Plant Supports and Creative Staking

by Tracy Zarlengo
Have you been looking for a way to keep certain plants in your garden from flopping over and creating chaos? Are you looking for an alternative to metal cages and wires? If so, here’s an idea for you. Many gardeners use natural and sustainable twiggy branches also known as “pea sticks” to create discrete yet incredibly effective supports for everything from annuals to perennials to vegetables.
To try this simple and low-tech approach in your garden, begin by gathering branches of varying lengths from trees and shrubs such as hazel, red twig dogwood, forsythia, birch, willow or lilac. Plant material can also be gathered from larger trees that have been pruned (I have used sturdy branches from a hydrangea tree.) Make sure they are free of any leaves. The more branches the cutting has, the more places for your plants to rest. Push in the support around the base of the plant early in the season and the plant will grow to completely hide the armature you have created. This works well for plants such as nepeta, asters, delphiniums, lupins, phlox, dahlias and so many more. You can try this with vegetables, too. My eggplant and peppers are supported this way.
Now for the creative part. If the plant material for the support is young and supple, it can be made into a basket-like cage or teepee. Start by
selecting four long, twiggy branches. Space them evenly around the plant (thick end down), positioning the base of the stick’s stem at the outside edge of the clump you want to support. Push the stems two to three inches into the ground at a slight inward-facing angle. Begin bending the twigs toward each other and intertwine them in a way that they stay connected. Gently wind, bend, ease, and twist to reinforce the structure. Weave in additional stems on the sides or across the top for more support.
This year, Jennifer Miller at Denver Botanic Gardens has installed some amazingly beautiful woven structures made out willow. She grows the willow on-site and cuts branches in the spring to create arches, globes and teepees. These are living sculptures and create an instant focal point, adding artistry and wonder while allowing plants to ramble over, around and through them. Jennifer hopes to also make living willow fences in the future using her talents, which she is willing to share with us!
If you would like to further explore the art of woven willow structures there are several good YouTube videos that demonstrate the technique, or check out the work of mother-daughter team Jenny Crisp and Issy Wilkes at Maybe with a little practice, we can all make our own pods!