Most healthy annuals are sturdy and self-supporting. They often don't require any special staking to keep them looking good. However, plants with heavy flower clusters, especially those on tall, slender stems such as snapdragons and dahlias may flop over when exposed to strong winds or heavy rains.
Another group that sometimes requires support to keep their flower heads visible are those with stems that will either bend over or break off when the weight of their leaves and blooms becomes too great. Asters, baby's breath, salpiglossis, and some zinnias are known to have these problems.
There are a variety of ways to go about staking plants, including the following techniques.
Often plants gain enough support when a kind of corral is placed around them. The plant stems lean out against the metal or string sides of the corral instead of flopping down to the ground.
To make a stake corral, insert four or more stakes around the plant. Tie a string to the first stake, then wrap it one turn around each of the other stakes along the perimeter and back to the starter stake. For a large clump, run the string diagonally across within this corral for more support. Several tiers of string may be needed for tall plants -- space tiers 4 to 6 inches apart. Flower heads should float 4 to 6 inches above the top tier of string.
L-Shaped Metal Stakes
A more expensive, but easier to install, corral can be made from L-shaped metal stakes specially designed and sold for this purpose. They hook together quickly to make whatever size is needed. These can be used year after year once the initial investment is made. String can be diagonally cross-woven between these stakes if more support is needed.
Brush Thicket or Pea Staking
Another simple type of support consists of poking many-branched pieces of brush into the ground beside the plants. These form a network of twigs through which the plants can grow and against which they can lean for support. The tops of these branches can be bent over to form an even more interlaced network if needed.
To make this simple no-cost plant support, poke the stems of well-branched brush into the ground next to the young plants. The plants' stems will simply lean against the twigs for support without any tying. This brush thicket will give even more support if the tops are bent over and interwoven. Plant stems will grow up through the resulting tangle and hide it from view.
Stake corrals and brush thicket or pea staking work well with plants that have a spreading growth habit. For those that produce tall, single spikes, the single staking method is more suitable.
To use this technique, poke a wooden or bamboo stake into the ground 2 to 3 inches from the plant stem. It should be pushed deeply enough into the soil to be solidly secure. Loosely tie each plant stem to this central stake every 6 inches along the stem's height. First tie the string around the stake with a half-granny knot, allowing an inch or more of slack between the stake and the plant stem. Then tie a full-granny knot around the stem.
As the plant grows taller, add ties further up on the stake 6 to 8 inches apart. The topmost tie should be located at the base of the flower spike. All of the branches can be tied to a single stake in the center of the plant.
Although tying plants seems a nuisance, it really only takes a few minutes to do and is only necessary for a few varieties. If those that need it aren't tied, however, they'll either bend over, becoming impossible to see, become mud covered, or snap off and die.
Either way, there's little sense in growing these kinds of plants if you aren't willing to stake them. Select easier care annuals instead. Or, if they happen to be your favorites, make up your mind to provide a little extra care that will make it possible for them to look their best.
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