Thursday, July 10, 2014

Product Review: Ultimate Plant Cage, Ultimate Plant Clips, Ultimate Plant Stakes

DISCLOSURE: I was provided with the following products for review:
Ultimate Plant Cage
Ultimate Plant Clips
Ultimate Plant Stakes
No other compensation was given. My understanding was that I was to provide a review of the stakes whether I liked them or not, but that I didn't necessarily have to acknowledge the clips and cage, which were sent along with the stakes. Though I'm acknowledging them anyway, because why the hell not.

The first thing to note is that the company that sells these products, Global Garden Friends, was unusually pleasant to communicate with, both when we were first discussing whether or not I would review their products, and later on when I had questions about the products while trying to draft the review. And that even remained the case when I delayed the review over and over for various reasons. This is probably not the sort of thing that's going to matter to you much as a consumer, but it was so novel to have a company treat me somewhat like a person that it seemed worth bringing up.

So here are my experiences with the three products I tried:

Ultimate Plant Cage

The cage didn't work particularly well for me, for reasons that I think are not the fault of the product. I only had one plant that I needed caged, a Monstera deliciosa, and it was already well-established, large, heavy, and contorted. (The reason I needed a cage was because it had gotten so large that it was no longer possible to do much of anything with it, including moving it to the tub to water, so sprawly and awkward it had become.) This is how it's supposed to work:

Which seems nice and straightforward, but I couldn't even get the base assembled around the bottom of the plant, because of the tangle of stems and aerial roots and so forth. The pot was not much larger than the ring in the first place, so I was trying to gather up the stems in the middle and build the ring around them, but when I finished building the ring and released the plant to move on to the next stage of the assembly process, the weight of the stems pulled the ring apart. This happened over and over until I gave up.

So I don't feel like I can fairly evaluate the cage. This isn't the cage's fault; it's the plant's fault, for being so heavy, and having already grown without a support for so long. I will likely have to restart the Monstera in question from cuttings soon, so if/when this happens, I'll start it in the cage and see how much better that works. So there may be a follow-up review at some point in the next year.

Ultimate Plant Clips

I had some troubles with these too, some of them the fault of the product and some not. There is an upper limit to how large of a stem they'll hold. If you attempt something bigger in diameter than that,1 the clips won't close around the stem. Or they'll close but then pop back open after a couple seconds. Aside from the size limitations, they work fine, and as the website notes, they can be attached one-handed, while you use your other hand to hold things in the right position or whatever.

I still wouldn't buy these myself, mostly because of the cost. You can get 20 clips for $5, which doesn't sound bad, but I can get a whole skein of acrylic yarn for $3, which is enough to tie stems to objects all day long and still have enough yarn left over to knit six pairs of baby booties. There's nothing wrong with the clips, and if you like the look of them better than yarn then hey, go for it, but the product is solving problems that I don't actually have.

Ultimate Plant Stakes

On the other hand: stakes. I have problems with plants leaning. Sometimes that's because plants aren't growing that well, leading to weak stems, phototropism, and the like. Sometimes it's because they're growing too well, and a small, weak base is trying to support a large, heavy top. Some plants just want to lean over after they grow for a while, even if everything's perfect. So stakes are a thing that I sometimes need and use, and I've tried a lot of different things.

With that said, the bar is set pretty low on what an object needs to do in order to function as a plant stake. Mostly it just needs to be capable of verticality and strong enough not to bend under the weight of the plant. So how impressive is it, really, if a product can stand upright without bending? Not very. And yet, some things I've tried in the past haven't been up to the challenge.

Wood core with coconut fiber (?) wrapped around it, for plants that climb: basically worthless. Maybe worse than worthless.2
Wooden dowels: good, even if they do eventually rot.
Acrylic rods collected from the garbage of a former employer: never quite big and sturdy enough to support anything that actually needed support.3 A thicker-diameter rod would probably have worked fine, but I'd guess it would be unnecessarily expensive. Plus acrylic scratches really easily, so it wouldn't look transparent and shiny for very long.
Bamboo: depends on the diameter. Thick ones work well, thin ones don't.4 The thin greenish-blue dyed ones are awful and I have no idea how the companies producing and selling them stay in business.
Thin metal rod of unknown origin which is also somehow green: better than nothing, but too short for most of the plants that need support.

Wood dowels and (thick) bamboo are perfectly fine, and sometimes even blend in with the real stem, for woody plants like Coffea or Murraya. Wood and bamboo eventually rot, though usually by the time that happens, either the plant has become self-supporting and it doesn't matter that the stake has rotted, or it's time to move the plant to a bigger pot anyway, so you may as well change the stake too. That said, wooden dowels are pretty expensive to be using as stakes, and either you have to choose one that's really tall and let the plant catch up, or choose one that's the same height as the plant and let the plant overrun it. This is not, like, Hitler bad, or even root mealybug bad, but I've usually chosen the first option and then silently resented the bare top of the stake until the plant caught up or the stake needed replacing. So my favorite part about the Ultimate Plant Stakes is how easily their height can be adjusted.

The Ultimate Plant Stakes improve on other things I've tried in other ways: you should only have to buy them once, unlike wood or bamboo, they don't break or bend, and the price is in the same ballpark as comparable products like bamboo stakes and wood dowels, so I feel comfortable endorsing the product. They definitely work well for my Dracaena 'Limelight,'

The angle hides the lowest 3/4 of each stake somewhat, but they're there.

and although they don't get the Asplundia 'Jungle Drum' completely vertical, they're more effective than anything else I've tried.5

A single stake, as packaged, is only useful for plants with stems from about 12 to 48 inches (30-122 cm) tall. Shorter than 12 inches and the stakes are overkill; taller than 48 inches and the top of the plant remains free to flop about. The stakes come in packages of six, though, and it's possible to use more than one stake at a time to get something taller than that. Each stake consists of an outer tube, an inner stake, and a white plastic cap. If you remove the cap and stagger the outer tubes and inner stakes, you can go higher than that. I don't know how much higher you can usefully go, but I managed to stake the length of my 60-inch (152 cm) tall Ficus lyrata by using three stakes together, so the useful range is at least 60 inches.6

The stake is mostly not visible here either, but you can see the bottom fifth of it to the right of the stems.

So to summarize:

Ultimate Plant Cage: testing incomplete, due to lack of fair test cases.
Ultimate Plant Clips: I don't object to them, but I don't really see the point.
Ultimate Plant Stakes: endorsed, and even kind of enthusiastic about, for plants within the useful height range.


1 The company's site says the clips will hold stems up to 1/2 inch in diameter, but I found the effective maximum stem diameter was a little bigger than that, about 3/4 inch (1.9 cm), when used along with the Ultimate Plant Stakes. This is large enough for most vining plants (though, again, if your problem is a Monstera then you're out of luck), but may or may not be adequate for upright woody plants like Dracaena, Yucca, older Ficuses, Asplundia, Dieffenbachia, etc. So measure the diameter of the stems first.
I tried, just for shiggles, to see whether it was possible to link multiple clips together to make a multi-clip with a larger diameter, but that didn't work.
It's probably worth pointing out that this is a good thing in some respects -- you don't have to worry about the clip strangling a stem as it grows, because the clip will pop open once the stem gets big enough to pop it. I don't know how often that problem actually arises, but I'm willing to accept this as a good quality for plant clips to have because the website says it is.
2 I've used those before with Monstera deliciosa, and I think maybe also Syngonium podophyllum. Coir doesn't actually hold water for shit when it's in a thin layer around a wood core, so the roots don't anchor themselves in it, and the stakes I've used had short, wide bases and were easily pulled over when I tied the plant to them. So I'm not a fan. I've seen similar stakes that had sort of a plastic mesh over a layer of sphagnum, with a solid (wood? plastic?) core at the center of that: it seems like those might be more effective for clinging aerial roots to use as support, but I've never actually tried one. And they seemed to have the same problem with bases. Nothing is going to hold up a heavy vining plant unless you can anchor it solidly in the soil.
3 They make very good dibblers, though. And I do a lot of dibbling, so it was worth keeping them.
4 It should probably also be noted that I have never experienced, or heard of anyone experiencing, bamboo stakes on a plant kept indoors leading to "hives" of insects of any kind, nor any insects at all, as the ad copy on the Ultimate Plant Stakes suggests.
5 The Asplundia is sort of an impossible case all around -- the part of the stem at the soil line is fairly narrow and weak, so the plant is both top-heavy and unstable. It's also difficult to get stakes very close to the stem, because the leaves are so broad and numerous that it's impossible to place a stake anywhere without it poking through a leaf. It still has a slight lean, and required two of the Ultimate Plant Stakes to get that far, but this is the most verticality it's managed in years.

6 Though it should probably be noted that stakes which are extended in this way don't stand up well in 16 mph (kph) winds with gusts of 25 mph (kph), as I discovered while trying to get a photo of the Ficus lyrata for this post. This is probably not relevant to you, since you probably don't have 16 mph winds in your home (or if you do, you probably have bigger worries than keeping your houseplants upright), but it may be relevant if you're trying to stake something outdoors.


Liza said...

Haha, I agree that if you have 16 mph winds in your house, you've got big problems!

Paul said...

I hear what you're saying about the cheapness of yarn or twine. I do like clips though. I find them much easier to adjust or move. There is also something to be said as to the easy of use (in addition to the lack of strangulation danger you mentioned).

The adjustable poles is a very useful attribute.

Too bad the rings themselves aren't adjustable.