tomatothe post (and then rebar) whenever the top of the plant starts wanting to bend down.  A tomato vine in late summer can be very heavy, so be sure to use heavy-duty ties --- like wire or plastic baling twine --- rather than organic baling twine, or you'll have a tomato collapse.

My final word of advice is --- stake early!  If you wait until your plants are starting to bend down into the aisle, you'll risk breaking them off and will take twice as long erecting stakes.  Nowadays, I simply put the the trellises and stakes in place before planting a single seed or set.

As if the beauty and maneuverability of a well-staked garden isn't enough, I've discovered that our fence posts have yet another advantage.  Bluebirds and phoebes love to perch on top of the posts, eating insects while depositing droppings right where I need the extra fertility.  Thanks, guys!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Is that a tomato plant in the last picture? Holy smokes, it looks eight feet tall!
Comment by mitsy Thu May 17 12:10:15 2012
Mitsy --- Yep, those were some happy tomatoes last year. (Well, also some varieties grow taller than others, but I'll take all the credit. :-) ) After they reached the top of the eight foot rebar, they kept growing, but I stopped tying them up, so they started to bend down. Total height was probably more like ten feet!
Comment by anna Thu May 17 16:49:13 2012
These are some of the things that you could do with really cool garden stakes. I like it when everything kind of flows together, so you can use decoration in really productive ways. I was looking on to see some ideas for how I could best incorporate stakes into my garden, and I'm really excited to get some and see how they turn out.
Comment by McCall Hazelton Tue Jan 26 18:07:51 2016

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