Saturday, 27 November 2021

Plant Supports: when and why to remove them

Winter - ah, a time to rest and reflect.

Not for us Professional Gardeners, it isn't!

We're rushing around like mad things, clearing up the debris of autumn, removing rotting foliage, mending fences, implementing some of the changes and improvements that we thought of earlier in the year, fixing problems that were spotted weeks or months ago, pulling dead wood out of the shrubs, clearing out the veg patches, and generally getting around to all those jobs that we didn't have time to do in summer.

We also have a long list of annual late-autumn/winter jobs to get through: greenhouse emptying and cleaning, winter pruning for the Roses, and the Wisteria, taking down runner bean wigwams in the veg beds, tidying things up generally, and so on.

One of these jobs is to remove the plant supports which have done their duty throughout the summer, holding our perennials in place so that we can appreciate the flowers.

But now their duty is done, and it's time to clear out the dead perennial upper growth, and tidy up the garden generally. This usually means removing the plant supports.

Or does it?

Let's take a look at why we do this - firstly, why do we remove the supports, over the winter?

1) they are not needed.

2) they are not pretty to look at, especially if they are home-made cobbled-together structures of canes and string, or if they are ancient, rusty, bent, horrible old things.

3) they poke you in the face when you are trying to weed around them.

4) they get in the way when you are trying to rake up autumn leaves etc. 

5) it gives us a chance, or a reason, to look at them and check that they are still firm, and solid, and not ancient, rusty, bent, horrible things, as in point 2).

But are there any reasons for leaving them in place? Well - yes, and here are a few that I can think of, off the top of my head (you can probably think of more, if you tried...).

A) It was such hard work getting them firmly in place, that we don't want to have to struggle with it again next year.

B) Every time you push plant supports in, there is a risk of damaging the roots of the plant you are trying to support: this is not important with fibrous things like Asters, but can be important in tuberous plants, such as Peony, or Dahlia (if you leave them in the ground).

C) If we take them out, we have to store them somewhere over the winter, and we don't have much room: plus, they might get lost, or damaged.

D) It's a faff, and we can't be bothered.  (NB This is NOT a "good" reason...)

E) (Hint: this is the "best" reason:) It marks where the plants are, so that we don't accidentally dig them up when - for example - tackling bindweed or some other pernicious weed, or if we decided to change something in the area. It also helps us to avoid treading on their new shoots next spring, when we are deadheading the bulbs and stomping around on the beds.

So what is the solution to this dilemma?

Answer: buy beautiful supports!

I particularly like these ones:

They are sold as Peony supports, for which they are perfect, as the splayed-back top layer gently supports the heavy flowers.

But of course they work pretty well for anything else which grows upwards, then flops over.

And in winter, they are easily beautiful enough to leave in place.

It's quite hard to find these particular ones: they are made by "Tom Chambers" and this one is called the Cottage Garden Herbaceous Basket.

There are a lot of imitations around - as you would expect! - but the ones I dislike are where, instead of the basket top, you have a row of knobs.

Here's some I found in my local garden centre:

As you can see, they appear to be very similar to the desirable one, above: but beware, those knobs stick out a long way around the base (if you see what I mean) and they will poke you, when you get too close.

This makes weeding and deadheading a bit tricky!

But they are still elegant enough to leave in the garden over the winter, which neatly cuts out objection number 2), above.

So there you have it, reasons to remove, reasons to retain: now it's over to you, to make the decision!

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