Do Trees Really Need Staking?

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A tie left in place too long can end up strangling (girdling) the tree.

There is an old belief that you should always stake a tree solidly when you plant it. Indeed, this was the accepted practice for most of the 20th century. But not any more. In fact, the International Society of Arborists now states this is the number one myth concerning tree care. Studies show that staking young trees is not useful in most circumstances. In fact, unstaked trees tend to show healthier, denser growth than staked trees.

It seems that the wind moving the upper part of the tree stimulates the production of longer, deeper roots that better anchor the tree to the ground and also cause it to develop a thicker, stronger trunk. And then there is also the problem of well-intentioned gardeners who install a stake, but then forget to remove it, or don’t know they should, so that the stake ties start to dig into the trunk and eventually girdle it.

When planting a tree, the important thing is that it be properly seated in its planting hole, so be sure to tamp the soil delicately but firmly in so the root ball itself doesn’t move. (A root ball that rocks in the wind is not good thing!) A stake, however, would only be need in exceptional circumstances, such as:

  1. A very windy location;
  2. A steep slope;
  3. A tree with good branch development but a weak root system.
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Any stake used should be installed in the soil beyond the root ball.

If you do decide to stake, make sure to insert the stake in the ground outside the root ball and not into it and especially to use a tie that is flexible, fairly broad and doesn’t dig into the bark. And leave a bit of wiggle room: the trunk should move at least a bit in the wind.

Finally, remove the stake after one year at the latest. Mark it on your calendar: the future health and even the life of your tree depends on it.

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