Staking Your Tree

Staking is a practice used to anchor, support, and protect recently planted trees. Trees are often staked unnecessarily and incorrectly. Even still, there are times when staking can help a tree if done correctly.

Tree Development

A tree’s form will change depending on its growing conditions. Movement of the trunk signals the tree to increase trunk girth and root growth, thus increasing stability. Besides trunk movement, branches lower on the trunk add girth where they are positioned. Not only does this increase trunk taper but the branches have a dampening effect with wind as well.

Negatives of staking   

Most young trees can stand unsupported. Given what we know about tree development, staking can easily lead to negative results. If the tree is staked too tight and does not move, then development of trunk and roots is delayed. We have seen many times where rigid staking is removed, and the tree just flops over. As well, the staking material itself can injure the trunk of the tree if attached incorrectly.

Benefits of staking (only if needed)     

Can your tree not stand upright on its own? Despite the negative aspects of staking, it can be beneficial to stake a tree when needed. If done properly, staking can help a tree stand while the roots are established. This is especially true when the tree has disproportionate above ground to below ground mass. If the tree is exposed to high wind on a regular basis, it may need staking. Grab the trunk and move it back and forth. If the root ball moves in the soil, your tree may need two stakes. If the root ball doesn't move, but the tree is not standing straight, then you may need one stake to pull it straight. While trees can grow straight on their own, staking can assist. We just don’t want the stake doing most of the work. Sometimes the stakes themselves can act as barriers to protect the tree from lawn mowers, weed whackers, frisbees, cars (maybe), and other mobile objects including people and pets. It may be advisable to stake in areas of high traffic.

How to stake

  1. Remove whatever staking the nursery has done.
  2. Drive two parallel stakes (wood or metal) a foot in to the soil just outside the root ball. Stakes should be in line with the prevailing wind.
  3. Support the trunk with your hand as you move it up the trunk. When the tree is upright, that is where the ties will be attached. Ties should be as low as possible on the trunk.
  4. Attach the tree to the stakes with ties. The ties should be a broad, soft, flexible material. You might try using a pair of nylons or the inner tube of a bicycle tire. Don’t use wire or rope.
  5. Don’t cinch up ties on the trunk. Ideally it should form a figure eight between the trunk and the stakes.
  6. Remove the ties when the tree can stand upright on its own. Ties should be on no longer than a year. You may leave the stakes without the ties as a form of protection for the tree.