Marianne Ophardt

Garden Tips: Stop tree abuse when staking

Most of you know that trees are one of my horticultural passions. I feel their pain when I see them being hurt.

Improper staking is one form of tree abuse that truly upsets me.

Two months ago I reviewed the proper way to stake a tree. It involves taking two sturdy stakes during the process of planting and sinking them into the ground outside the original root ball.

The tall stakes are placed on the opposite sides of a tree’s trunk so that they are situated perpendicular to the prevailing direction of wind.

Whether tree abusers follow this staking procedure or not, they often commit other egregious offenses. Here are the most common staking misdeeds that make me cringe.

Tying materials: One of the most horrifying transgressions is not using the right materials to secure a tree to the stakes.

For many years, the accepted practice was to use guy wires to secure a tree to short stakes in the ground. The guy wire was wrapped around the trunk and cushioned with old rubber hose or plastic tubing.

Unfortunately, the cushioning materials were not effective and the wire eventually tore through the materials and into the bark and trunk of the tree.

Wire, rope, or twine should never be used to secure a tree to stakes. There are commercial materials available specifically for tying newly planted trees to stakes. These materials, such as wide woven polypropylene straps and plastic chain, are non-abrasive and somewhat flexible or stretchy.

When secured to tree trunks, the suitable tying materials should allow for movement of the trunk up to two inches in any direction.

Having trees sway a little in the wind is desirable because this movement stimulates the growth of both the roots and the wood fibers in the trunk. Swaying also leads to shorter and stronger side branches and stems.

The result is a stronger, well-balanced tree with a bigger root system.

Unnecessary staking: Most trees you buy and plant in your home landscape do not need to be staked and will establish more quickly without staking. However, there are some good reasons for staking trees.

In public and commercial situations, staking may be employed to protect newly planted trees from vandalism.

Wind is another concern and staking may be needed to keep a tree upright until it can become established. This is especially true for trees that are planted where they will be subjected to strong winds; for bare-root or container-grown trees with light root balls; for large evergreen trees that are more resistant to wind; and for tall trees with small root balls.

Leaving staking on too long: This is the worst staking offense perpetrated on trees.

Staking should be removed as soon as the tree is well established with the roots growing out of the root ball into the native soil. It should never be left on more than one year.

If left on longer, even suitable tying materials may start to girdle the tree.

Also, tree movement is restricted and the resulting tree will be weaker and less likely to thrive.

It is not unusual to see trees in local landscapes and parking lots with their staking and tying materials left on for much more than one or even two years.

I am bereft when I see the poor things suffering a slow death from tying materials cutting into their trunks.

This is so senseless when saving protecting a tree is as simple as staking it correctly and then removing the staking within one year of planting.

Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.