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Giving the garden the support it needs

Tips by Sarah the Gardener

At this time of year, spring is tantalisingly close, yet still so far away. The keen gardener is itching to get started in the garden. The focus of late winter should be garden preparation. Plans should be made and provided the soil isn’t frozen or sodden, the important process of preparing the soil for the season ahead should begin.

In the absence of the demands of the growing season, now is also the perfect time to look at the support the garden will need over the coming months. Once you have planned your garden and looked into the grow habits of the plants you want to grow, you will have a good idea of what support structures you will need in your garden and where they should be.

Structures can have a variety of purposes from supporting a fragile plant to stop it falling over to preventing a short plant from dragging its produce on the ground. The garden may need protection from strong winds and taller plants will need individual support as the wind and the weight of a heavy-laden crop can cause damage. Protective structures can stop the birds from stealing the harvest or prevent butterflies and other pests with nefarious intentions accessing your plants. If space is limited structures can make better use of the space, assisting plants to grow vertically up trellises and over arches. 

With so many possible uses for structures and even more choices of structure available you need to make sure what you choose to use actually does the job in your garden.

The kind of questions you should be asking yourself are:
  - What do I need this structure to do?
  - How big will the plant I need to support get?
  - What is the natural grow habit of the plant? – Does it have tendrils and likes to climb or am I training it to do something to make things easier for me?

Bamboo poles

These are a great natural resource and readily available to gardeners. They can be bound together to make wonderful structures to keep the garden in order. It is important to use string that will last the season and not rot away in the elements and tie with strong knots. Cable ties are a strong, durable solution if your best knot tying is a dubious granny knot.

These can be used for:
Bean poles – Climbing beans like to twist themselves around a pole in a clockwise direction as they follow the sun and a bamboo pole makes an ideal support. Several poles lashed together can allow for the row to support itself from the dangers of falling over in high winds or when heavily laden with beans ready to pick.

Even dwarf beans have a tendency to loll over under the weight of their harvest and so providing a short bamboo pole to lean against or be tied to can keep your beans from dragging on the ground.
Tepees are an effective and atheistically pleasing way to grow climbing beans and peas in the garden.

Framing for netting – bamboo poles are handy to hold up netting in the garden as they can be easily woven through the net allowing it to be stretched out and secured into the soil.

Bamboo poles can last for a couple of seasons but you do need to watch them for wear and tear. Check thoroughly for cracking and weakness before using or you will end up with your crop lying about the base of a splintered pole that gave way under the weight. This can be very upsetting.

Netting and trellis

This is good for plants that have tendrils and love to climb up, plants like peas, cucumbers, melons and even pumpkins, so they can work their way up, across and over the structure. There are a few things to consider when providing a netting structure.

Firstly, you need to consider the size and weight of the mature plants. If your support structures holding the net in place aren’t strong enough, then the risk is the netting will sag dreadfully under the weight or even be blown over with the slightest wind.

If the trellis isn’t tall enough, then the plants can also be damaged by the wind at the tops as there is nothing to support it from being buffered about.

The size of the holes in the netting can also be important, especially if you have it up against a fence or wall. If it is too small you may not be able to reach to the other side to harvest your crops.

Tomatoes

Left to their own devices the tomato plant would sprawl across the ground, making roots where the stems meet the ground. However, this growth habit is not convenient and having the leaves and fruit so close to the soil, the risk of disease from splashback is very high. For a productive outcome, it is best to hold the tomato plant upright against its will. Fortunately for the gardener, the options for restraining wayward tomatoes are endless.

Tomatoes can be tied to a strong bamboo pole, however under the weight of a fully laden plant the risk of snapping at the base is quite high. It would be prudent to use more than one pole and make sure they are the tallest you can find. Some tomatoes can grow over 1.8m tall.

They can have a cage popped over the top so they can have support as they grow, but it should be tall enough and the sides of the cage should have wide enough gaps to reach in to harvest the tomatoes. With this method, you need to be aware of ensuring good airflow around the plant. This may mean regular removal of older leaves.

Wire supports – if you have more than one tomato you may want to consider setting up a series of horizontal wires held in place with sturdy posts, and as the plant grows it is tied onto the wires.
String may seem like a lightweight option however it is very effective in a greenhouse. If you secure the string to the base of the plant and to an overhanging structure, then as the plant grows the stem is wound around the string and the plant is held upright.

Decorative elements

Veggie gardens are often seen as utilitarian and even ugly however, support structures can be used to enhance the garden. With the use of colour or items like obelisks, archways and wooden trellis the garden can be a lovely place to look out over, even with no plants in the garden at all.

The options for supporting your plants are only really limited by your creativity and is a fabulous opportunity for some recycling and upcycling. Now is a great time to put in some effort and create these structures before your plants need them. Retrospective support structures are never as successful as ones in place before planting.

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