Supporting plants so they don't flop over

Support structures to keep your plants from flopping over

Have you ever admired the beautiful blooms on a peony but lamented that they were at ground level, possibly splattered with mud, because the flowers were so heavy? It doesn’t have to be that way and the time to act is now. If you wait until they start to topple over it’s very difficult to support them in a way that doesn’t look obvious. However, if you put a support structure in place when your plants are still small they will grow into it elegantly.


The goal of a support is to make the plant look good, and usually, that means showing off the blooms to their best advantage. You want to see the flowers, not the supporting structure.


In this post I’m going to share my tips for supporting two favourite garden flowers—dahlias and peonies–but the same approaches can be used for lots of other top heavy flowers. In my next post I’ll show you my method for supporting tall-growing heirloom tomatoes.


Supporting dahlias

I know from experience that dahlias are exuberant growers and will quickly flop over if not supported in some way. That’s why, when I plant dahlias in my garden beds, after starting them from tubers inside, I put a tomato cage over them right away. I find tomato cages to be useless for supporting my tomatoes, but they make excellent dahlia supports!

You can see the cage for the first few weeks but then the dahlia grows up and covers it. I do check in on each plant about once a week to tuck in any large stems that may be trying to grow outside the cage.

Newly planted dahlia with a tomato cage in place as support



I’ve highlighted the tomato cage in blue, as it may have been a little difficult to see in the previous picture


Depending on the type of dahlia, later in the summer I may need to place some short stakes in the ground to prop up a few enthusiastic stems, but the tomato cage forms the main support structure.


Supporting herbaceous peonies

If you have a small peony plant those “peony rings” sold in garden centres may work for you. You do need to make sure you put them on the plant early in the growing season, when it’s still quite small, and then, like I do with the dahlias and tomato cages, you will want to tuck in any wayward stems as the plant grows up and through the ring.


I find peony rings too small for my peonies so I like to place 3 or 4 long, sturdy stakes deep in the ground around my plants. Ideally, this should be done when the plants are small, ideally when the buds first start to show (I was a little late this year, as you’ll see in the photos coming up.) I then run some jute twine around the stakes, about 18” (45 cm) from the ground. Green jute is a better colour choice than the natural/brown jute, but even the brown will disappear beneath the peony’s foliage as it grows.



Three vertical stakes and a horizontal string will help support this peony.


When I tie up my peonies in this way my goal is to leave the plant looking natural, so I’m careful not to pull the string too tight. I think it looks awful if they’re pulled together like they’re wearing way too small of a belt.


Another way to maintain the natural shape of the plant is to allow a few of the shorter stems on the outside edges of the plant to stay outside of the tied off area. Even if the inner ones are cinched a bit tight, they will help to fill out the shape.


This method of tying up peonies is the same one I use to support some of my tall ornamental grasses later in the summer.

By taking a little care to provide support now, you’ll ensure your plants and blooms will look fabulous all season. It’s well worth it!


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