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I’ve been struggling with staking the houseplants I put outside for the summer for 40 years.
I put most of my (hundreds of) houseplants outside for the summer so they can soak up a bit of extra sun compared to what they get indoors and most do just fine there. When I can get them to stand up, that is. But it’s always been a struggle keeping the tall ones from getting knocked over by the wind and spilling soil everywhere, breaking branches or leaves and damaging the smaller plants they fall on.
Even when I first started doing this as a student on the balcony of my shared apartment, those bigger plants – the indoor trees – would end up crashing down. There I learned to fix them with garden twine to the balcony railing, solving the problem. If I did it correctly, up they stayed.
When I moved into a ground-floor apartment, then later a house, things didn’t go as well. The first strong wind – often coming the very day I moved them out – and down they would come. Some plants have fallen so often that there is a sort of history of flopping you can trace in their various broken and shortened branches.
I tried just about everything I could think of. Planting them in heavier pots or pots with added (heavy) gravel, placing the pot inside a larger pot and filling it with gravel, nailing the pots to the ground with huge spikes (you’d be amazed at how little those giant spikes helped in any way!), etc. Nothing was successful enough to be worth mentioning.
I tried to mail order plant container stabilizers, such as seen in certain nurseries, but they always seemed to be out of stock of the sizes I wanted. Besides, they were awfully expensive.
Note that I’m not talking about hurricanes or tornados here. I’m sure no houseplant would resist their force. (Fortunately, neither are very likely where I live.) All I want to do is to get tall houseplants to stand up to normal windy days and that should be within the realm of what is possible.
I tried the pot-in-pot method once: digging a hole in the garden, setting a pot to be left there permanently, then dropping a houseplant into the “double pot”. I did in for only one plant, since it was such a lot of work.
Well, great idea, but in my garden, it turned out to be a total waste of time. I’m sure it would work fine with short and medium-height plants, but it failed for me with my tall test plant. The soil around the double pot, freshly disturbed, was simply no match for the weight of a plant pushed by the wind and determined to fall flat on its face. On the very first windy day, the plant was down on ground and the double pot had fallen with it, having pulled itself out of the ground, launching soil everywhere.
The pot-in-pot method would probably work better if you put the double pot in a year ahead and let the soil settle around it before daring to insert a tall, top-heavy plant into it, but after this first failure, plus the fact that digging holes in my tree-root laden soil is already insanely difficult, I didn’t have the courage to try again.
I do have one partial solution that works fine.
When I built my deck, I included deep wooden flower boxes I could simply drop my houseplants into, pot and all. The boxes are not just set onto the deck, where they too could be knocked over, but are built right into it, solid as a rock. This works fine for small to even fairly tall plants (I put bricks underneath the smaller ones to raise their pots somewhat), but the biggest ones – my indoor trees, some of which are taller than I am – are now in pots far too wide to fit into the flower boxes.
So, this year I tried something new – and something so obvious I should have thought of it years ago! I set the plants in the garden and hammered plastic-covered metal plant stakes into the ground on either side. Then I used garden twine to tie them to the stakes. Quite tightly, but without strangling the stem or trunk. The stakes are flexible, so bend a bit and both the stakes and the plants move in the wind to a certain degree, which is fine by me. So far, the pots haven’t moved and all the plants are still upright, even after a night of 90 km/h (56 mph) gusts. And there is no damage to the stems (I could always adjust the tightness of the twine if necessary).
Well, are all fine but one. I have an enormous and very heavy croton (Codiaeum variegatum) with a trunk about 2½ inches (6,35 cm) thick that started to slip sideways after the very first storm. So, I put in a 3rd stake behind it and now it’s doing fine.
OK, so my staking process won’t win a prize for elegance, but at least it works.
What techniques have you developed for staking your houseplants while they’re outside? You can send me photos and an explanation at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to incorporate the more ingenious ones into a future blog.