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Staking our plants to look beautiful & natural

At the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden and Thuya Garden, one of the methods we use for staking annuals and perennials is called “brushing” or using “pea brush.” This natural looking method of using twigs and branches of tree saplings is an old English gardening technique originally used to support pea plants in the garden. Any tree or shrub with dense branches can be used including willow, dogwood, maple, and birch. We like to use primarily Grey Birch, Betula populifolia.

Birch is one of the first trees to take over an old blueberry field here in Maine so that is where we go to harvest our pea brush after they have gone dormant in early winter. We harvest trees up to approximately six to seven feet tall. Ideally the pieces of brush will have a strong and sturdy stem with an angle cut on the base with the flexible twiggy (dense smaller branches that fan out at the top). We store the pea brush in bundles for the winter in a dry location. If they are kept too wet, they have been known to sprout leaves in the spring which is not ideal.

In early spring, we begin to process the pea brush by cutting the branches from the harvested trees down to the sizes we need for staking in the gardens. Depending on the size of the plant we may cut from one- to six-foot lengths of brush. At the Abby Garden, we normally use approximately 800 pieces of two-foot brush throughout the season. Yes, that is a lot of brush.

We install the pea brush by pushing it into the soil just outside the base of the plant, circling each plant in the clump. We try to do this early on in its growth allowing the plant to grow up and through the pea brush while maintaining its natural shape. This installation is also the best way to hide most of the brush as the plant grows.

This process provides a natural staking method without having to stake each stem, and for the most part blends into the garden beautifully. There will always be plants such as delphiniums and lilies that will require a bamboo type of stake but using the pea brush for most bushy annuals and perennials is always a great and natural option that we love to use.

Erin Dilworth, Lead Gardener - Abby Garden

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