JoAnne Skelly: Tree stakes not always a good idea
September 20, 2018
Often people assume all newly planted trees should be staked and that is not the case. Most trees establish themselves best when left to move in the wind. This helps them develop strong, balanced trunks. Staking can actually be detrimental if done unnecessarily or improperly because it can result in decreased trunk diameter, smaller root systems and physical damage to trunk tissue. Weak trunks are more likely to snap in high winds.
In horticulture, though, there are always exceptions. Staking is probably necessary on bare-root or container-grown trees with small lightweight root balls.
Large newly planted evergreen trees create wind resistance and also may need to have their root balls supported until enough lateral roots develop to prevent the tree tipping. New trees on sites with strong winds, elevated settings or sandy soils may require tree support, too.
Tall trees with tiny root balls will need to be staked until a root mass comparable to the height of the tree develops.
The idea in any tree support system is to stabilize the root ball. In addition to the traditional stakes, ties and guy wire systems, there are underground stabilizing systems, particularly useful on large balled-and-burlapped trees. One system called Duckbill Earth Anchors uses three anchors placed deeper than the root ball with straps that cross the top of the ball. The straps are then ratcheted tight to keep the root ball still. With this system, there are no visible poles or stakes and nothing to trip over. I couldn't tell from their online information how or when the anchors and straps were removed. I have never used this method and can't advise for or against, but it is an interesting approach. I have also seen pictures of root balls supported by wooden frames going across the top of the ball and attached to vertical wooden stakes driven four feet deep around the root ball.
With both of these methods, the soil needs to be dug deeply, something not always possible in our area, which often has challenging soils.
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Any tree support system should be examined multiple times a year for what it is doing to the tree, adjusted as needed and removed, if possible, after one growing season or one year. If after one year, the root ball still moves when you try moving the trunk a bit, you may have to keep the tree staked a bit longer.
For excellent information and pictures on tree support systems, go to https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-547-W.pdf.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at email@example.com.