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The Dos and Don'ts of

Staking Trees

Fall is an ideal time to introduce new trees to your property. Newly planted trees are very susceptible to the physical damage caused by lawn equipment and to the natural stresses of wind, snow, rain and ice, but proper staking will help the trees to become established and to cope with the hazards of winter and early spring. By considering the likely hazards facing your tree(s), you can use the most appropriate type of staking.

The trees available to the gardener today are either container-grown, bare-root or balled and burlapped after being dug from the field. In all these cases, the roots are purposely either restricted or diminished to enable the transfer of the tree from the nursery to the home garden. Staking for such a tree mainly provides anchorage for it until the roots make their way into the surrounding soil and can support the upper parts of the tree unaided. This is called anchor staking.

Two or three short stakes placed in the undisturbed soil around the root ball should provide enough anchorage for roots. The stakes will secure the lower trunk and prevent roots from moving while permitting the tops to move freely. One loop or figure-eight tie is placed between each stake and the tree trunk. Each tie should be secured near the top of its stake and should permit some movement at that level without rubbing the trunk against the stake.

Small conifers and deciduous trees or those with low branches or multi-stems do not usually need staking to provide anchorage. Protective staking, primarily to keep lawn equipment away, should be used in these cases. These stakes can be the same size as anchorage stakes and should surround the tree at least close enough to prevent a mower from getting close to the trunk. The stakes should be visible to the passersby to prevent them from tripping, but attractive enough so that they don't detract too much from the garden. These stakes do not need to be tied to the tree. I have made the mistake -- more than once -- of placing only one stake beside a new small tree to indicate its location. On the side opposite the stake you can clearly see mower damage. One entire side of a blue spruce was shaved to the trunk by an overenthusiastic grass cutter!

Support staking is needed for trees whose trunks are not strong enough to stand without support or to return upright after a wind. Weak trunks are common with container grown trees, trees which have been grown closely together and when trees have been previously staked. One support stake is commonly used to hold a weak tree upright. In windy locations or in areas where equipment damage is likely, three stakes will safely protect the tree from most situations.

The stake(s) should be placed securely in the undisturbed soil adjacent to the root ball where there will be no damage done to the roots and the soil is much more stable to withstand the pressures of a support stake. Round, wooden stakes of 2 inches in diameter are ideal. Metal "T" poles are also useful but tend to be more difficult to handle for the home gardener. A single tie placed near the top of the stake should be sufficient support. Any material used as a tie should contact the trunk with a broad, smooth surface and have enough elasticity to minimize trunk abrasion and girdling. Common tie materials include wire covered with hose or tubing, polyethylene tape, belting and elastic webbing.

It is usually wise to stake all newly-planted trees for at least the first year. Staking beyond that may have some negative consequences. Preventing the trunk from swaying in the wind will produce a tall, thin and weak trunked tree, much like trees which grow in a natural, dense forest. Trees which stand alone in the landscape and are forced to withstand the wind will develop a stronger, thicker trunk and a denser growth habit. This feature tends to be more desirable in the urban landscape.

Another danger of staking is the potential damage which can be caused by the ties. Ties which are not removed or loosened as the trunk grows will restrict the growth and cause girdling. This can eventually kill the tree. The tie or stake may also damage the trunk by rubbing against it.

Daisy Moore, 1998.




Other autumn garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Fall Perennials
Planning New Beds for Fall Planting
The Garden in Transition
Dividing and Transplanting Perennials
The Dos and Don'ts of Staking Trees
Re-Seeding or Sodding the Lawn
Bulbs: Always Worth the Effort
Fertilizing the Lawn in Late Summer or Early Fall
Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Next Year
Growing Garlic ...For Food or Ornament
Priorities for Fall Gardening
Preparing the Garden for Winter





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Daisy Moore 2006