Drive around any Dayton neighborhood and you’ll likely see newly planted trees tightly tied to landscape stakes, presumably to help the tree get established without falling over. After all, planting a tree is an investment in the value of your property and you want to ensure that it lives a long and healthy life.
But, contrary to popular belief, staking a newly planted tree is often not necessary. In fact, staking young trees can do more harm than good.
The Problems With Tree Staking
Using stakes to support a new tree can cause several problems, particularly if the support is left in place for more than the first growing season. Staking trees improperly damages the new tree and can lead to stunted growth or death.
We often see the following issues with improperly staked trees:
- The tree trunk snaps where it’s tied to the stake, usually due to strong winds
- Roots grow more slowly, lengthening the time it takes the new tree to establish
- The trunk doesn’t develop proper “taper” (where the thickest part of the trunk is at the base and it tapers to the thinnest part at the top of the tree), resulting in a smaller and weaker tree
- The material used to tie the tree to the stakes tightens as the tree grows, cutting through the bark and girdling it (essentially, strangling the tree).
Reasons To Stake a Tree
Generally speaking, a properly planted tree will not need staking.
However, there are some situations in which a young tree will benefit from proper staking, such as:
- Trees with heavy leaf cover and small root balls (the root ball will likely move as the tree canopy moves, making it more difficult to get established roots)
- Top-heavy bare root trees
- Young trees planted in windy locations
- Sandy or wet soil that doesn’t hold the root ball in place
- Trees with weak or flexible trunks that don’t stay upright without support
- Trees planted in areas where people are likely to come into contact with them, possibly knocking them over
How to Properly Stake a Tree
Proper staking can protect a newly planted tree when needed. To do it correctly, you’ll need a few items that you probably don’t have lying around the house:
- 2×2 inch wooden stakes about 5 feet tall (for larger/heavies trees and those planted in windy areas, you may need metal stakes instead)
- something to pound them into the ground with (like a small sledgehammer), and
- a wide, smooth strap to tie around the trunk.
Consider how many stakes you’ll need. For a smaller tree in a location that’s not windy, one stake may be enough. Otherwise, use three stakes in a triangle shape with the “point” of the triangle pointing in the direction of the prevailing wind. Drive the stakes about 18 inches into the ground and roughly one and a half feet away from the trunk (outside the root ball but within the planting hole).
To determine where to tie the stakes to the tree, hold it in one hand and rock it gently back and forth. Move your hand up and down until you find the height at which the tree stays upright when moved. This will generally be ½ to 2/3 of the way up the trunk. If you tie the tree at less than 1/2 of its height you’ll end up with a giant lever, with the canopy moving around in the wind and eventually lifting the roots straight up into the air (usually with an explosion of dirt and mulch). If you tie it directly under the lowest branches, the tree is likely to snap off in strong wind.
Tie the tree using a wide, flexible material (like a cloth strap, rubber tubing, or even pantyhose) that is loosely tied. Don’t use wire, nylon cord, or anything else that can bite into the bark. You may have seen people using rope or wire inserted into pieces of garden hose to tie a tree. Don’t do it. The hose will rub the bark away and sooner or later the wire will cut through the hose and into the tree.
Don’t tie the wrap too tightly – the tree should still be able to move slightly; too much movement will rub the bark away, too little will slow tree growth and development. The slight movement will help to generate stronger roots and, in the case of high winds, the tree is less likely to snap off.
While the tree is staked, monitor it regularly for signs of abrasion, girdling, rocking or any other damage.
Remove the stakes at the end of the first growing season to give the tree a chance to stand on its own. If you placed the stakes in spring, remove them in fall; if you staked the tree in fall, remove the stakes the following spring.
Done correctly, staking a tree can minimize damage and help it get established. But before getting out the stakes, determine whether or not the tree really needs the supplemental support – most do not.
If you’re planning to plant a tree, check out the following tips:
- How to Choose the Right Tree – Planting the right tree in the right location will minimize the need for staking
- How to Properly Plant a Tree – A well-planted tree shouldn’t need to be staked
And don’t forget that we offer professional tree planting services. We’ll even help you choose the best tree for your property and will purchase a healthy, well-developed tree from a reputable grower!