Supporting perennials

Many perennial plants need additional support, particularly those which have tall, herbaceous growth. Sometimes they can obtain this from surrounding plants, but often they need a bit extra help to keep them upright.

The most important thing to remember about providing support for perennials is to put the support in place early in the season. That way the plant will grow through the support, rather than you having to force the support over a larger plant, which can do as much damage as good.

When putting the support in, you can push it into the soil deeply, so it’s less obtrusive, then gradually raise it as the plant grows taller.

When tying a plant against a cane ensure that you use soft twine or a similar material, so it won’t cut into the delicate stem. Tie it in using a ‘figure of eight’ so there is twine ‘padding’ to prevent the stem rubbing against the stake.

Keep checking the progress of the plant as it grows to ensure that it is growing up through the support as required, gently coaxing stems into the right place, tying them in and changing the height of the support as necessary.

If you’re putting canes into the ground then it’s always a good idea to put a cap on the top. As the plant grows up the cane tip will be harder to see and you don’t want yourself, or any other garden users, to injure themselves when leaning over the plant. You can purchase cane toppers, or make them yourself from household rubbish such as cotton reels, pots from mini yoghurt drinks, ping pong balls, etc.

Remember to clean your canes over winter to ensure that they don’t provide an overwintering spot for pests or diseases. It’s also worthwhile treating the base of wood stakes or canes so you get a bit more wear from them. Fill an old paint pot or similar container with wood preservative then stand the bases of the stakes in it over night. Take them out the next day and let them dry – so long as the stakes and the container were clean you can re-use any preservative left over.

There are many different types of support available for perennials:

Ring stakes

These are useful for plants with multiple stems coming out of clumps, such as peonies (Paeonia). Some are a simple ring, others have large ‘mesh’ across the ring.

Link stakes

As with ring stakes, these form a circle around the plant to support it. However, they are made up of several separate sections, so they can be adapted to the required diameter of the plant.

Ring of canes or stakes and net

Instead of purchasing ring or link stakes, you can make similar supports yourself. This can be much cheaper and also enables you to tailor them to your plants. A ring of canes can be pushed into the soil around the circumference of the plant with twine encircling it. This is useful for shorter, weak stemmed plants which may not require as much support as taller ones. The stakes and net method is a bit more robust. Push strong stakes into the ground, around the circumference of the plant, then stretch wide meshed chicken wire (wire mesh) or nylon netting over them for the plant to grow through.

Single canes/stakes

A single cane or stake is useful as an unobtrusive support for single-stemmed plants such as delphiniums. Use strong canes, which are about two-thirds the height the plant will eventually reach, and push them into the soil near the base of the plant (but not so close that you damage the roots). Tie the stem loosely onto the cane with twine when it’s about 20cm tall. You may wish to continue to tie tall plants onto the cane when they have grown a bit more (at roughly 20cm intervals) to add more stability.


If you’re wanting a more natural looking support then peasticks may be the right option for you. Peasticks are woody twigs, usually from hazels, but stems from birches can also be used or any other woody prunings you have left over. These can simply be stuck into the ground to form a ‘barrier’ around the circumference of the plant, which it can lean against.

Basketwork supports

These date back to Elizabethan times and were commonly found supporting plants in containers, but also could be used in beds and borders. A basic frame is woven from willow (Salix) to create a domed shape, the ‘feet’ of which can then be inserted into the soil. If you have willow handy, this could be a fun project to try! Alternatively you could use colourful dogwood (Cornus) stems instead of willow.


These come in a range of sizes and materials, and can be an ornamental feature in themselves. They’re also relatively easy to make at home. The basic obelisk shape forms a pyramid for the plant to grow up through, while a wigwam (usually made from bamboo canes or willow) is cone shaped. These encourage upright growth and wayward stems can be tied into the structure if necessary. Obelisks and wigwams also provide height and interest in a border over winter. Small ones may be used to support taller herbaceous plants in containers.