Tripod and Pea Staking

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Staking is one of those topics that I was sadly unable to cover in the Grow Great Grub book due to space considerations. I covered it pretty thoroughly in You Grow Girl and I have to say that years later, and having experimented with other methods, my go-to cheap and cheerful method both in the ground and in containers is still the tripod. I find it exceptionally stable, especially on my roof where the spring and later fall winds can turn epic. It is also the cheapest and most accessible — most of us can find a source of long bamboo poles close to home for less than a dollar per pole. I have even found the occasional multi-pack at the dollar store for even less.

    The tripod method is simply 3 or 4, or sometimes more, bamboo poles (branches work well too) set into the ground at an equal distance around a plant or within a container and then pulled together at the top and held in place with a strong piece of string or wire.

I have fashioned riffs on the tripod for tall plants and climbers including tomatoes, sweet pea, morning glory, pole beans, peas, and cucumbers. I add string or other supports depending on the type of plant I am growing. In 2007 I grew 16 tomato plants and several cucumbers by building 4 sets of 4 tripod stakes supported by 4 poles around the top as cross beams. The added support proved to be unnecessary and drove us nuts all season long as we continuously (and painfully) ran into those stupid cross poles with our necks and heads. A single indeterminate (vining) tomato plant was supported by each pole and I strung mesh along one side that supported the cucumbers and gherkins. You can read more about that over here.

p.s. That’s the ‘Variegated’ tomato in the foreground/left. You can just make out the white splashes in this small photo.

I have even made smaller versions using shorter poles to prop up heavily laden bush beans.

But I didn’t intend to talk about tripod staking today so I’m not sure why I am preambling with that. Today’s topic is pea staking. Of all of the easy, or what I coined “artfully lazy” methods in You Grow Girl, I like pea staking best, most especially when it comes to propping up it’s namesake: peas.

    Pea staking is as simple as locating a bunch of twiggy branches (messy end growth with plenty of small twigs and branches) and then setting them into the soil with the solid end down. Next, plant your seeds in and around where you have set them into the soil and wait for the climbing plants to hitch on and eventually cover the branches in greenery.

This method works both in the ground and in pots. While bare, it appears orderly and decorative in pots, but can just look like a bunch of branches stuck in the ground if used in a large, empty garden bed.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Last year, while walking home from the greenhouse, I came upon a large bundle of bright red, freshly cut dogwood branches. I had about a minute to brainstorm projects I could make with them and whether or not it seemed worth the effort to drag that bundle all the way home. In the end I decided that the dogwood was beautiful and chances were good that I might never come across sidewalk gold like that again. I walked a treacherous gauntlet back to my abode, and despite nearly poking the eyes out of hundreds of hipsters and small children, I was right, they were worth it. I haven’t seen a bundle of any branches, let alone dogwood branches that nice since.

I used all of the branches up; some in big pots as below and smaller branches in smaller pots. They made the pots look like something was happening while they were empty, and the red provided a beautiful contrast with pale green pea plants as they entwined themselves in the branches.

Here’s how it looked when the peas were fully mature. I believe this pea variety is ‘Carouby de Maussane.’

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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17 thoughts on “Tripod and Pea Staking

  1. Everything always looks so beautiful in your rooftop garden. I have a red dogwood in our yard and I think I might try something like this with some of the branches.

  2. Great topic. The red branches with green foliage is stunning, not to mention the beautiful purple pea blossoms. Everything about that composition is heaven.

  3. Thanks Amy!

    It was such a wet and cold year — the pea bin pictured lasted far longer than usual.

    I swear dogwood is worth growing even if just for the pretty prunings. I wish I could find some this year. That was a big score.

    I did get a lot of willow though and will next post about the pretty things I am currently constructing with that.

    Thanks Blake! I should add that I used a cross between pea staking and tripod staking with the large bin because the branches were so long. I tied them at the very top to keep them from flopping about and let the shorter branches run wild to give that full look.

  4. Gayla, how tall/long were the bamboo poles you used for the tomatoes? I’m still figuring out the best way to fit all of my tomato seedlings (all indeterminate) into my garden this year. Is there any issue with the plants meeting at the top and overlapping/mingling?

  5. Ashley: I think they were 6ft poles.

    You wouldn’t want to save seeds if you’re expecting them to be true to variety but other than that you won’t have problems. As long as you space the stakes well, each plant should get enough root space. There were no issues with them mingling at the top. Most plants stay within their area anyways and you can prune the tops of those that get out of control if you are concerned about air circulation.

  6. How thick is too thick for the bottom branches? My peas always have trouble getting started climbing. I have a bunch of prunings that would be perfect, but I think the base might be too thick (range from about half and inch to an inch). Although I do need to prune back the neighbour’s willow which is invading my fence, I can probably steal some of that for the bottom. Fantastic idea!

  7. Kate: An inch is pretty thick, but possible. Better for tripod staking than pea staking because in pea staking the branches are free standing and not supported by other stakes. Thicker doesn’t always hold up well… depending on the soil.

    If the branches are long you can always try a combo of pea staking and tripod staking for added support I.e. Tie the longest branches of the pea stakes together at the top…

  8. lovely contrast w/ tendrils & the red branches,

    smiled at your decision making dilemma to take or not to take, much of our yard decor is alley scavenged, silly iron pink flamingos, torches, trellis, bamboo screening, & the proverbial more

  9. Im curious as to whether your dogwood put out roots? Double bonus if you got a couple of new plants out of it!

    And a request? I just aquired a community plot. Would love to hear more about yours. Plans, set up, size, etc.

    Do you take requests? *Grins*

    Awesome about the pea staking idea. I’m definitely going to try this out!


  10. MK: Nope. No roots. I suspect the branches had been cut for at least a few days. I didn’t want them to root in containers since they’d compete with the plants I was growing.

    There are some posts on here detailing some of my activities in the community garden. I do something different every year, although only the plants will be different this year as I have several perennials in there now that dictate the design.

  11. Lovely! I’ve saved my trimmings from my redtwig dogwood for years, but I usually use them for Christmas decorations. Beautiful in a vase with evergreen boughs and pine cones.

    But I am definitely going to cut some for my peas this year. I bought your book and I’m putting some peas in pots this weekend. It’s been too cold and wet up to now.

  12. I am lucky enough to live in the country. If you have access to a vehicle, take a country drive and you will find lots of wide open empty plots filled with beautiful dogwood!! Let me know if you need directions. I just heard about you on the radio this morning – awesome!!!

  13. Great post Gayla! I came looking for pea staking info and got some added tomato staking value. Hadn’t even thought to try and use the bamboo tripod to support more than one tomato plant. Love the new book too!

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