When and How to Stake a Tree

In this article, we introduce another fantastic passage from The Homeowner’s Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook. This time we take a look at the proper procedures for sound tree staking, and explore the unique circumstances behind when and why you should and shouldn’t stake a tree. The takeaway version of the story is that staking should only be performed under specific circumstances and for limited durations of time. To borrow a term from Nassim Taleb, trees may actually be considered anti-fragile – meaning that trees don’t necessarily require lots of human intervention, and actually thrive under certain unstable conditions!

Read on:

Only Stake When Necessary

“Buy healthy plants and don’t stake a tree unless absolutely necessary. Unstaked tree trunks grow fatter more quickly than staked ones, and unstabilized trees produce farther-reaching root systems. You may occasionally need to steady a newly planted tree in the ground, however, if you discover that the rootball is not as sturdy as it looked at the nursery. When you unwrap the burlap, for instance, you may find a crumbly or damaged rootball that cannot support the tree. Another tree may be sturdy, but the planting site slopes or is exposed to strong winds that affect the tree’s early stability and establishment. Trees with small diameter trunks (less than 2 inches) typically need no staking. When proper planting and mulching are not enough to keep a tree upright, you’ll need to stake it to the ground.

Staking Practices

Sink metal or wooden stakes about 24 inches into the soil, several inches beyond the circumference of the rootball but still within the mulched bed or groundcover area. Small trees need one stake, while larger ones need two or three. For a tree up to 12 feet tall to stay upright in strong winds, set two stakes at 90-degree angles to the wind.

The best materials for bracing are wide, flat, and stretchy. Bike tubes, webbed straps, and canvas bands all work. Wire or hose-wrapped wire can grind and injure the bark when the tree sways in the wind.

Trees need wiggle room. It’s natural for a healthy tree to sway in the wind. Trunks held rigid may break when staked or perhaps after you remove the stakes. When you stake a trunk, make sure the top of the tree can sway and keep braces as low as practical on the trunk. Make sure you keep the cord or cable attaching the brace to the stake loose enough so that the tree can sway in the wind. Trunks grow weak above a too-tight brace.

When to Remove a Brace

Be sure to remove the brace once the tree is established. Trees may establish in a few months or a couple of years, depending upon the climate and growing conditions. In warm moist conditions, establishment may be fast, whereas in cold dry prairie conditions, it can take considerably longer. Failure to remove the brace may result in wood growing around the support, which then girdles or strangles and the trunk. If you forget to remove the support and the trunk starts to envelop it, remove only the bracing material that is exposed and leave the rest of the support alone.”

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