Grow healthy, productive plants with the right supports

using plant supports in the garden

Washington County Master Gardener Karen Greeley (left) shows Elyse Phillips her garden which uses several types of plant supports.

Being supported is important. For you. For me. And for our garden plants.

The right garden supports help keep plants healthy. Lifting them up, up, up on stakes, cages and trellises boosts air circulation. This cuts down on rot and fungal disease.

Garden supports help keep heavy blooms from snapping stems. Is there anything worse than finding your prize delphinium prone in the morning, her poor neck broken by fierce wind?

Supports also expose vegetables and fruits to more sun, helping them to ripen faster. And they make picking easier, lessening knee and back strain.

Best of all, plant supports save space. Vertical gardening gives you a good harvest in a smaller footprint.

Place stakes, cages, and trellises early so plants are supported from the get-go. This avoids unpleasant wrangling of jungle-like growth later which is not good for you, your plants, or your resolution to avoid colorful language.

Anchor supports deeply to give them strength and stability when the inevitable high winds and rains come and plants grow large and heavy.

Some plants naturally cling with tendrils. Others need ties. Use a soft material like a strip of an old t-shirt, pantyhose, or reusable Velcro plant ties.

Plant supports can be store-bought or homemade. Use wood, bamboo, string, and other materials to make your own. Or hit your favorite local garden center, supercenter, or online store.

What type of supports are best?

Stakes are good for tall plants with a single flowering stem such as foxgloves or lilies. Some even come with hoops to lasso stems. My daddy staked his 10-foot tomatoes and harvested with a ladder. It was a point of pride.

But cages work better for heftier plants like tomatoes. Simply a frame with a grid, cages are good for shrubby edibles like tomatoes and eggplants.

I like square cages that fold flat for storage, but any sturdy cage will do. Steer clear of flimsy ones which tip over with the slightest provocation, also inducing colorful language.

Trellises are upright panels with criss-crossed wood or string. Both single panels and A-frames work well. In our demo garden, we use upright metal frames with string mesh.

Trellises are ideal for plants that twine or cling with tendrils such as peas, cucumbers, and pole beans. You can also use them for melons and squash provided you give the heavy fruits some extra support.

use a strip of fabric to support a melon on a trellis

Large fruits such as this cantaloupe can be supported on trellises with a wide strip of fabric.

That’s right, boys and girls. It’s time to talk about cantaloupe bras. Laugh if you will, but strips of my old t-shirt served well to lift and separate cantaloupes on our demo garden trellis.

Teepees provide both support and a pleasing focal point. Use them for vining plants or those that climb with tendrils. Make a fun kids’ teepee by growing beans and morning glories on a frame.

Hybrid supports work well for specific plants. Circles with grids and legs are terrific to prop up perennials with large, heavy flowers such as peonies.

Look up. Think up. And grow your plants up with the right supports.

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

2 Comments on “Grow healthy, productive plants with the right supports

  1. My zucchini plants are thriving with leaf growth but are not producing fruit. Should I cut back some leaves to get more sunlight to the developing fruit?

    Like

  2. This is a very helpful article, thank you! I had actually never heard of using fabric to support melons like that but it makes a lot of sense!

    Like

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