By: Teo Spengler
For many years, those planting saplings were taught that staking a tree after planting was essential. This advice was based on the idea was that a young tree needed help to withstand the winds. But tree experts advise us today that tree staking after planting can and often does more harm to a tree. Do I need to stake a tree I am planting? The answer is usually not. Read on for more about the “to stake a tree or not to stake a tree” issue.
Do I Need to Stake a Tree?
If you watch a tree in wind, you see it swaying. Swaying in the breeze is the norm, not the exception, for trees growing in the wild. In yesteryear, people routinely staked trees they planted in order to provide support for newly planted trees. Today, we know that most newly planted trees do not require staking and can suffer from it.
When you are trying to decide whether to stake a tree or not, keep the overview in mind. Studies have shown that trees left to dance in the breeze generally live longer, stronger lives than trees staked when young. While in some cases staking may be helpful, usually it is not.
That is because staked trees invest their energy in growing taller rather than wider. That makes the base of the trunk weaker and inhibits the deep root development a tree needs to hold it upright. Staked trees produce slender trunks that can be easily snapped by a strong wind.
When to Stake a New Tree
Staking a tree after planting is not always detrimental to the tree. In fact, it is sometimes a really good idea. When to stake a new tree? One consideration is whether you bought a bare-root tree or one with a rootball. Both trees sold as ball-and-burlap and container-grown come with rootballs.
A tree with a rootball is sufficiently bottom-heavy to stand tall without a stake. A bare root tree might not be at first, especially if it is tall, and might benefit from staking. Staking a tree after planting can also be useful in high-wind areas, or when the soil is shallow and poor. Properly placed stakes can also protect against careless lawnmower wounds.
If you decide on tree staking after planting, do it correctly. Insert the stakes outside, not through, the root area. Use two or three stakes and attach the tree to them with inner tubes from old tires or nylon stockings. Don’t try to prevent all tree trunk movement.
Most important, when you decide the “to stake a tree or not” question in favor of staking, monitor the tree well. Take a look every so often at the ties to be sure they aren’t too tight. And remove the stake the beginning of the second growing season.
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Read more about General Tree Care
How to Stake a Tree Properly (And How Long to Keep It Staked)
The new tree you planted is counting on you for enough water, sunlight and nutrients – and it needs a few other elements to succeed, too.
A bit of pruning early on can help your tree establish a good shape. And your new tree may need a bit of literal support, like a stake.
Though, not all young trees need to be staked. Read on to see if you should stake a new tree. If so, learn some staking trees methods and how long to keep a tree staked.
Does staking harm a tree?
It can. Tree stakes are not intended to be a permanent addition to transplanted trees. Ideally, their usefulness is regularly evaluated by an arborist, public works crewmember, or experienced gardener and stakes are removed as soon as their purpose has been achieved.
Reality is often different, though, with trees going un-examined and stakes remaining in place long after their usefulness is over. This is when stakes can start damaging a growing tree.
One way that long-term staking damages a tree is that it prevents its natural movement in the wind. When wind blows around the crown and trunk of a young tree, the tree responds by producing natural growth hormones. These growth hormones encourage an increase in the girth, or diameter, of the trunk and branches. Movement also encourages a tree trunk to taper, making it thicker at the base and thinner toward the top of the trunk.
This young conifer tree is growing well without any kind of staking.
Published September 23, 2013 By STEVE HOUSER
As a rule, staking of a new tree is not recommended. When a newly planted tree’s trunk is allowed to sway gently in the wind, root growth is encouraged and the tree develops a strong trunk that has the proper taper from the ground upward. As trees flex in the wind, they build strength in their structure (roots, trunk, and limbs). Furthermore, when staking guy wires remain on the trunk too long, severe injury or loss of the tree can occur. A properly grown and planted tree seldom needs staking. However, there are times when it is both necessary and appropriate.
It is a common practice to use short lengths of garden hose to protect the bark from guy wires. Failure to remove staking materials once the tree is established can result in girdling and, in some cases, the death of the tree.
Trees may need staking if:
- They have a “big head,” or too much top growth without adequate roots and soil to provide support. Having enough roots and soil mass (or root ball) to support the amount of growth above ground is critical. Rule of thumb: Trees need 10 inches of root ball (or containerized roots) for each inch of tree trunk diameter.
- They are planted in finer, lightweight soils as opposed to coarse sandy soils or heavy clay soils.
- They are planted on sites that may have a potential for high winds. These are typically flat, open spaces with few structures or larger trees nearby.
- They are bare-rooted seedlings (trees with no soil on the roots) that are more than 10 to 12 inches tall.
- They are planted around schools or other public areas where there is a greater risk for damage. School and parks officials often state that trees are more likely to be damaged or snapped off if they are too small (under 3 inches diameter) or do not have staking. Stake it or they break it.
- They are in a floodplain area.
- They can be accessed by large animals such as goats, horses, cows, or bulls. Ever see an arborist trying to lasso an angry bull that just trampled some of his trees - using his tree climbing line? It wasn`t pretty, but the bull learned to stay away from the crazy arborist swinging a rope.
Metal tee posts are still the standard for staking large trees. They provide adequate support when driven into the ground outside the planting hole.
There are many methods and various types of equipment that can be used to stake a tree. Some nurseries offer staking kits that include the materials. They may also offer a ground or earth anchoring system.
Securing the root ball is an alternative method of tree staking. Once a few inches of mulch are applied, the staking materials disappear, leaving a neat and clean new tree in the landscape.
Points about staking trees:
- Staking materials must provide the stability and strength necessary for the size of the tree being planted. For smaller trees, less than 2 inches in diameter, a wooden stake driven 12 inches or more into the ground is normally sufficient. Larger trees may require iron tee posts or ground anchors driven deeper in the ground.
- Bare-rooted trees and small saplings may need one to three wooden or bamboo stakes near the trunk for support. However, all other staking should be well outside the planting hole, but not so far out from the hole that it causes a tripping hazard.
- Tee posts are typically set straight into the ground or at an angle away from the trunk. Wooden stakes are typically set at a 45-degree angle.
- Ground anchors are metal with wires on the end that are driven into the ground at an angle. These often come with a turnbuckle to help adjust the tension.
- All stakes and ground anchors present a tripping hazard. An alternative is to use boards or wires across the top of the root ball to hold the tree in place.
- Larger trees, with trunks 6 inches in diameter, for example, may require 2 by 4 lumber near the trunk and driven into the ground for adequate support.
Points about wires and attachments:
- Wire, rope, rubber and other materials can be used, but they must be strong enough to support the force exerted on the tree during a high wind.
- The point of attachment depends on the branching habit and size of the canopy, but should be placed somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of the overall height.
- The point of attachment must not bind or damage the trunk and should accommodate future growth. The idea is to allow some movement and prevent uprooting and to pad the trunk to prevent damage.
- Tension on the material used should be maintained equally on all sides.
Staking should be checked several times a year, especially after a high wind. The time to remove the staking is when you can push against the trunk several times and the roots/soil do not move to any great degree.