How to Stake a Tree Properly (And How Long to Keep It Staked)

The new tree you planted is counting on you for enough water, sunlight and nutrients – and it needs a few other elements to succeed, too.

A bit of pruning early on can help your tree establish a good shape. And your new tree may need a bit of literal support, like a stake.

Though, not all young trees need to be staked. Read on to see if you should stake a new tree. If so, learn some staking trees methods and how long to keep a tree staked.

What You Need to Know About Staking New Trees

While it seems like young trees need extra support, most trees don’t need to be staked. Staking trees that don’t need it can cause the tree to grow fewer roots and develop a weak tree base.

Only stake your tree if it needs extra support, protection or help staying anchored.

Should you stake your new tree?

If you properly planted a healthy tree with a sturdy trunk and solid root system, chances are you won’t have to stake it. You also don’t have to stake evergreens, conifers or trees that have branches growing lower to the ground. There are times when you should stake trees, though.

Do stake:

  • Bare-root trees or trees with a small root ball.
  • Trees planted in areas with lots of foot traffic, like a sidewalk or street.
  • New trees that can’t stand on their own or those that begin to lean.
  • Eucalyptus trees, mesquite hybrid trees, oleander trees and acacia trees.
  • Tall, top-heavy trees with no lower branches.
  • Young trees if you live in a very windy area or if the soil is too wet or loose.

If your new tree needs staking, here’s how to stake it for support.

  1. Remove the nursery stakes, and find two or three stakes (wooden or metal). Place your hand on the trunk and see where it needs to be steadied. That’s how tall your stakes should be.

  2. Place the two stakes opposite each other and about 1.5’ away from the trunk. Use the third stake only if needed and put on an open side of the tree.

  3. Use a soft material, like canvas strapping or tree staking straps, to attach the stakes. Allow enough slack, so the tree can naturally sway. Don’t use rope or wire, which damages the trunk.

How long should you keep a tree staked?

Generally, remove the stake the next growing season. If you add a stake in spring, remove in fall. If you stake in fall, remove in spring. Otherwise, the tree will depend on the stake and won’t stand on its own.

Also, make sure you always remove the wire around the branches! The tree can eventually grow around the wires, which could potentially cut off the flow of water and nutrients.

How To: Stake a Tree

Photo: istockphoto.com

Most new trees do just fine on their own. In fact, the movement they experience from normal wind and weather helps these yard young’uns develop strong root systems and solid trunk girth. In several scenarios, however, it’s beneficial, even necessary, to stake a tree during its first growing season. If your new tree is planted on a slope or in an open area, or if it will be exposed to very strong winds, it may require some temporary stabilization. A young tree with a dense crown of leaves but a disproportionately small root ball may also require a stake. But trees must be staked properly, or damage—even death—can occur. This guide will help your new tree become a truly upstanding citizen!

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon

– Tree stakes (2)
– Sledgehammer
– Tree staking straps (2)

Photo: istockphoto.com

Get the Goods

You’ll need two stakes per tree, plus straps to tie them to the trunk. To DIY your own stakes, taper the points of 6- to 8-foot long, 2×2 pieces of lumber, and use wire housed inside rubber hosing for ties. Or you can purchase stakes, made of treated wooden posts, and nylon or rubber ties from big box home improvement stores or nurseries.

Drive the Stakes

Place each stake on opposite sides of the tree, about 15 to 18 inches 
away from the trunk, ensuring they will clear the root ball. Drive each stake into the 
ground with a sledgehammer, about 18 inches deep.

Pick the Right Spot

In general, to anchor trees exposed to high winds or on slopes, the straps should be placed about 18 inches above the ground. In the case of a tree with a flimsy trunk that can’t support itself, place the straps about 6 inches above the spot where the tree can stand upright.

Support the Trunk

Tie the tree to each stake with flat tree staking straps, so that they are taut but not so tight that the tree cannot move. You want to let the tree sway a bit in the wind, which encourages strong root development. Flat straps provide a large surface area to distribute pressure and avoid damage to the trunk. Be especially cautious if using homemade wire-in-hose straps: Stretch them too tight and they’ll injure the sensitive tissues just under the bark, essential for taking up water and nutrients.

Untie in a Timely Manner

Remember, 
 you should only stake a young tree for one growing season, until the root system has had a chance to spread out and set in. After removing the straps, you can leave the stakes in the ground as protection from foot traffic and lawn equipment if they don’t pose a hazard. If you choose to remove the stakes, dig gently around the base of each one to loosen it, being careful not to disturb the roots. Keep your straps and stakes if they are still in good condition to be used for the next tree you plant that requires staking.

With good care and a little luck, your new trees should bring joy to your family and beauty to your property for generations.

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.

Helpful Resources

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
  • How Much, How Often, and How Best to Water Your Trees – water is vital the first two years

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!

Staking and Guying Trees: Best Materials and Technique

Authors: Gary R. Johnson, Associate Professor, Urban and Community Forestry and Marc A. Shippee, Undergraduate Research Assistant. Forest Resources Extension Department

When is Staking Necessary?

More often than not, staking is unnecessary. Occasionally, newly planted trees may require staking when:

  1. They have abnormally small root systems that can’t physically support the larger, above-ground growth (stem and leaves).
  2. The stem bends excessively when not supported.
  3. The planting site is very windy and trees will be uprooted if they are not supported.
  4. There’s a good chance that vandals will uproot or damage unprotected trees.

Proper Staking Techniques

Fig 1: Any material connected to the stem should have a broad smooth surface. Fig 2: Double staking method. Always attach the stem loosely to the stakes to allow for flexibility.

If done properly, staking provides stability until the tree can support itself. However, if staking is done improperly or for too long, it can do far more harm than good (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Stem breakage can result from stems attached too tightly or staked too long.

Staking and Guying Materials:

Staking materials vary depending on the situation and size of the tree. For small to average-sized trees (up to 10-12 feet in height), wooden stakes are sufficient. They should be at least 2 inches by 2 inches by 5 feet long. For larger or heavier trees, or trees in particularly windy situations, metal fence stakes may be necessary. The stakes are reusable, particularly the metal stakes.

Fig. 4: Correct placement of guying attachment to stem canopy.

Guying anchors are usually shorter and stronger, since they are driven deep into the ground and exposed only a few inches above the soil surface. Stout wooden stakes (at least 3 inches by 3 inches by 24 inches), duck-billed soil anchors, or reinforcing rods (minimum of 5/8 inches in diameter) are most often used (Fig. 4 and 9).

Fig. 5: Attachments should be made 1/3 or 2/3 up the stem. Never attach directly below the first set of branches.

Attaching the wires/ropes to the stem. Whether attaching the tree to stakes or guying anchors, the rope, wires or metal cable should never come into contact with tree stems or branches. Any material contacting the stem should have a broad and smooth surface (Fig. 1). Wide canvas strapping, strips of old carpeting, burlap, or bicycle inner tubes are suitable materials to wrap around the tree stem and attach to the stake ropes, wires or cables. Do not insert ropes or wires through sections of garden hose and wrap around the tree stem- it doesn’t work for very long, abrasion and compression of the stem will soon occur.

Placement of Stakes/Anchors and Stem Attachments:

Placement of stakes or anchors: As a rule of thumb, use as few as possible. For many, smaller trees, one stake is sufficient to keep the tree vertical and stable (Fig. 6). Place the stake upwind from the direction of prevailing spring/summer winds. Drive the stake into the outer edge of the planting hole, safely away from the root system but still within the mulched planting area.

If one stake is not sufficient, place two stakes that run parallel to the prevailing winds (Fig. 7). For guying straightened, wind thrown trees, use three stakes or anchors, equally spaced around the tree with one placed upwind from the prevailing winds (Fig. 8). Never place guying anchors outside of the mulched planting bed because this can become a safety hazard to people walking by or playing near the trees.

Fig. 6: One stake, 2/3 up the stem.

Placement of stem attachment: For staking trees, the wide, flexible stem attachment materials should be placed either 1/3 or 2/3 the distance from the ground up to the first set of branches (Fig. 6, 7). Never place the attachments directly beneath the first set of branches. Stems will snap in heavy wind loads if the canopy (branches and leaves) move but the stem is held rigid directly below the canopy (Fig. 4). For guying trees, the attachments should be made on the canopy stem, that is, around the stem above the first set of branches (Fig. 9). This will allow maximum stability of the entire tree during windy periods.

Fig.7: Two-stake method, 1/3 up stem.

Always attach the stem to the stakes or anchors loosely, with some flexibility at the point of attachment to the stem as well as the attachment of the ropes/wires to the stakes or anchors. Trees need to move a little during windy periods in order to develop flexible strength and stem diameter. Rigidly supporting trees to stakes or cables will result in tall but weak stems.

Removing the Stakes and Anchors: Install the staking or guying attachments at planting time or straightening time and leave them in place for one growing season. Remove the attachments in the autumn for spring planted trees and in the autumn for trees planted the previous autumn. After removing the attachments, check the tree for stability

If the tree’s root system still moves in the soil when the stem is moved or if the stem still bends excessively, reattach the connections to the stakes – loosely to accommodate new growth – and leave the stakes/anchors on for one more season.

Fig. 8: Three stake method. Fig. 9: Guyed tree with attachments on canopy stem and anchors placed within the mulched area.

Straightening Wind Thrown Trees

Occasionally, wind thrown trees can be straightened and saved. The success of this technique depends on several key factors, however:

1. It must be a true, wind throw. That is, the roots must be pushing up through the heaved soil as in Fig. 10. If the tree is leaning or horizontal and there is no evidence that the roots are pushing up and heaving the soil, then the tree stem probably broke off below ground and is essentially lost.
2. It is most successfully done when the trees are relatively small: up to 15-20 feet in height and a stem diameter of six inches or less. Larger trees may be straightened, but it takes a skilled tree care company with special equipment to perform the operation.
3. The roots must still be alive. If they have dried out or if it’s several days after the windstorm, the chances of success are greatly reduced.
4. The soil must be moist. Straightening trees in dry soil conditions, especially if the soil is clay in nature, is generally not a very successful operation.
5. The tree should be in good health. If the tree was diseased, infested with insect pests or otherwise stressed, the chances of survival are not very good.
6. Shallow-rooted species (e.g., maples) may be straightened with more success than deep-rooted species (e.g., walnut).

Straightening the Tree

Fig. 10: Wind thrown tree.

1. Straighten the tree (Fig. 10) soon after the windstorm has subsided, at least within a couple of days. If you can’t straighten it immediately, keep the root system moist with irrigation and a mulch such as loose straw or burlap.

Fig. 11: Excavate under up-rooted root system. Straighten with winch.

2. Excavate under the heaved-up root system to the depth of the lifted mass of roots and soil (Fig. 11). This allows the root and soil mass to settle back to a normal depth once the tree has been straightened. Never pull or winch a tree into an upright position without excavating under the heaved-up roots. Without the excavated area for the root and soil mass to settle in, it will be pulled up and out of the ground, which will result in more broken roots on the opposite side.

Fig. 12: Backfill, water, mulch, install guy wires and anchors.

3. Install a triangular guying system, water thoroughly, back fill with loose soil to fill any open areas around the roots, water again and mulch the entire rooting area (Fig. 12). Make sure that you include the guying anchors within the mulched area.

The information given in this publication is for educational purposes only. Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in Forest Resources, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gary is a Professor Professor of Urban and Community Forestry within the Department of Forest Resources/Extension at the University of Minnesota. His work addresses a variety of urban natural resource issues.

The Business Advantages Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers Deliver

When starting a project, the question of tree staking may arise. New tree plantings may require staking to protect and/or anchor the tree, but is this practice always used for the optimum benefit of the tree?

Experts at the University of Minnesota Extension say that in many cases, staking the trees is not necessary, unless the trees have the following qualities: the trees have abnormally small root systems that can’t support the larger, above-ground growth; the stems bend excessively when not supported; there’s a high chance that vandals will uproot or damage trees that aren’t protected; and if the planting site is very windy and trees will be uprooted if not supported.

Effects

Before you start guying or staking trees, consider the effects it will have on the trees, as opposed to trees that go unstaked.

Staking or guying a tree could damage the tree by rubbing and girdling from ties and stakes. The trunk could also grow and bend away from the stake, or the trunk could become stressed at the point of the stake attachment, which makes it more open to breaking.

Staking a tree will provide more wind resistance because the top of the tree isn’t allowed to do much moving, but it can also cause the tree to develop weak wood from the staked position down towards the base of the tree. To have optimum wood strength and growth during development, trunk movement is required.

According to the the Iowa State University Forestry Extension, it’s also possible that while staked, trees may produce fewer roots and reduce stem taper, which can mean less strength of the bole or trunk. Iowa State University also says that the height growth of the tree may be increased while it’s staked.

Proper staking techniques

It is recommended that small trees, less than six feet tall or less than one inch in diameter, not be staked, as they won’t need them for support. For trees that may be able to support themselves, plant them and keep a watch on them several days after planting. If you see that it is starting to tip or lean, or if you see the plant stem at the soil line move excessively, it will need support.

When a tree is unable to support itself with its existing root system, anchor staking is required. Anchor staking is used to support the roots or root ball until the roots can grow into the surrounding soil and support themselves.

Each tree will need at least three stakes for support, and these stakes can be reinforced rebars, steel posts, metal pipes, wooden stakes or other material to which ties can be fastened.

When staking a tree to protect from “lawnmower blight,” the Iowa State University says at least three strategically located stakes should be used around the tree to keep lawnmowers and other vehicles at bay. A band, wood chips or other organic mulch can also be used around the tree as a sufficient protectant when dealing with more careful tree care providers. For those who are less careful, stakes and mulch may be needed around the trees.

Whatever material is used for tying that will come in contact with the tree’s trunk needs to be broad and have a smooth surface. This will minimize the trunk abrasion and any possible girdling.

A few examples of appropriate tying material are rubber belts, wide cloth belting, elastic webbing and nylon stockings. Ties should be fastened at less than one-third of the total height of the tree.

Larger trees might not receive enough support from fabrics or belts, and they may require eyebolts. These should only be used when the other techniques are inadequate for the size of the tree.

Most trees should only be staked for a minimum period, and for most trees the ties can be removed after the first growing season. Two years of support may be necessary for larger trees. Regardless of the size, stakes should be removed as soon as possible to minimize the adverse effects.

How do I and why do i stake my new trees?

There are many ways of staking trees, and many old wives tales on how and why it should be done. This is the way we stake trees and the way we recommend you do it too.

Why Stake A Tree?

Trees should only be staked if they really require it, i.e. they are planted in an exposed site or are a large grade tree which is likely to require some short term stabilization. In most cases a tree will establish its own root system for anchorage faster if it is not staked. When staking a tree it is best that the stakes are low on the trunk so they hold the rootball better. If you use a high stake it will not hold the root ball steady in the ground.

What Do I Need To Stake A Tree ?

  • Tree stakes. We recommend a ground treated 1.2m stake 50mm X 50mm square, 2 stakes for most domestic gardens or 3 stakes for exposed sites.
  • A sledge hammer
  • A soft material for tying like nylon tree webbing, or old bicycle tubes.
  • A staple gun
  • A sharp knife or pair of scissors.

How Do I Stake A Tree?

There are many ways to stake a tree, this is the best way. 1.

  • Bang your stakes into the ground Use a 1.2 m stake and bang into a depth of around 500-600mm.
  • Ensure the stakes are outside of the root ball
  • Ensure your stakes are facing into the prevailing wind.
  • Ensure your stakes are straight or pointing slightly outward (this is more for looks than effectiveness). If the stakes are pointing slightly outward they will pull in when you tie the tree giving you a nice vertical finish.

2. Once your stakes are in the ground you can use your tree tie to tie the tree to the stakes

  • Tack one end of the tree tie to the first stake with the stapler
  • Run your tie out to the tree and back again to measure the length required, Cut the tree tie.
  • Now run your length of tie back to the trunk and run it around the back side of the trunk
  • On your way back to the stake twist the tree tie over around the first length.
  • Once back at the stake fold the end of the tie over and staple to the stake
  • Repeat for the other stakes.

Ideal Staking Using Two Stakes Important things to remember when staking Only leave stakes on the tree for 9 – 12 months, Never use wire or anything else which can cut into the bark, Never stake using only one stake.

Is it Best to Stake and Tie Newly Planted Trees?

Photo by Danielle Fitzko.

Trees are made to sway in the breeze. They need to, really. Trees and wind have been doing this dance for a long time, and the trees seem to have learned their steps. Just watch them: they move a lot and they do it well. And as it turns out, trees that are free to sway in the breeze grow better and live longer than trees staked and tied in place.

Sure we’re all quick to note that the woods are cluttered with broken branches and fallen trees – evidence of wind damage to trees. But it turns out that lesser-force winds can stimulate tree growth. Trees – especially planted trees – actually benefit from the bending and pulling and compressing of branches, stems, and roots as the tree follows the lead of these lesser winds. Staked and tied trees, however, grow abnormally, and they often die by a form of tie-wire strangulation.

So why do you see so many staked and tied trees in the planted environment? There was a time when the practice was encouraged because it was thought to help support and thereby establish the newly planted tree and even protect it from vandalism and mechanical injury. Studies on tree growth and the experience of seeing what becomes of far too many staked and wired trees have led to new advice.

In short, most newly planted trees do not need to be staked and wired, and many suffer from it. Most balled and burlapped trees, for example, have enough of a root ball that they are bottom-heavy and can stand upright on their own when first planted. Such trees need some wind-caused movement to stimulate growth and proper root and stem development. Tying them in place often results in odd growth patterns and troublesome stem conditions from the temporary restriction against movement. Studies have shown that trees staked and wired tend to put their energy into growing taller but not wider, especially near the ground. This is not good. It leads to a lack of proper stem taper and poor root development. Such trees outgrow their own ability to support themselves and eventually they break or fall over. Trees free to move, on the other hand, tend to be shorter and have larger diameters, better stem form, and stronger root systems. They last longer.

Worse yet, in many cases, the ties are never removed and the tree becomes girdled by them. That is, as the stem increases in girth, the ties do not expand; instead, they restrict and kill cells in the cambium – that all-important layer of actively dividing cells just beneath the bark – and the vascular system is cut off. The tree cannot send water and nutrients from the roots to the stem, branches, and leaves, nor can it send carbohydrates from the leaves to the roots. The result is oozing swellings and premature death.

But there are a few circumstances where it pays to stake and tie new plantings. If you are planting trees in open, extremely windy sites, or if your tree is tall with minimal or bare root systems (no root ball with soil), or if you are planting in exceptionally shallow and poor soils, it may in fact be worth staking and tying. When it is called for, however, staking and tying must be done properly, or it will be for naught.

If you do stake and tie your new tree, drive the stakes outside the root ball and tie the tree to the stakes using a wide, flexible material. Usually, two stakes opposite each other will suffice, but a third stake may be needed for especially unstable plantings. Discarded inner tubes or nylon stockings serve well as ties. If you use wire, don’t attach the wire directly to the tree. Instead, run the wire inside a section of old garden hose where it connects to the tree. Tie as low as possible – no more than two-thirds of the main stem height – and allow for some movement of the stem. Monitor your tree. Check the ties periodically to see that they are attached well but not too tightly and that no abrasion wounds are occurring. Adjust as necessary.

Most importantly, remove the ties at the beginning of the second growing season after planting. If you stake and tie your new tree this summer, remove the ties next spring. Put it on the calendar. For planted trees likely to be bumped by lawnmowers or the like, the stakes can be left in place after the ties are removed to provide additional protection. This practice will allow your tree to become established in the site but will leave it free to move with the breeze and become a sturdy, wind-firm tree.

Michael Snyder is the Chittenden (Vermont) County Forester.

Should I stake my trees?

Staking’s purpose isn’t so much to hold a tree straight, it’s mostly to hold a tree’s root ball in place during the first few months after planting so that it can put out roots quickly and effectively.

Once the plant has anchored itself, it should not require staking.

If you think that your trees are not wind tolerant, look closely at other species that would be. Staking long-term ain’t gonna help a tree that doesn’t like wind.

Here’s the process in TEN STEPS

1. Dig a shallow, broad planting hole.

— 24 hours before planting.

— Make the hole as much as three times as wide as the diameter of the root ball of the plant,

— but only slightly deeper than the root ball.

— It is important to make the hole wide because most of the new roots on an establishing plant are lateral growing and they must push through surrounding soil.

— Break up and clean up the removed soil.

— Breaking up the soil in a large area around the tree provides the newly emerging roots room to expand into loose soil.

— Fill the hole with water and allow to drain completely. If there is still water in the hole after 24 hours, consider some serious drainage mending.

2. Identify the trunk flare (“arch” or “crown”).

— The trunk flare is where the roots begin to spread at the base of the tree. This point should be partially visible after the tree has been planted.

— If the trunk flare is not partially visible, you may have to remove some soil from the top of the root ball.

— Find it so you can determine how deep the hole needs to be for proper planting.

3. Place the tree at the proper height

— with the trunk flare just above the finish level.

— Before placing the tree in the hole, check to see that the hole has been dug to the proper depth.

— The majority of the roots on the newly planted tree will develop in the top 12″ of soil.

— If the tree is planted too deep, new roots will have difficulty developing due to a lack of oxygen.

— It is better to plant the tree a little high, -2″ above the base of the trunk flare (for largest trees), than to plant it at or below the original growing level.

— This will allow for some settling.

NOTE: To avoid damage when setting the tree in the hole, always lift the tree by the root ball and never by the trunk.

4. Straighten the tree in the hole.

— Before you begin backfilling, have someone view the tree from several directions to confirm the tree is straight.

— Once you begin backfilling it is difficult to reposition.

5. Fill the hole, gently but firmly.

— Fill the hole about 1/3 full and gently but firmly pack the soil around the base of the root ball.

— Be careful not to damage the trunk or roots in the process.

— Water to settle well.

— Fill the remainder of the hole, taking care to firmly pack soil to eliminate air pockets that may cause roots to dry out.

— Add the soil a few inches at a time and settle with water.

— Continue this process until the hole is filled and the tree is firmly planted.

MYTH 1: DO NOT ADD AMENDMENT OF ANY KIND

— regardless of your soil conditions.

This is contrary to nearly universal (but improper) practice but it is the correct way to ensure long-term success of the tree.

MYTH # 2: Do NOT apply fertilizer at the time of planting.

— Allow at least one month before any feeding (if needed at all).

MYTH # 3: — No B1 is necessary either.

6. Stake the tree.

— Remove any existing nursery stake(s).

— Use one stake (smallest trees), two stakes (bigger trees), or three stakes (multiple trunk trees).

— Two stakes used in conjunction with wide flexible tying material will hold the tree upright, provide flexibility, and minimize injury to the trunk.

— Remove this support staking and ties after the first six to twelve months of growth.

MYTH # 4: Do NOT keep stakes and ties on trees beyond the rooting period. 6-18 months

7. Build a berm

— a raised basin 4-6″ high; just outside — 2-3″ — the edge of the root ball.

8. Water.

— Soak the tree thoroughly.

— Wait until the soil surface dries completely
(down 1-3 inches, depending on the size of the tree) before watering again.

9. Mulch the base of the tree.

— A mulch on top of the ground acts as a blanket to hold moisture, provides nutrients, and to reduce competition from weeds.

— Mulch around the tree also eliminates the need to trim or mow close to the tree’s base. DAMAGE.

— A two- to four-inch thick layer is ideal at this time.

— When placing mulch, keep it out from the actual trunk of the tree.

— Mulching material against the trunk often causes decay of the living bark at the base of the tree.

— A mulch-free area, two to four inches out from the base of the tree, is sufficient to avoid moist bark conditions and to prevent decay.

10. Prune?

— remove ONLY dead or broken branches.
MYTH # 5: Do NOT top newly planted trees nor “tip back” branches

MYTH # 6: nor “limb up” (remove lower lateral branches) the trunk at this time.

— Wait FOR A FULL SEASON OF GROWTH to begin necessary corrective or aesthetic pruning.

Joe

The correct way to stake a tree. Image from the Vacaville Tree Foundation

To answer the question of why tree staking should be avoided, one can turn to the latest Extension Service advice or to the nearly 2000 year old words of Seneca:

No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is, therefore, to the advantage even if good men, to the end that they may be unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms and to bear with patience the happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them.

Moving from practical philosophical advice to practical horticultural advice, let’s say you have a tree from the nursery that is too weak to stand on it’s own. Or you need to stake a tree planted in a public place to keep people from pulling on it. What do you do? Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist at Washington State University has some advice:

• If trees must be staked, place stakes as low as possible but no higher than 2/3 the height of the tree.
• Materials used to tie the tree to the stake should be flexible and allow for movement all the way down to the ground so that trunk taper develops correctly.
• Remove all staking material after roots have established. This can be as early as a few months, but should be no longer than one growing season

Now, back to the philosophical: Seneca’s tree analogy is a good example of a system that benefits from chaos and shock. This idea is the subject of Nassim Taleb’s new book on what he calls “anti-fragility“.

By contrast, natural or organic systems are antifragile: They need some dose of disorder in order to develop. Deprive your bones of stress and they become brittle. This denial of the antifragility of living or complex systems is the costliest mistake that we have made in modern times. Stifling natural fluctuations masks real problems, causing the explosions to be both delayed and more intense when they do take place. As with the flammable material accumulating on the forest floor in the absence of forest fires, problems hide in the absence of stressors, and the resulting cumulative harm can take on tragic proportions.

For more advice on tree staking see:

North Carolina State University’s Staking Recent Transplants

University of Minnesota’s guide to Staking and Guying Trees

Linda Chalker-Scott’s pdf on The Myth of Staking

Update: Please note an exception to these tree staking rules regarding certain kinds of dwarf fruit trees. See the comments for the details. Thanks C.

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