Stabilizing Plant Materials



Stabilizing the flowers in the container is referred to as “fixing” or “holding” them in place. It requires finding and devising the most appropriate means for the particular flowers and container being used.

Using natural branches for stabilization is most desirable, but artificial devices may be required when this does not suffice. Refer to the techniques show as guidelines to develop your own devices.




Horizontal and Cross-Shaped Stays

Horizontal and cross-shaped stays are the most basic forms of stabilizing devices; they are ideal for containers with cylindrical openings. A single twig (or bamboo skewer) inserted horizontally across the mouth of the container or two pieces in a perpendicular cross are called ichimonji-dome and jūmonji-dome respectively. Use twigs for holding branches and hard stems for herbaceous plants. Do not force the stay into the container; bamboo containers in particular are liable to crack.

Cut a stick slightly longer than the diameter of the container and shave the ends to a point. Insert a single stay horizontally across the mouth of the container slightly below the rim, or two such sticks perpendicularly for cross-shaped stays. Arrangements generally hold together better if no more than two of the four divisions are used.

Forked Stay

Forked stays are created using a naturally forked branch or two branch segments. Make the opening of the V tighter for slender-stemmed flowers and wider for thick ones. Wetting the stay before insertion will cause it to swell and remain firmly in place.

Inserting the forked stay with the closed end at the front slightly higher than the open end stabilizes the flowers better.

Folded Stay

Folding the end of a branch back to form a stay is a simple means of stabilization. It is commonly used for woody plants. It is not suitable for shrubs composed entirely of vertical fibers, such as Thunberg spirea and Reeves spirea, as bending hampers their water absorption. If the folded segment is deep, the branch will stand upright; if the segment is shallow, the branch will lie at an angle. The folded stay is frequently used together with a horizontal or cross stay.

Cut the branch that will rest against the inner wall of the container at an oblique angle. This applies to all stabilization methods in which branches lean against the rim of the container.

Frog’s Legs Stay

The silhouette of this split and folded stay resembles open frog’s legs, hence the name.

Split a portion of the branch end in two using scissors and bend the opposing sides open wide enough to fit the inner walls of the container firmly. Bend the legs back carefully to prevent them from snapping off. The frog’s legs stay could be called a variation on the folded stay.

Kōgai Stay

In form, this stay resembles a traditional hairpin called a kōgai, from which it derives its name.

Slit the end of the branch, and clip it onto a horizontal stay spanning the container. Shaving the surfaces of the stay slightly will stabilize and hold the branch better.

Place the stay high in the container when you want the branch to lie at an acute angle. Fix it deep in the container when you want it to stand upright.

Inverted Branches

Using the natural ramifications of a branch as stays calls for inverting a small branch with numerous ramifications in the container so that the natural tendency to open holds it in place and flowers can be propped against the forks.

Ramifications work as a stabilizing device when inserted upright in containers. This is a widely applicable and handy method. Using a branch similar to the materials in the arrangement will make the device inconspicuous.

Pierced Stays

Grasslike flowers can be stabilized by piercing the stem with a bamboo skewer, which forms the stay. A skewer can also be stuck into the end of a stem and then folded back for support. As a dry bamboo stick will hinder the flower’s water absorption, soak the skewer well in water before inserting.

Variations based on the direction at which the skewer is inserted are as follows:

The skewer pierces the stem horizontally and forms the stay. A toothpick will serve as a stay with a very slender container.

The skewer pierces the stem vertically and forms the stay. The ends of both the skewer and the stem rest against the wall of the container.

Inserting a bamboo skewer in the end of the stem and bending it like a folded stay is useful for grasslike flowers in which bending hampers water absorption.

Add-on Stays

Attaching a firm branch to grasslike flowers is another means of stabilization. To use a short-stemmed flower in a tall container, add a branch close in height to the container. Slit the upper end of the branch and insert the flower.

Crush and bend the stem of the flower before inserting and it will sit in the container better, making it easier to stabilize.

Branches as Springs

A branch with resilience can be coiled up and placed in the bottom of the container; the natural tendency to uncoil will hold it in place. Flowers can then be inserted and supported in the spaces between the branch and the container. Using this kind of branch like a spring is especially handy for arranging a large volume of flowers in a wide-mouthed container.



Kenzan / Shippō / Jakago

Ingeniously devised implements like the kenzan, the shippō, and the jakago are used to secure flowers in low, shallow basins.

The spiked kenzan is handy for standing flowers upright. It should always be inconspicuous; if necessary it can be disguised with a leaf at the base or covered with pebbles. Flowers are inserted into the holes in the shippō and the jakago for stabilization. Copper or iron devices can leave indelible marks on containers. Take the precaution of placing a thin piece of cloth between it and the container.

A clear plastic kenzan with a suction cup base is handy for glass containers.shippos on light background 8x10


Stabilizing flowers with rocks is the oldest of all methods. Flowers are inserted between two rocks, into a split segment of branch which is weighted with rocks, or into natural holes in the rocks.

Unlike the kenzan, which must be hidden, rocks when visible can form one of the essential elements of the floral landscape. The selection of size and type of rocks should take into consideration their compatibility with the flowers used.

Shaving the bottom surface of the branch, as with the kōgai stay, will increase stability.

Glass Cubes

Glass containers, being transparent, are difficult to fit with stabilizing devices. Glass cubes function much like rocks, both as eights and by inserting flowers in the spaces.

Marbles and seashells can sometimes be substituted for glass cubes.


The coil is an extremely handy wirelike device made of lead that can be shaped and adjusted freely by hand. The coil is entwined around the stems of the flowers and then submerged in the container. In shallow containers, entwine the remainder in a crisscross fashion. In deep containers, adjust the coiled up remainder to sink to the bottom.

The coil may also be clipped to the lip of a container to stabilize a very few flowers. Two or three coils can be connected to stabilize fairly larger flowers.


The komiwara is unlike any other stabilizing device discussed so far; it is used only in tatebana, never in any other form of ikebana. The cores of straw are extracted and bundled to form the komiwara, and to fit the exact diameter and height (generally from bottom to mouth) of the container.

The ends of all flower stems are shaved before inserting them into the straw. If broken down into smaller bundles and dried thoroughly after each use, the komiwara can be used almost indefinitely. Although the kenzan was conceived as a spiked metallic version of the upper portion of the komiwara, in feeling their use is completely different.


Pages 201-215


Kawase, Toshiro. The Book of Ikebana. Kodansha Bilingual Books, 2000.