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You can get the best out of your vining plants by staking them up and allowing them to climb.
Not only does it look cool, but growing your plants vertically stimulates them to grow bigger leaves because they assume they’re getting more light (when they evolved, ceilings weren’t really taken into consideration).
To cheat your way to success by getting your plant to grow its own aerial root support system, the key is humidity, and tonnes of it.
Do climbing plants need to be staked up?
No. As long as you’re watering your plant properly and it has enough light, your plant won’t care either if it’s staked or not.
That being said, some plants instinctively climb, so if you’re precious about your paintwork, don’t leave your Monstera near a wall without something to climb up.
I mean, it’s not like you’ll come downstairs one morning and find the thing hanging from the big light, but after a while, it may start attaching its aerial roots to your walls.
They’re not strong enough to damage your house, but you’ll probably pull off the paint if you try to remove them.
If you want to cut off the aerial roots, you can do that – I have a whole article about cutting off Monstera’s aerial roots here.
Are there any benefits to letting climbing plants climb?
Climbing plants don’t climb because they don’t have anything better to do (although I guess they don’t). They climb trees in their natural habitat to get more light. They literally grow towards the sun.
A lot of us use plants as home decor – and as a species, we LOVE trailing plants. I mean, they look cool as hell.
But some plants, like ones that vine, trail well because they don’t have strong internal structures- they’re flexible to allow them to climb trees without snapping, and wrap around trees to give themselves a more secure foundation.
They don’t have the skills (ok, that’s NOT the right word, but I can’t think of a better one) to grow towards the light.
But we’re making them grow towards the ground- the opposite of what they’re designed to do.
This doesn’t really hurt the plants, but it doesn’t allow them to reach their full potential.
Take a golden pothos. They usually look like this, right?
But that’s not at all how they look in the wild. This is the juvenile form of the plant. It will only mature with age and more sunlight, which it gets by climbing up larger trees.
Large golden pothos looks more like a yellow variegated monstera than a golden pothos.
So whilst there’s no harm in letting your plant trail, it’s unlikely to grow to its full potential.
Growing down away from the light can also result in leggy growth and smaller leaves. This sounds awful, I know, but it’s pretty cool, aesthetically speaking.
Also, a really full trailing plant would be quite difficult to manoeuvre around, so maybe thinner stems are more practical.
What are the best ways to stake up plants?
It really depends on the size and age of the plant, and what you have to hand.
The best practice is to wait until your plant needs repotting, remove all the soil from the plant, position the stake and the plant in the pot and then fill in the potting mix around them.
You absolutely can just shove a moss pole into a plant pot (I’ve done this) but you run the risk of damaging the plant (I didn’t) and you’ll struggle to get the pole to stay upright (absolutely – all my moss poles look drunk).
It’s really annoying to have a wonky pole in your eyeline.
If your plant is growing horizontally, don’t yank it upright – you’ll end up snapping the leaves. Either stake it very loosely and gradually tighten it or put on the floor somewhere where the light source is above it. This will gently persuade the plant to grow towards the light.
A combination of both techniques works well. Please don’t snap your plants.
If it’s possible, try to tie the stem to the stake, not the petioles.
This isn’t always possible, but it’s the best way to reduce snappage.
Here’s a picture of my Florida Green with a cane support (that she doesn’t really need actually). I’ve highlighted the stem vs the petioles.
But this can sometimes be a problem – especially if you’ve bought a big-ass plant which is still basically a cutting.
Look at my massive Monstera:
If you look closely, 99% of what looks like stem is petiole. The stem is that bit right at the bottom. And it can take an AGE for Monstera deliciosa to grow a decent stem, so you may have no option other than to stake the petioles.
Don’t worry, my new year’s resolution is to improve my photography.
There’s no right way to stake your plants, and it’s very much a case of trial and error. As long as you take care not to snap your plants, you’ll be fine.
I snapped the most perfect leaf of my Monstera Deliciosa when I staked him up, and I could have cried. It was only a tiny leaf but it had six fenestrations, three on each side, perfectly symmetrical.
I stuck it back in the soil even though there was no node to be seen, you know, just in case, but alas, it yellowed and died. RIP.
I’d start with a plant with fairly flexible vines, just so you can get to grips with what you’re doing. Golden pothos and philodendrons like scandens, micans, or brasil are great for beginners.
Equipment you’ll need to stake up plants
You need two things – something to use as a stake, and something to tie the plant to the stake.
I like to buy moss poles for my plants. Amazon do sell them, but I find that they’re cheaper from garden centres here in the UK. There are also loads of DIY tutorials out there.
There three types:
- Coir poles
- Moss poles
- Kratiste poles (my favourite)
Coir poles are the traditional ones that are covered in brown stringy stuff, like this:
They’re cheap and do the job, but you’l struggle to get aerial roots to attach because they’re a massive PITA to get aerial roots to attach to.
They’re a great option if you’re happy to pin your stems to the pole though. I like to use greening pins (which you can see in the photo above), but you can use garden twine or tape.
If you want your aerial roots to attach, a fillable pole is a better option, but you need to keep it moist. I have a link to one on here.
Kratiste poles are made of plant matter and look like bark. You don’t need to keep them moist and the plant resembles bark enough that plants can attach to them by themselves.
None of my Syngoniums have ever grown aerial roots before, and this is what we had a couple of weeks after I put it on a Kratiste pole. I love them.
The roots don’t develop as much as they would if they were in moss, but since I’m terrible at keeping moss moist they weren’t developing anyway.
Another great bonus of Kratiste poles is that they’re super light and won’t unbalance small pots.
You could also use bamboo canes.
Canes are best for big, old plants that won’t move much. you can tie each stem to a separate cane to guide them in the right direction, and then stake them to a moss pole once they’ve started growing in the right direction.
Basically, any pole will do. All you’re doing is providing a fake tree for your plant. As long as it isn’t completely sheer (no chrome pipes, although you could wrap them with jute), it’ll do.
You can use string to tie your plant to the pole, but if the plant has heavy, unwieldy leaves, string can end up decapitating your plant, or at least seriously wounding it.
There are two products I like to use to tie my plants to stakes
1 – Little pipe cleaners plant ties – these are great for tying plants closely to moss poles.
They’re already cut to length so are super convenient, and you don’t need to know them – just twist the ends together and they’re really secure. I love that these are reusable – as long as you don’t lose them, they’ll last you a while.
They’re normally only 8 inches long so may not be any good if you’re using a plank of wood or something as a stake.
2 – Soft wire ties – slightly less convenient because you have to cut to length, but this is great for the training stage (or thicker stems and moss poles) because you can cut it to any length you like.
Like the pipe cleaner ties, soft wire ties are pretty hard wearing and reusable.
3 – Plant velcro
This stuff is great because it’s flat, so is less likely to damage your plants
Can you use a trellis to stake your plants?
Absolutely. You could create yourself a whole green wall by training a few plants up a big trellis.
The great thing about trellis’ is that if you’re only growing small plants up it, you don’t need to tie the plants on – you can weave them through the holes to get them started, and then they’ll start to cling themselves.
I’ll go through this more later, but aerial roots won’t attach to just anything.
Companies, ever eager to jump on the bandwagon, are even producing pretty trellises that look good indoors. Etsy has some really cool plant climbing frames, like this eye-shaped one, this heart-shaped one, and this geometric one which is a tad out of budget at £200, but I can’t stop thinking about it nonetheless.
There even a shop, call the Plant Support Shop which sells whimsical plant supports. There’s even a Space Needle one!
Seriously, since writing this post, I’ve been spending a good 90% of my life trawling Etsy for plant stuff.
Do you need to keep moss poles moist?
Not the way I do it.
Ok, here’s the thing – there’s a difference between tying your plant to a moss pole, and having your plant climb and attach itself.
A plant can’t grip a moss pole with its aerial roots unless the moss pole is wet. Once the moss pole dries out, the plant will lose its grip.
Attempting to keep a moss pole permanently moist is nigh on impossible.
At least, it is if you’re using those coir poles. You can’t dampen them efficiently without also dampening the entire surrounding area.
The aerial roots will attach, but not firmly. A properly attached aerial root is, er, very attached.
If you’ve ever had an aerial root attach itself to a wall, you’ll know that after a while, there’s no way to remove it without damaging either the root or the wall.
I am, at the moment, content to attach my plant to the moss pole with ties.
If you want your plant to attach itself, you need to give it something to climb. It can be something as simple as a plank of raw wood, but if you want plants to climb your wall that’ll do too.
I’ve never done this, so if you’re interested in it, Caitlin has a great video on growing plants up wood/walls here.
The reason plants don’t attach to moss poles, is that they’re looking for something solid that can support their weight.
A moss pole is basically a vertical tube of substrate, so it won’t cut the mustard when the plant is producing huge, mature leaves.
Can you let plants climb your furniture?
Not only can you let them, but it can be hard to stop them.
The purpose of aerial roots is to support the plant. The roots attach to whatever they can find so that the host plant can take the weight of the climbing plant.
It sounds like the climbing plant is a parasite, but it’s not, it’s just hitching a ride. Some climbing plants do accidentally choke their host, but it’s in their best interests to keep the host alive.
How can I get the aerial roots to attach to the moss pole?
If you look at the roots on, for example, a heartleaf philodendron, they usually look a bit like this:
See how they’re all dried up? It’s because the plant isn’t in high enough humidity for the aerial roots to work properly. It doesn’t have the resources to grow decent aerial roots so it stops sending energy to almost as soon as they form.
Increase the humidity and we get something like this:
You can get them to start forming useful aerial roots ar around 70% (consistent) humidity. See how it’s pretty white and chubby. If you gave this a plank of wood, or damp moss pole to climb up, it’d attach itself.
But look what happens in consistent 90%+ humidity:
Those little hairs allow your plant to grip onto whatever it’s attempting to climb.
Except, tragically, in this case, because try as it might, it ain’t gonna be able to stick to glass.
Annoyingly, I’m only able to achieve this level of aerial root furriness in my terrarium, which is only about 100 litres (it’s an old aquarium). I could do with a really tall one, but I do NOT have the room.
Issues that can arise from allowing your plants to climb
- The main issue is that your plants will grow bigger and faster and they climb. But you can trim them back
- Plants that have been staked up can be a pain to move. That being said, don’t go for the biggest moss pole you can find – it just makes them more difficult to move around. This is especially true if you’re planning to attach your plant to a big trellis
- You need to be flexible with your climbing plants – since they’ll be growing quicker, you may need to repot them more often. Don’t make your staking so intricate you can’t get off the moss pole
- Allowing your plant to climb may give it a new lease of life, so it may need watering more often, and watch out for signs of nutrient deficiency, such as chlorosis – you may need to fertilise more
It may seem that climbing plants are more hassle than they’re worth, but I think they’re easier to deal with than trailing plants:
- trailing plants are almost always a pain to water
- You can control how your climbing plant grows without resorting to cutting it back
- You don’t have worry about them getting tangled or snapping.
I hope you found this helpful, and good luck creating your very own indoor rainforest!