Good staking and support of herbaceous perennials and other plants in the spring makes the garden look better now and in the summer. Plants are growing very fast and will carry on doing so throughout May. Their soft growth makes them very susceptible to damage from April showers and winds, so get in fast and stake your plants before they really need them.

Looking along one of the borders with delphiniums at Wallington, Northumberland. Staking

Looking along one of the borders with delphiniums at Wallington, Northumberland. © DS Pugh and reused under

Which plants need staking?

  • Plants with brittle stems, such as delphiniums, easily broken by any strong wind or heavy rain
  • Those with large, heavy flowers (peonies, dahlias, chrysanthemums) so the stem can support the flower and you can appreciate the blooms
  • Tall plants, such as Michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) in exposed positions
  • Clumps of perennials which can split and flop on the ground in bad weather or under the weight of their own flowers
  • Plants that droop over the edges of the border damaging the turf.

7 rules of thumb about staking

  1. Try to make the staking as inconspicuous as possible. You want to be admiring the plant not the stake!
  2. Position plants so they prop each other up or lean against box hedges and evergreens. You’ll need fewer stakes this way.
  3. Insert stakes for large dahlias and chrysanthemums before you set out the plants.
  4. Insert stakes for other plants when they are quite small so they can grow through and hide them.
  5. Don’t bind all the stems together but keep the plant open.
  6. Don't tie the plant too rigidly as this can lead to stem damage. It should be able to move in the wind.
  7. Grow plants hard rather than feeding them a lot in spring. This will result in less lush foliage and so less flopping about. Some plants, though, will always need staking.

How to choose stakes and how to stake

What you use to stake your plants all depends on the plant and how vigorous it is. Natural looking materials and colours fit in better with plants than metal and wooden stakes do but sometimes metal rings make life easier and stout stakes are necessary. Avoid twine if you can, but sometimes you can’t.

Twiggy prunings from shrubs and trees (known as brushwood) can be pushed in around a clump of plants to support them from flopping. Some work better than others so experiment to see what is best for your plants.

Larger twiggy branches from your tree or shrub pruning (known as pea sticks because they’re ideal for supporting pea plants) are good supports for border plants. Choose sticks that are either fanned out at the end or in a Y shape – or trim them into these shapes. Choose a twiggy branch about 15-20cm shorter than the mature height of your plant. Push it in close to the plant and it will grow through and cover the twiggy branch. You can also push in several pea sticks around plants and bend them towards one another, making an impromptu cage.

Support for phlox using prunings, Somerset. Lawn edges. Staking

Support for phlox using prunings, Somerset (S Buchanan)

Bamboo canes are a common support in the garden, used either singly for one stem with a very large flower or in a group of three, four or more.

Use twine in a figure of eight to attach a single stem to the cane, so that the twine passes between the stem and the cane to prevent rubbing. Tie top-heavy plants, such as those with large flowers, all the way up the cane at intervals.

For groups of canes, choose those about two-thirds of your plants’ final height and position them in a circle, making sure to keep the stems and canes upright. Loop the twine around each cane as you go around the group. You may need more than one circle of twine at about 22cm intervals.

Flower grids, like metal noughts and crosses grids, are available commercially. The grid is lowered over plants growing fast in spring and attached to canes with cable ties. The plants grow through the flower grid and it becomes almost invisible.

You can also buy flower rings, a length of wire bent into a half hoop on two legs. They are useful for flowers that just need a little support, such as peonies, or for holding plants back near paths.

Dahlias staked before flowering at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Staking

Dahlias staked with rings before flowering at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Sarah Buchanan

Need more information? Consult the RHS on staking.

Staking now makes gardening life so much easier. You won't have  to wade through full flower beds and borders later to rescue a plant that’s collapsed onto its neighbours!