Kathleen Cue, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator in Dodge County
Confusion surrounds the healthiest way to stake newly-planted trees to stand up to fierce winds while fostering good root growth. The old method, seen much too often still, of snaking wire through a section of garden hose to wrap around trunks and branches is highly injurious to trees. This ill-advised technique digs into tree conductive tissues and, left in place too long, shuts down sugar transport from the leaves to the roots. Roots then become starved of sugars necessary for certain functions, like existing.
Small trees, those less than 5 feet tall and not in windswept conditions, may not need any staking at all. Realistically, we live in an area associated with lots of wind, so when staking trees, there are several good ways to stabilize them that are less likely to cause long-term damage.
•Stake new trees using broad strapping material, made of burlap, denim, nylon mesh, or canvas. A strap is wrapped around the tree and the ends of the strap are mated together. Then wire or rope is threaded through holes punched in the strap ends and attached to a nearby stake. Small trees are stabilized with just one stake while two to three stakes can be used for larger trees. If possible, the position of the strap should be located on the lower 1/3 of the tree to allow trunk movement, which is necessary to develop a strengthening trunk taper while still stabilizing the root ball. Wooden stakes, appropriate for smaller trees, should be at least 2 inches by 2 inches. In areas of high winds or with larger trees, metal fence stakes should be used. As a safety concern, stakes should always be placed within the tree’s mulch bed to increase their visibility. Staking too high or too tightly leads to trunk breakage and tree failure. As a final step, staking materials should never be left on for longer than one year. Be sure to mark the calendar to ensure this important task is completed.
•Research by Colorado State University Extension on the underground stabilization technique uses two to three wood dowels driven through the edge of the root ball into the ground. This prevents rotation of the tree’s root ball and no additional staking is required. There are no materials to remove later as the dowels will decompose over time.
Along with watering during dry periods and utilizing 2-4 inches of wood chip mulch around newly-planted trees, good tree establishment is ensured when trees are staked correctly.