(News article for September 4, 2020)
Watching tree limbs sway in the wind the other day reminded me of a topic of importance: tree staking or, maybe more accurately, what not to do when staking trees.
Containerized trees often come with a thin stake attached to the trunk. This stake should be removed as soon as the tree is planted. If left in place, it can wound the trunk.
Many trees will not need to be staked once they’re planted. If a tree is able to stand up on its own under windy conditions, it typically does not need to be staked.
We don’t want newly planted trees to fall over, of course, or for the root balls to move excessively, since movement can cause loss of fine roots responsible for water and nutrient uptake. However, staking trees can have negative consequences, as well.
Trees that are allowed to flex in the wind develop thicker trunks and more robust root systems. Staked trees may grow taller sooner but tend to have trunks with a smaller diameter. Trees with trunks that are kept too rigid or that are staked for too long may break or blow over in storms.
Also, the materials used to stake trees can wound trunks, and wounds provide points of entry for disease-causing microbes. If staking materials are not well-suited to the purpose, or if they’re left on for too long, they may girdle the tree.
There are several different ways that trees can be staked, if needed, once they’re planted.
Between one and four wooden or metal stakes can be used. Stakes should be securely anchored themselves, extending to a depth of approximately 2’ in the soil.
If just one stake is used, it should be put on the side of the tree from which wind typically blows. A device that provides a ring to surround the trunk and a rubber strap to attach to the trunk within the ring is sometimes used when just one stake is used.
The material used to attach the trunk to stakes matters. Bare wires should not be used. Pieces of hosepipe are sometimes put over wires at the point where they contact trees, but this method can still result in wounding or girdling. Wide straps with some flexibility are recommended.
Loop the straps around the trunk at a point no higher than two-thirds the height of the tree. A rule of thumb for bareroot trees is to attach straps at 6 inches above the lowest point at which you can grasp the trunk and prevent the tree from toppling.
The straps should be tense enough that the tree remains upright but not so tense that it can’t move at all. Check later to make sure that the straps are not injuring the bark.
Remove straps within one year of staking. If you think it’s likely that a lawnmower or weed eater will come in contact with the trunk in the absence of stakes, the stakes themselves can be left, while the straps that extend to the tree are removed.
Besides typical staking systems, there are alternative ways of staking balled and burlapped trees. One of these involves using two 4’ pieces of untreated 2” x 2” wood and a 2” x 2” a little longer that the width of the root ball. The 4’ pieces are driven into the soil just outside of either side of the root ball, and the 2” x 2” is placed horizontally over the root ball, approximately 3” from the trunk. The 2” x 2” is attached at each end, with screws, to one of the 4’ pieces. Such a brace can be placed on one or both sides of the trunk, depending on the size of the tree. Since these are made almost entirely of wood, they can be covered with mulch and left to decay. Be careful, though, that the tree isn’t in a place where this will present a tripping hazard.
Keep in mind that, when planting most fruit and nut trees – such as citrus, pear, peach, and pecan – it’s recommended to cut the main trunk back to some extent (how much varies by the type of tree) at the time of planting. This will likely eliminate any need for staking these.
Let me know if you have questions.
Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.