RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—We all need a good support system, and plants are no exception. Vines live to climb, of course. But many other plants will benefit from a little extra support so that they don’t flop over or break when flowers or fruit get heavy. Well-placed supports make your plants more attractive, reduce some disease and pest problems, and can boost your harvest significantly—and they can even allow you to grow more plants in a small space. While your local garden center or hardware store probably stocks a variety of support options, you can do as well, or in many cases better, by making your own. Use found or repurposed materials, and you’ll save some green and keep otherwise unwanted items out of the landfill.
I tend to build with branches and poles from my hedgerows and woodland, or bamboo canes from my grove when I can—they’re free, and I prefer a natural look. Some time ago I built a rustic garden gateway out of branches taken from the woods on our property. It lasted many years and looked like a million bucks—and cost me nothing but time and a handful of drywall screws. Those slender and inexpensive screws, designed for putting up sheets of drywall, are great for building everything and anything for your garden or yard. They go in fast and rarely split the wood—I use an electric drill with a Philips screw bit. No pounding, predrilling, or fuss. You can buy the screws in bulk; stock up so you have a selection of different lengths.
If I can’t find what I need by strolling around our farm, I buy rough-cut lumber from a small local mill: It’s inexpensive, supports the local economy, and I know it hasn’t been treated with fungicides or preservatives. If you shop at a lumberyard, avoid buying pressure-treated wood—unless you are lucky enough to find some that’s been treated with a nontoxic option like borax—or anything made from vinyl or PVC. You don’t need their toxins in your garden. Select sustainably harvested and naturally rot-resistant woods, such as cedar, for longer life, or just get the least costly type and resign yourself to replacing it every few years.
But often there’s no need for a trip to the lumberyard or home-supply store. Keep an eye out and you will start seeing potential stakes and trellis materials all over: wooden pallets (whole or pulled apart), discarded lengths of metal pipe, old fencing, even those metal mesh platforms used in bunk beds instead of box springs. Depending on your level of whimsy, old step ladders, chairs with no seat, or other found objects can be pressed into support service—perhaps after painting them a cheerful color.
Aim to put supports in place before planting, or while plants are still small, for best results. Adding supports later may damage roots or tops, but later is often better than never if that’s how life works out. Having an extra set of hands is a good idea if time has gotten away from you and the plants are big and floppy.
Published on: June 25, 2009