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Cathy Peck/Master Gardener: A stake for success

Are your perennials or tomatoes starting to tip over; the flower heads to break off just as the blooms are their showiest? The late spring put me behind in the little tasks that can keep our plants standing upright, avoid crowding of other plants and allow them to strut their stuff.

Little in flower gardening is more disappointing than missing out on the beauty for which we work so hard and wait so long. Here are some tips that may help you next year or remedy some problems this year.

-- Pinching back asters, veronicas, shasta daisies, mums and many annuals when they are 4 to 6 inches tall will cause them to grow shorter and bushier. They are sturdier, don’t tumble over and the plant will produce more blooms. It delays bloom a bit but the results are worth it. It is too late now to do that with the perennials, but you can still pinch annuals. Make sure you clip each stem just above the point where a leaf emerges for plant health and a better appearance.

-- Other plants such as lilies, peonies, and delphiniums can’t be pinched back but need help to support their luscious blooms. Various sizes of cages are available. Some have grids that help support individual stems of bushy plants. Cages must be tall enough to support the mature plant size. Many times, peony cages are too short to really help. These can be helpful but must be put in place when plants are small. Stuffing tender stems through a grid later on can wreck the plant’s appearance. If you didn’t get it done this spring, place stakes around the plant and weave twine around the perimeter and gently through the plant, keeping it taut. Avoid injuring the plant as you work. This can be done several times as the plant grows taller. It can be as or more effective than cages but it certainly more work. There does need to be enough space between the plants for you to work.

--Tall plants such as dahlias, tomatoes and delphiniums need to be staked when planted so the roots won’t be damaged. Stakes should be appropriately sized to the mature plant’s size and may be metal, bamboo or wood. Painted green, wooden stakes will be almost invisible after the plant grows up. If you drill holes at intervals, you can thread a continuous loop of raffia through them, around the stem and back through the holes, working up as the plant grows. Knot the support to the stake on the side away from the plant, looping the support loosely around the stem to allow the plant freedom to grow and move. Alternatives to raffia are the foam-covered wire available in garden stores or green-dyed twine. Closely woven cord or wire should be avoided because it may cut the stem or cause it to break. With large plants such as dahlias more than one stake is advisable.

Plants that are well-supported produce more blooms or produce, suffer less fungal disease, don’t destroy the beauty of the plant next door and enhance the appearance of your garden. Weeding and mulching are easier and the space allows for air circulation so the plant will dry off more readily. Try these techniques this year if you can, but always take time to enjoy the beauty around you.

To find reliable information about gardening and other horticultural topics, go to the University of Minnesota Extension website www. extension.> Local master gardeners will answer your gardening questions via a voice-mail service. Call 444-7916, leaving your phone number, name and the nature of your question. A volunteer master gardener will return your call.