New Trees: To Stake or Not to Stake?
July 20, 2016
Planting a new tree is always an exciting time! Whether or not to stake your new tree is a question we get a lot from homeowners. Research shows that it’s better to allow new trees to get established without staking them, as it forces them to put energy towards a better stabilized root system. Also, planting the right tree, in the right place - and planting it properly - will give your tree the best chance of success. However, there are situations where staking a new tree, or an established tree might be recommended.
When staking can harm your tree
In most cases, staking a tree when it isn’t necessary could do more harm than good. Staking can potentially inhibit a tree’s movement which doesn’t allow for it to grow stronger and thicker at the bottom of the trunk, then taper at the top.
If you are planting a tree and staking it on your own, without the proper equipment or method, the tree could be staked too tight, causing roots to girdle, weakening the root system which could lead to further damage. Ultimately, unless the root girdling is caught in time, the tree would eventually perish. Another cause of damage from staking a tree too tight could lead to a thickening of the trunk above the area where the tree stake is tied. When the trunk grows thick or tapers in the wrong places, it prohibits water and nutrients from moving through the tree properly.
On the flip side, a stake tied too loose can also be problematic. If the bark is continuously rubbed as the tree moves, it could result in wounds that allow for pests and disease to move in and cause serious damage.
When should you stake your tree?
Below you’ll see a before and after example of a tree that probably should have been staked at planting, given the tight planting space and it’s proximity to a street - and the fact that the narrow corridor between the buildings causes winds to blow continuously against the tree. Overtime, the wind and limited root zone area resulted in a significant lean. If left unattended, this tree would have most likely perished.
To straighten a leaning tree such as the one in the photo, we dig up part of the root ball, making sure to limit any root damage, then we replant it at the correct angle. Once replanted, we stabilize it using a special brace at ground level. Over time this tree will be able to grow a straight trunk.
Why we might stake your new tree
There are always exceptions to the rule and therefore there are some instances in which staking your tree is a good idea.
If the young tree that is chosen has a dense canopy but a small root ball, then staking it could save it from toppling over in a strong wind.
Another reason to stake a young tree with a heavy canopy is to avoid what is called a “crowbar hole”. As the unstaked tree moves with the wind, it causes a gap to develop in the soil around the base of the tree. If water were to collect in the space and not drain properly, it could lead to root rot.
If you’re planting on a significant slope, or experience regular straight line winds through your property, staking can also be helpful.
But remember, staking is never meant to be permanent!
Should you stake your young tree?
Once planted, try holding the trunk and moving it back and forth. If soil shifts at the base, a stake could help the tree stay in place long enough for the roots to take hold and the trunk to sufficiently thicken and taper to reduce movement over time. Keep in mind that staking a tree is temporary; generally only 6 months to a year. After six months, check the tree’s movement. If it stays in place, remove the stakes or check again in a few months. Larger trees could take another year for roots to develop.