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How To Choose Plant Supports

Even the best-planned perennial border can use a little help to make things look tidy. Using the right plant supports can give you the "master gardener" look. The key tools are support grids, rings, metal linking stakes, bamboo stakes and poles. If you have a few of each kind on hand, you'll be ready for the season's challenges.

 There are two approaches to flower support: preventive and remedial (fix-it). Preventive staking is required for the known "floppers" such as the peonies. The key is to get these supports in place before the plants grow tall enough to need them. That way, the plant grows through the support and the whole thing is right in with the plant and for the most part invisible.

 Grid-type supports are good for plants that need a lot of support, such as peonies. Try to have these in place early so the plant can grow through the grid. Because of the grids, these offer a bit more support than the ring-style supports. Choose the size based on the expected size of the plant.  A tip for installing them level: Put the legs in first (without the circular or square grid) and get them positioned at the same height, then snap the grid into position.

Plants that benefit: Peonies; eryngium; phlox; helenium; cimicifuga; asters; solidago; perovskia; liatris; cosmos; snapdragon (tall varieties); zinnias; platycodon; monkshood; baptisia; Amsonia tabernaemontana; Boltonia asteroides 'Snowbank'; Gaillardia grandiflora; leucanthemum (taller varieties); Geranium 'Johnson's Blue 

  Ring-style supports need to be set up before the plants have grown very tall. These are best for perennials that tend to spray outward, just before they bloom. Asters often do this, but the rings serve to keep the clump tidy. There are several styles, including some with double sets of rings for added support.

Plants that benefit: Large cosmos ('Sensation'); dinnerplate-style dahlias; delphiniums; phlox; Alcea (hollyhocks); Platycodon grandiflorus (balloon flower); Helenium autumnale; Filipendula rubra; Gaillardia grandiflora (blanket flower); Malva alcea 'Fastigiata'; Rudbeckia nitida 'Herbstsonne'; Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver's root); Cimicifuga racemosa; thalictrum. 

Linking stakes are handy to use because you can link together as many as needed to encircle the plant.

  Linking stakes and Y-stakes are perfect for plants that have flopped. They are also ideal for keeping plants from leaning into a pathway or contolling vigorous plants that are smothering less-vigorous plants. Both types of stakes can be used anywhere. You can encircle the clump or weave a line of stakes through the center, providing extra support to the core.  Plants that benefit: Use these stakes anywhere you see a need. Just add or subtract sections to suit your purpose. 

.Gathering rings are handy for smaller, single stem type flowers.

  . Stem supports, gathering rings are for plants that need support when they are in bloom. They also come in handy when a plant puts out a bloom spike that is a little weak, or flops into surrounding foliage. Zinnias, for instance, are usually fine without support, but every once ina while, a plant will develop a weak stem or get toppled by strong winds. In cases like this, stem supports and gathering rings provide a quick rescue.

. Plants that benefit: Oriental and Asiatic lilies (shorter cultivars), gladiolus, bearded irises, Nicotiana alata, zinnias, Belamcanda chinensis, eryngium (sea holly), digitalis (foxglove), verbascum.

Stakes and poles are for tall plants, such as castor beans, hollyhocks, dinnerplate dahlias—even sunflowers. In general, these tall plants support themselves—until you get a big storm. Once these have reached 4 feet or so, stake them with 5-foot bamboo poles and velcro ties . If done carefully, the staking isn't noticeable, and the plants will stand up to summer storms. Use the stakes for smaller plants with heavy bloom spikes, such as delphiniums. Run the stake up the length of the bloom spike, keeping it right up against the stem. It's tedious work, but it pays off when the flowers get heavy with rain. 

Plants that benefit: Use bamboo poles for tall perennials and annuals (over 5 feet). You can also create a grow-through grid for tall plants, such as a clump of hollyhocks: Surround the clump with several bamboo poles. Then, use twine to create a grid by connecting the poles, criss-crossing and encircling the clump.   If you grow dinnerplate dahlias, try the Spiral supports. They're functional and whimsical. The bamboo stakes can be used to provide intense reinforcement for prized blooms or add support wherever it's needed.