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Staking a tree

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Proper staking will allow the trunk to move naturally
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Robert Mineau)

Staking

It is very important to decide whether your plants need to be staked or not, for staking a tree that doesn’t need it can interfere with the growth of its trunk and root system. Staking is needed in the following situations.

  • for bare root trees
  • for trees that can’t stand up on their own
  • when the soil is unstable, waterlogged or subject to seasonal flooding
  • in very windy planting sites
  • when the ball of soil surrounding the roots is very small in relation to the height of the tree or the width of its crown

Proper staking will allow the trunk to move naturally, while keeping it sufficiently solid. This means using only one tie per stake. It is also important to choose your staking materials carefully.

Possible ties:

  • elastic straps
  • bicycle inner tubes
  • nylon stockings
  • strips of cotton fabric
  • slings sold in gardening centres

Use wide straps to avoid injuring the trunk and to provide firm, but flexible support. Form a figure-8 with the strap (unless you are using a store-bought one) and tie it loosely to the stake. Never use wire, rope or wire encased in a garden hose. Make sure that the stake is not too wide and that it doesn’t shade the trunk, to allow the tree to grow properly.

Possible stakes:

  • metal bar or pipe
  • wooden stake

There are various staking options, depending on the trunk diameter of the tree you are planting.

Using a single stake

Using a single stake

If your tree’s trunk is less than 5 cm in diameter, a single stake will do the job.

  1. After placing the tree in the planting hole, add the stake. Avoid piercing the root ball (if possible), and place it on the prevailing wind side.
  2. The stake should be buried to a depth of at least 60 cm in the soil beyond the planting hole. The above-ground portion of the stake should reach no more than 2/3 of the way up the trunk.
  3. Attach the strap to the end of the stake, making sure that the stake cannot touch the trunk. Continue planting the tree.

Using two or three stakes

Usign two to three stakes

Use two or three stakes if your tree’s trunk is 5 to 10 cm in diameter.

  1. Place the tree in the planting hole. Install the stakes on either side of the tree, without piercing the root ball (if possible), in line with the prevailing winds. If you are using three stakes, arrange them in a triangle.
  2. The stakes should be buried to a depth of at least 60 cm in the soil beyond the planting hole. The above-ground portion of the stakes should reach no more than 2/3 of the way up the trunk.
  3. Attach each strap to the end of one stake, making sure that the stakes cannot injure the plant. Continue planting the tree.

Using guy wires to stake a tree

Using guy wires to stake a tree

If your tree’s trunk is over 10 cm in diameter, you may wish to use guy wires.

This involves anchoring 3 cables in the ground and fastening these cables with turnbuckles to 3 other cables (guy wires) holding the trunk in place. You can use wooden or steel stakes for the anchors. Galvanized steel is best for the guy wires. Use elastic straps or pieces of old carpet, at least 3 inches wide, to fasten the guy wires to the tree trunk. It will be easier to do so if you use grommets.

  1. Once the tree is planted, place the anchors firmly in the soil beyond the planting hole, at a 30° angle. Arrange them in a triangle, equidistant from the trunk.
  2. Fasten the base of the guy wires to the anchoring system.
  3. Place the straps on the trunk of the tree, even with the bottom branches. Pass the guy wires through the eyelets and extend them out from the tree at a 45° angle. Then tighten them so that they allow the trunk to move naturally.

Make sure that the guy wires do not touch the tree.

Removing stakes

Staking a tree must never be more than a temporary solution. The sooner you are able to remove the stakes or guy wires, the less risk there is of damaging the tree and the sooner the tree will develop a strong trunk and well-established root system. Stakes can usually be removed from small trees after the first year. You may need to leave stakes or guy wires on larger trees for up to 2 years. If in doubt, grasp the trunk and shake it to see if the root ball is loose. If it doesn’t move, remove the stakes.

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