How To Make Plant Supports
Making your own plant supports will add charm to your garden and bring out the best in your plants. And it can be more satisfying than buying plant supports online or from a garden centre.
Many types of plant benefit from good support. This can be to make flowering more prolific, to prevent wind damage, to make harvesting easier or simply to make best use of the space available. Plants can grow up just about anything, from hammock stands to bird tables, but purpose made supports are usually best.
Pea sticks. These are traditionally made of hazel, which is coppiced in the early spring. If they are cut later in the year they are likely to have too much leaf, which is not what you want. I find the best technique for supporting peas, for effectiveness and for looks, is to sandwich the row of peas with a row of sticks either side running at a 45 degree angle. If the sticks don’t have enough branches for the peas to cling to you can run garden twine through the sticks, which also provides additional stability. Bear in mind that peas vary a lot in height and in the amount of support they need (it should have the height on the packet), so factor this in when planting your sticks. After harvesting the peas don’t rush to remove the pea sticks as the pea roots will help fix nitrogen into the soil. The exception is early peas. You should be able to remove the sticks in late June and re-use them for your main crop peas and to plant brassicas in their place.
Bean poles. These too are traditionally made of hazel. The first year growth is good for pea sticks and the second and third year growth is good for bean poles. Bean poles do need to be fairly straight though, which can mean some are rejected for kindling. I cut bean poles to a minimum of 2m lengths, that way once in the ground they are still taller than me and if after a couple of years an end snaps off what’s left is usually long enough to be of use. They are much easier to push into the ground, and therefore less likely to snap, if they are cut at an angle. Once the wigwam or arch is erected, check that it is anchored enough to withstand strong winds. Once it is covered in leaves it becomes like a sail and if it is not well secured a slight breeze will topple it, particularly if it is supporting climbing squashes or courgettes, the heavy fruits of which can make it very unstable.
Trellis. Pea sticks and bean poles add real charm to a vegetable garden. Peas look so much more appealing intermingled with hazel than they do hanging from netting or chicken wire. In the same way, a hazel trellis can lift the most ordinary of climbers to become a focal point of a cottage garden. The easiest way to make a trellis is from hazel bean poles bound together with green willow ‘withies’ soon after harvesting them in the autumn. Arrange the bean poles on the ground in the desired pattern and then patiently weave the willow between the poles to hold them in position. If the green willow whips are poked into the ground, and the ground remains moist, they will invariably take root and create a living structure. This may not be what you are after but it can look stunning and will give the kids something to hide in if you make a wigwam.