Introduction

branching out
Photo: Karen Bussolini
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Gardeners need all the support they can get. There never seems to be enough time, after all, between spring's first green shoots and summer's skyward-climbing stems bent under the weight of heavy-headed peonies, ripe tomatoes, and plump pea pods. As any green thumb knows, many tall ornamentals and climbing edibles need something to lean on to keep them ­upright so that they're not rotting in moist soil.

Ever since colonial-era homesteaders wove wattle garden structures from unbranched shoots of willow or hazel and set their peas to clamber over rows of tiny-twigged birch limbs, countless generations have used sticks to prop up their plants. Today, homeowners who want to combine beauty and ­utility can do the same. "Metal stakes and hoops may be practical," says Connecticut gardener Thyrza Whittemore, "but ­aesthetics are important, even in the vegetable garden." So she reaches for branches pruned in early spring—close at hand, easy to fashion to the right size, biodegradable, and free—to bring order to her beds. Read on to learn how she does it.
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    Tools List

    • gloves
      Gardening gloves
    • hand trowel
      Trowel
    • bypass pruners
      Anvil pruner

    Shopping List

    1. Branches, which can be gathered, or can be purchased at garden centers for about $20 for a bundle of 20 to 25

    2. Twine

    3. Potting soil 4. Seedlings

    5. Plastic-coated metal garden stakes

    6. Brown spray paint