Let's face it. Gardening involves nature, dirt and seasonal chaos. It is not the most organized activity in spite of the obsessive gardener's best efforts. Vines that are not self-supporting may lay in the dust, while heavy bloomers like peonies will produce nodding flowers. Training plants requires discipline and a bit of gentle bondage in the form of plant ties, stakes and other support structures.
Garden catalogs are filled with inventive items to prevent flopping, dangling and unruly growth. The key is to be proactive and install structures and supports before the plant needs them.
The basics are often found in the home or garden. Stakes are one of the simplest ways to train a plant and can be bamboo canes, slender tree trimmings, sticks, or any other vertical item that is inserted into soil near the plant. I use an old wire gate as a pea support and unpainted trim pieces found in my attic as general early vegetable stakes. Once you have the basic support you need to be vigilant as the plant grows and tie in errant stems. For this purpose, you may use twine, sisal, yarn, or purchased plant ties. A wigwam is ideal for many vegetables and is simply 3 or more stakes tied together at the top. This allows specimens planted around or inside the wigwam to use the stakes as supports. Again, you can find these for purchase or just look around the home for suitable items.
Frames are useful for vegetables, leggy perennials, and a host of other plants. The simplest frame is just a pair of stakes hammered into the soil at the required distance apart. Then use twine or even wire to string from one stake to the other, creating a horizontal row of supports. This assists delicate vines such as peas, beans, or even grapes. Tie new growth as it occurs to the lowest line and continue upward as the plant ages. Trellises are classic examples of gardening structures for support. Heavy woody stems rely on a trellis as they get older to prevent breakage and bring the stems up into the light and keep the plant in an appealing shape. A pair of wood stakes with slats screwed or nailed across provides easy, sound props to buttress climbing roses, heavy vegetables such as cucumbers, and any other vertical plant.
Some excellent products you can purchase include cages, spiral stakes and hoops. These come in a range of sizes and materials. Cages are often used for tomatoes. There are cone shaped ones and interlocking frames that create a triangle or square. They are similar to a frame in that you train the plant from babyhood on up the levels of the cage. Spiral stakes couldn't be easier to use.
The beauty of the spiral stakes is that you can use them at any time. Even mature plants are easy to train around the spiral with the assistance of a few plant ties. They are usually galvanized metal with a plastic or rubber coating. Inserting these into even heavy compacted soil is a cinch due to their sturdiness and strength. Hoops stand on stakes and allow flowers and other plants to grow up through the circle. While this is a simple means of supporting heavy stems there are also hoops with a grid inside the circle for extra reinforcement.
Training plants vertically with a support and ties is sufficient in most cases. However, some plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers need special pruning to enhance their growth. Both these varieties produce a "sucker" at the branch crotch which needs to be cut or pulled off to prevent leggy unproductive growth. The sucker is between the main stem and a leaf, just at the juncture. Other types of training are even more extensive. Espalier is a method of training a plant in a flat habit with spreading branches. It is useful against a fence or even the side of the home. Fruit trees, roses, hydrangeas, camellias, smaller evergreens and many other plants respond well to this type of training. You must start in the plant's infancy and keep one strong leader with just a few spaced horizontal secondary branches. Wires are strung horizontally and set into the fence or siding to make training easier. Pruning and maintenance are crucial to keeping the appearance of the espaliered form. Other methods in traditional gardening are topiary, hedgerow, cordon, fan, bonsai and several others.
Keeping your plants in line is not only attractive and orderly, but it will allow the plants to grow better. Vertical gardening and training reduces branch breaks, increased fruit and vegetable production, enhances flowering and increases air and sunlight exposure. All of this leads to a happier and healthier plant that will reward you with a bounty or simply its beauty.