Let’s face it. Some plants splay, falling apart in the center, just as their blossoms are at the height of attractiveness. As part of my garden’s preparation for my July 7 Garden Conservancy Open Day, I really don’t want splay. And right now, when growth is charging along and the rains are pounding down, this is the time I must take splay-prevention measures.
My new best friends are peony supports. These plastic-coated wire circles and rectangles (I like the ones with a grid) are incredibly useful, far beyond their allotted task of propping peonies.
Plant stems part company for a variety of reasons. One is soil that proves too rich for a plant’s innate growth pattern. Put an ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum in well-watered and friable garden loam—you get serious splay. Throw ‘Joy’ into a tougher, drier spot where it struggles, and the stems grow more compactly, with less tendency to fall apart.
Other times it might be the weather—a surprise strong rain or heavy wind can play havoc if plants are have been growing in more benign conditions. There’s a reason greenhouse workers routinely brush their stock and let plants bobble in the wind of the fans. The movement signals those hot-house babies to make sturdier stems.
A third cause could be lower light conditions than the plants require. They’ll still bloom but they’ll elongate (and weaken) their stems trying to reach for more sun.
And sometimes, let’s face it–certain plants come to market with that splay vulnerability. They can put on a terrific floral display but possess a disturbing tendency to lie down on their neighbors. We love these divas anyway, and know they will need some help.
I can occasionally avoid splay with just a quick haircut. I clip back my catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) by half sometime in spring, and it will bloom slightly later on shorter tougher stalks.
But other times, only mechanical help will get them through. That’s when the hoops can do a brilliant job. Timing matters. I place hoops early in the game, when those Shasta daisies or asters are still perking along in an upright position.
And then I don’t abandon them. I come back every few days to encourage the straggler stems on the outside to grow through the grid. If needed, I’ll tie a piece of twine around the three legs below the circle to help support the outsiders until they’re tall enough to make it through the structure.
If I’m late and a plant has grown too tall by several inches, I can usually still gently press the hoop legs into the soil, one by one, all the while carefully slipping the stems and leaves through the grid openings.
However, if I’ve waited too long, or misjudged a plant—that one won’t splay, will it?—then I resort to linking stakes, or Y-stakes, the ones with two bendy arms that emerge from a single metal upright. Even plants that have started to curve outward can usually straighten up if help arrives quickly.
For my large oriental lilies, I like the rectangular grid. I put it in place when the lilies are only a foot high. They grow through easily. When the lilies gain height and individual stakes are needed, I insert them into the ground inside the grid, which helps keep them upright. Sometimes I tie the supports right to the grid. As the stakes take on the job of holding up the heavy lily blooms, there’s no stake tilt. That’s when the whole plant stays supported, but it gravity intervenes,. Slowly the lily tips sideways, ending at an awkward angle by summer’s end. It’s happened in my garden way too often.
Of course, all this could be avoided by growing the shorter sturdier lily types, but I do love my tall ones.
If there are splayers that you can’t live without in your garden—see what hoops will do for you. # # # #