How To: Stake a Tree
That newly planted member of your yard might need some help to grow up big and strong.
Many new trees do just fine on their own. In fact, the movement they experience from normal wind and weather helps these yard young’uns develop strong root systems and solid trunk girth. But new trees in open areas often require staking early in their lives. “This prevents leaning while the tree is being established,” says Gary Schermerhorn, arborist and a district manager for Davey Trees in King of Prussia, Pa.
Though new trees in protected areas might not need help, there are several scenarios in which it’s beneficial—even necessary—to stake a tree during its first growing season. For example, a new tree planted on a slope or exposed to very strong winds usually requires some temporary stabilization.
Trees must be staked properly or tree staking can backfire and damage a tree. This guide will help your new tree become a truly upstanding citizen!
What You Need to Know Before Staking a Tree
Once you plant or transplant a tree and know it likely needs staking, the next step comes in learning how to brace a tree to help, but not hurt, it. Once it’s staked properly, your tree only needs help for so long, so know when it’s ready to hold its own.
When Does a Tree Require Staking?
Most new trees planted in the open benefit from help to get started. The usual culprit is wind, which can bend the tree and affect its upright growth. In some cases, strong wind might blow a young tree right out of the ground or break its main trunk. New trees establishing roots in sandy soil are more likely to need staking.
Bare-root trees typically need staking as their root balls grow, and a new tree that does not stand up well on its own or begins to lean after planting needs proper staking. Top-heavy trees with a dense crown of leaves, tall trees with small root balls, and those exposed to foot traffic (near a sidewalk, for example) often need staking.
Some trees are more susceptible to wind damage, and a few tree types almost always need staking; these include eucalyptus trees, acacias, and mesquite hybrids, among others. When in doubt, stake a new tree, but only properly and for no more than a year.
How Long Should a Tree be Staked?
It usually takes a full growing season for a tree to grow sturdy roots. So, if you plant and stake a tree in spring, remove the stake in fall, and vice versa. The tree needs a little time to stand on its own instead of becoming dependent on the tree stakes and ties. Some movement from wind helps the tree develop a strong structure.
So, avoid staking a tree and forgetting about it. “If any material is used to wrap around the trunk of a tree, it should be removed after one year,” says Schermerhorn. Wires, in particular, can girdle and damage a trunk. Staking a tree too long actually can lead to poor trunk growth and a smaller diameter.
How To Stake a Tree Using Tree Stakes and Staking Straps
Tree stakes and straps can support a young or leaning tree, and you can find good quality tree support straps or make your own. Just be sure to take the time to do it right when you stake a tree.
STEP 1: Get the goods.
You’ll need two tree stakes at least, and up to four stakes, plus tree-staking straps to tie them to the trunk. To DIY your own stakes, taper the points of 6- to 8-foot long, 2×2 pieces of lumber. Or you can purchase stakes, made of treated wooden posts, and nylon or rubber ties online, from big box home improvement stores, or from local nurseries.
Many DIYers use a rope or wire covered with a piece of rubber hose for a flexible and soft wrap on tree trunks. But the best bet is tree support straps, which are designed specifically for staking trees. “Broad, strong strapping, such as ArborTie, works fine,” says Schermerhorn. Avoid using wire or ropes that can rub and cut into the trunk. Larger trees might need ground anchors, steel cable, and lag hooks, Schermerhorn adds.
STEP 2: Drive the tree stakes.
Place each stake on opposite sides of the tree, about 15 to 18 inches away from the trunk, ensuring they will clear the root ball. Drive each stake into the ground with a sledgehammer, about 18 inches deep, but with enough height above the ground level to where you will tie the tree support straps.
STEP 3: Pick the right spot.
In general, to anchor small trees exposed to high winds or on slopes, place the straps about 18 inches above the ground. In the case of a tree with a flimsy trunk that can’t support itself, place the straps about 6 inches above the spot where the tree can stand upright.
STEP 4: Support the trunk.
Tie the tree to each stake with flat tree-staking straps, so that they are taut but not so tight that the tree cannot move. You want to let the tree sway a bit in the wind, which encourages strong root development.
Flat straps provide a large surface area to distribute pressure and avoid damage to the trunk. Be especially cautious if using homemade wire-in-hose straps: Stretch them too tight and they’ll injure the sensitive tissues just under the bark, essential for taking up water and nutrients.
STEP 5: Untie in a timely manner.
Remember, you should only stake a young tree for one growing season, until the root system has had a chance to spread out and set in. After removing the straps, you can leave the stakes in the ground as protection from foot traffic and lawn equipment if they don’t pose a hazard.
If you choose to remove the stakes, dig gently around the base of each one to loosen it, being careful not to disturb the roots. Keep your straps and stakes if they are still in good condition to be used for the next tree you plant that requires staking.
With good care and a little luck, your new trees should bring joy to your family and beauty to your property for generations.
Tips for Staking Trees in Windy Areas
Wind actually helps trees, but sometimes too much of a good thing requires supporting a young or leaning tree.
- When staking the tree, support it, but don’t pull the ties too tightly. The tree needs some flexibility and movement to grow strong.
- It is best to use at least two stakes. In high-wind areas, place them perpendicular to the prevailing wind.
- Place the ties or straps around the tree trunk so they are no higher than ⅔ of the tree’s height.
- Large evergreen trees have higher wind resistance, and the support is designed to prevent tipping over in strong winds.
FAQ About How to Stake a Tree
Should I stake a leaning tree?
Causes of leaning trees vary, and might affect whether staking will help. Staking a young tree after planting can help prevent leaning caused by wind. Weather events can damage trees. A tree also might lean because the root ball shifted in the ground, which might involve some underground intervention. Try to determine when your tree started leaning and whether it is exposed to wind, then stake properly and temporarily.
How do you stake tall, skinny trees?
The trick to helping stabilize a tree that is top heavy or very tall and thin is to protect the trunk while helping to keep the root ball steady underground. Use of three stakes gives the skinny tree the most support, as long as each strap or guide wire is not too tight or too loose and that you properly protect the trunk from rubbing or girdling. Wrap them around the tree about 6 inches above the spot where the tree can stand upright.
How do you stake a tree for wind?
Remember that some sway or movement gives the new tree a workout. Avoid tightening the straps or wires so tight that the tree can’t budge. A strong wind might cause the trunk to snap where the guides attach. Make sure the ties are flexible but tight enough to keep the tree from blowing over completely. Place the stakes perpendicular to the prevailing wind.
Can you straighten a bent tree trunk?
You can gently straighten the trunk of a tree that leans so badly that it affects the tree’s growth. If possible, use guy wires and wooden or metal stakes to brace the tree, driving stakes deep enough to hold, but making sure they are tall enough to wrap the ties or guides a little more than halfway up the trunk. Have a helper push the trunk upright carefully before tightening the straps. Leave the stakes in place for a year before checking to see if the tree is standing tall.