The Q&A Archives: Tree Staking

Question: I'm having problems with trees leaning after a couple of years. When planting a new tree (Jackoranda, Italian Cypress or Crepe Myrtle) should I leave the bamboo support attached to the trunk or rely on just two supports on each side--and for how long?

Answer: Recent research shows that staking doesn't help the tree much over the long term, because it doesn't allow the tree to move in the wind. As trees move in the wind, the tree's fibers are strengthened and the tree is better able to support itself. Therefore, staking is no longer recommended. However, we see staked trees all over the place in the low desert and nurseries usually sell them staked.

Before buying a new tree, remove the nursery stake to ensure it will stand upright. If not, don't buy it. If you're having problems with an existing tree, there is a correct way to stake for a short time, usually no more than 6 months. Stakes should provide just enough support to keep the tree upright, yet allow for free movement in the wind to build up the trunk's strength.

Stakes should be wood or metal and no taller than the lowest branch of the tree. Since the staked tree will be moving with the wind, be careful that branches don't hit the stakes. Use a minimum of two stakes for each plant. Never use one stake only as it does not provide proper support and often leads to trees bending or snapping off where it is tied.

The less contact the tie has with the trunk or stem, the better. The best ties are soft but durable nylon straps. Wire that is inserted into a section of garden hose is okay. Never use bare wire which would rub the trunk, creating a wound. Only use one tie for each plant, but make sure the tie is long enough to attach to each of the stakes used.

Here's how to place the stakes. If using two stakes, place them in a line perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction. For example, if your plant is primarily exposed to winds blowing from west to east, place one stake to the north and one to the south of the plant. When using three stakes, place them in a triangular formation around the plant. The stakes should be put in the ground beyond the root ball area, to avoid the roots. Put them in the soil deep so they do not move. Make sure that the top portions of the stakes are not higher than the lowest branches of the plant by sawing off the tops or burying them deeper.

Here's how to determine where to tie the tree. First, let it droop without support. Make a ring around the base of the trunk with one or both hands, fingers and thumbs touching. Slide your hands together vertically up the trunk. The tree should be slowly righting itself with your help. Place the ties at six inches above the lowest point on the trunk where your hands can hold the tree upright.

Examine your staked tree monthly. As the tree builds trunk strength, move the tie attachment point lower. When you untie the stakes and the tree remains upright you can remove them completely. I hope this info helps!

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