Should newly planted trees be staked? In most cases the answer is no, says William R. Chaney, professor of tree physiology at Purdue University. It's important for trees to experience movement caused by the wind so they can develop properly. Movement by wind causes shortened stems, increased trunk diameter, and enhanced root development, all of which result in a tree that has a better balance of canopy size, trunk caliper, and root system.
Chaney adds, however, that in a few situations, it is essential to hold trees upright with stakes until adequate root growth has occurred to anchor them in the soil. If staking is necessary, he says, it is important that the stakes be installed properly to prevent tree damage.
When to Stake Trees
Chaney says staking newly planted trees is warranted in very open sites that are exposed to strong winds, such as new housing developments, or on sites with sandy soils. Tall trees with small root balls also may need to be staked. Without support in these situations, trees may become tilted and movement of the root ball in the planting hole may damage the tree's fine, absorbing roots. If a tree is supported, says Chaney, the ties and guys should be removed as soon as feasible--usually no later than after one growing season. Trees that are prevented from moving for longer periods usually grow taller than trees that are free to move in the wind, but they grow less in diameter, have smaller root systems, and often break easily in the wind after the supports are removed.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of supporting trees against the wind, says Chaney, is that the staking materials provide barriers to physical damage of tree trunks by lawnmowers and other landscaping equipment. Leaving the stakes as trunk guards after the supporting guys are removed from a tree may be useful as long as they don't pose a hazard.
Proper Methods of Staking and Guying
Chaney says that as many as four stakes may be used to support a tree. A single stake should be placed on the windward side of the tree. The tree should be tied with a figure eight loop between the tree and the stake to minimize the extent to which the stake rubs against the tree stem. The material used to attach the tree to the stake should be broad, smooth, and somewhat elastic. Cord or wire inside a section of rubber hose or other flexible tubing can be used as well. The tree should be attached to the stake at several points along the trunk. Never use bare wire or cord as a tie material because it is likely to cut into the bark and damage the essential food- and water-conducting tissues beneath.
If two support stakes are used, they should be placed on opposite sides of the tree and outside the planting hole for maximum support and to avoid damaging the root ball. A guy attached to the tops of the stakes will be sufficient for support. Chaney recommends that the stakes should be tall enough to keep the tree upright but not so high that the top of the tree bends above the tie point. The guys should be taut but not so tight that the tree is inhibited from moving. It is best to use a flexible material such as half-inch concrete reinforcing rod, for stakes that support the top but also allow some natural movement of the stem.
Chaney says that when three or four stakes are used, the guys should slope from about halfway up the trunk to the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees. Stakes should be driven deep into the soil in line with the guy, pointing toward the tree. Stakes that are driven perpendicular to the guy tend to loosen.
Chaney also recommends that trees larger than four inches in diameter be secured with three or four guys attached to the trees with eye screws, even though the screws may damage part of the tree stem. Compared to the rubbing-girdling effect of tie material looped around the stem, which can damage 60 percent or more of the bark at that point, damage caused by the eye screws is "minimal," he says.
Despite the benefits staking may provide to newly planted trees, Chaney reiterates that staking should be done only when soil conditions and exposure to the wind make it necessary to help a tree remain standing. In such situations, the supports should be installed properly to prevent rubbing and bark damage, and the supporting material should be removed as soon as possible--usually after one growing season. Trees that are free to sway in the wind usually are shorter in height but greater in diameter than trees held rigidly by supports.
Adapted from "Should Newly Planted Trees Be Staked and Tied?" by William R. Chaney, a publication of Purdue University Extension.
For more information, contact William R. Chaney, Department of Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue University, Forestry Building, 195 Marsteller Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2033; (765) 494-3576; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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