To stake or not to stake, that indeed is the question. Once upon a time everyone carefully staked every tree when it was planted, but today the experts tell us that often it is not necessary, or even desirable. Although staking can seem like a good idea, it can cause future problems for your tree. Sometimes it is needed and there are some ‘ and don’ts’ when it comes to staking that can make all the difference to the success of your tree planting.
The True Reason for Staking
Most people think that a stake is needed to keep a tree upright and protect it from breaking in the wind, but this is not true. A healthy tree will always keep itself upright and in fact, if the lower part is held rigidly by a stake there is more, not less chance of the upper part breaking in a storm. The real reason to stake is to hold the roots steady so that the tree can quickly send out new roots and attach itself into the ground. If the roots move around after planting, the delicate new ones that grow out will not be able to anchor themselves in the soil, so your tree will be slow to establish and could die before it does. This is mostly a problem when planting bare-root trees, since there is no root-ball to give weight and anchor the tree in the ground. So bare-root trees should definitely be staked when being planted.
For other trees, when you are putting back the soil, make sure you firm it down well with your feet. After you have finished planting, take hold of the trunk half way up and gently rock the tree. If you can’t see any movement at ground level, you don’t need to stake your tree at all. The natural movement of the stem will stimulate the tree to grow a thicker trunk and hold itself up. Trees are not known for their brains, so if you stake a tree so the trunk cannot move, the tree will ‘think’ it has a strong trunk and send out lots of new shoots at the top. If you then remove the stake, as you must eventually, the trunk will be too weak to hold the top and it could easily break. The longer you leave the stake attached, the more likely this is to happen.
How to Stake a Tree
If there is some movement at ground level, or you are planting a bare-root tree, then staking is necessary. If planting in a very windy location staking can help prevent loosening of the roots after planting. Remember, we only want to hold the roots steady, so you don’t need a tall stake. Take hold of the stem low down and move your hand up until the top of the tree is straight. That is the place where you need to attach the tie – don’t worry, it may only be a foot above the ground. Take two strong wooden stakes. Allow at least 18 inches to go into the ground and about six inches above where you are going to place the tie. Drive the stakes into the ground outside the root-ball, one on either side of the tree. If you have a strong prevailing wind, put the stakes in the same direction as the wind blows. Use broad reinforced rubber belting, not rope, to secure the tree and it should have some stretch in it. Attach the belting to one post with nails; then pass it behind the tree and around the other post. While pulling it tight make a double twist around the strap, pass it in front of the tree and make another double twist before attaching it back to the first post with more nails. The tree should be able to move slightly and the strap should not be twisted around the trunk.
Remove the belting at the beginning of the tree’s second growing season. The stakes can be left in as a reminder to keep mowers and trimmers away from the trunk. Never use a string trimming close to a tree trunk, as it can damage the bark and cause permanent serious injury to a young tree.
So we have gone past all the old tree straps, rope, wire, hose-pipe and other systems that held trees rigidly against a heavy post. Now we allow the tree some movement and an opportunity to grow naturally, with just a gentle helping hand from us.