TheTies That Bind

Support Plants with Natural Cords

By Virginia Hayes

T here are commercial products galore to assist gardeners in every task that they may face. One such need is for a flexible, plant-friendly material to gently keep a plant growing in the direction you have chosen. Among the most common items on offer that can help corral these wayward stems are man-made plastic tape and plastic-coated wire.

Most of these come in garish shades of green that would never be found in nature. If you look far enough, you can find more natural-looking raffia, long fibers harvested from the Raphia palm (beware, much of what is sold now is actually plastic). There is nothing wrong with any of these choices, but there are alternatives. And they may be right there under your nose, just waiting to be harvested and put to use.

Many plants have long flexible fibers, either in their stems or leaves, that can be easily picked and processed right on the spot to provide homegrown plant ties. One source of these ties can be found among the species and cultivars in the genus Phormium (New Zealand flax). A single leaf of one of the larger varieties can provide several flexible straps for tying a climbing rose to its trellis or a tomato vine to its cage. Simply cut a leaf above the tightly folded lower portion and, starting at the central rib (which may be too stiff), tear the leaf into lengthwise strips. The strip need be only a quarter of an inch or so wide to be strong enough to hold your floppy poppy for at least a season. Other good choices are the sword-like leaves of Cordyline and Dracaena. These members of the agave family are less succulent than most Agave species and, if picked green, can also be stripped for their supple fibers in a similar fashion. Some members of cordyline, such as the brilliant red ‘Festival Grass,’ have very narrow leaves to start with and one cut leaf may proved nearly three feet of plant ties.

Besides the natural look of these garden-variety plant ties, they are organic and will eventually break down naturally. If the trussed plant has fulfilled its seasonal purpose and is tossed on the compost heap, the tie can go right along.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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