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I have learned a lot of lessons about gardening over the years (case in point: don’t buy one of everything!) but I’m starting to think there are some lessons I will never really learn.

One of them is the lesson of staking. Plants that need staking need to be staked before they need staking. And even though I know full well that they will need to be staked, I watch them grow tall and long and think, “Wow, that plant doesn’t even need staking.”

And then it rains, or a big wind blows through, or the plant grows a millimeter beyond the point where the center of gravity shifts from the bottom to the top. And I look in the garden and my once-stunning plant is reduced to a heap. And I know full well that any attempt to stand it back up again will probably fail.

I could be forgiven for not staking things earlier if I didn’t know better. But I do. And yet, all over the garden, there are plants laying on the ground, looking like the smoke monster from “Lost” trudged through the yard late at night.

The list of plants that have suffered for my lack of staking attention this year is long. A variety of particularly tall-growing sedums, a few dahlias that were forgotten along the way, some hydrangeas that got a little floppier than I anticipated (although that’s more a case of tying up rather than staking, to get technical), all but one of the many castor bean plants spread around the garden and the ‘Redbor’ kale that should be the star of the fall garden but instead is impeding any sort of movement through the circle garden.

Horrible quality kale selfie. That’s some big kale.
The kale is a mishmosh of still-standing stalwarts and flopped-over Suessian cruciferous purple goodness.

The ‘Redbor’ kale counts among the great successes in this year’s garden. Grown from seed, the plants have flourished and defined the circle garden. When a few of them started listing several weeks ago, I dutifully staked them with 3-foot stakes. But the kale, which was rapidly approaching gargantuan size, laughed at my lame staking attempt. Even the staked kales toppled. Before one of the largest started tipping over, it was a good foot over my head.

This one was one of the lucky ones who was staked early on, but I didn’t continue tying it in, so it flopped over anyway.

I have no explanation for my lack of staking other than optimism. Every year I convince myself that my plants will defy gravity and not need any support.

Have I learned my lesson finally? Stay tuned until next year, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

What garden lesson do you just never really learn?

5 Responses

  1. I finally started to leave hoops in place so they'd be there in spring. Not great for looks but works. I need to do the Chelsea chop as well but am never sure when to do it. Don't think the Chelsea date is quite right for us Midwesterners.

  2. My big downfall is not cutting things back (Chelsea chop) in order to get control of them. Case in point….all 12 of the sedums didn't get their Chelsea chop this year and all 12 of the sedums are splaying out and flopping over. They just get too darn big if I don't get them chopped down. Next year we'll both be "perfect gardeners" (and next week I'm going on that diet).

  3. It must be a virus going around. The not staking thing. I don't do it very often either. ha… Those are the tallest kale I have ever seen. I take it they are only ornamental since you aren't keeping them short by cutting on them for dinner.

  4. I have the same problem with staking. I hooped some of my peonies, but not all. I have floppy asters. I have good intentions then the next thing I know things have grown to the point that they'll break if I try to stand them upright. This year I'm making a real effort to place hoops and stakes in the plants this fall. Then, hopefully this spring it will be easier to remember what needs tying up. Also, I found these awesome plant clips. Much easier than twine and they're reusable.

  5. A few years ago, I had an outrageous vegetable garden that included 35 tomatoes that I'd "stake tomorrow". Well. You can imagine how that went. I had a tomato vine jungle as thick as kudzu and lots of ground tomatoes with rotten bottoms. I learned that I have no interest in slaving and spending on growing vegetables that I'm going to buy at the farmers market anyway. So–that–I learned.
    What I will NEVER learn is that just because a packet of seeds has 100 seeds does not mean I need to grow 100 seedlings. I am the king of excess.

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