Authors: Gary R. Johnson, Associate Professor, Urban and Community Forestry and Marc A. Shippee, Undergraduate Research Assistant. Forest Resources Extension Department
When is Staking Necessary?
More often than not, staking is unnecessary. Occasionally, newly planted trees may require staking when:
- They have abnormally small root systems that can’t physically support the larger, above-ground growth (stem and leaves).
- The stem bends excessively when not supported.
- The planting site is very windy and trees will be uprooted if they are not supported.
- There’s a good chance that vandals will uproot or damage unprotected trees.
Proper Staking Techniques
If done properly, staking provides stability until the tree can support itself. However, if staking is done improperly or for too long, it can do far more harm than good (Fig. 3).
Staking and Guying Materials:
Staking materials vary depending on the situation and size of the tree. For small to average-sized trees (up to 10-12 feet in height), wooden stakes are sufficient. They should be at least 2 inches by 2 inches by 5 feet long. For larger or heavier trees, or trees in particularly windy situations, metal fence stakes may be necessary. The stakes are reusable, particularly the metal stakes.
Guying anchors are usually shorter and stronger, since they are driven deep into the ground and exposed only a few inches above the soil surface. Stout wooden stakes (at least 3 inches by 3 inches by 24 inches), duck-billed soil anchors, or reinforcing rods (minimum of 5/8 inches in diameter) are most often used (Fig. 4 and 9).
Attaching the wires/ropes to the stem. Whether attaching the tree to stakes or guying anchors, the rope, wires or metal cable should never come into contact with tree stems or branches. Any material contacting the stem should have a broad and smooth surface (Fig. 1). Wide canvas strapping, strips of old carpeting, burlap, or bicycle inner tubes are suitable materials to wrap around the tree stem and attach to the stake ropes, wires or cables. Do not insert ropes or wires through sections of garden hose and wrap around the tree stem- it doesn’t work for very long, abrasion and compression of the stem will soon occur.
Placement of Stakes/Anchors and Stem Attachments:
Placement of stakes or anchors: As a rule of thumb, use as few as possible. For many, smaller trees, one stake is sufficient to keep the tree vertical and stable (Fig. 6). Place the stake upwind from the direction of prevailing spring/summer winds. Drive the stake into the outer edge of the planting hole, safely away from the root system but still within the mulched planting area.
If one stake is not sufficient, place two stakes that run parallel to the prevailing winds (Fig. 7). For guying straightened, wind thrown trees, use three stakes or anchors, equally spaced around the tree with one placed upwind from the prevailing winds (Fig. 8). Never place guying anchors outside of the mulched planting bed because this can become a safety hazard to people walking by or playing near the trees.
Placement of stem attachment: For staking trees, the wide, flexible stem attachment materials should be placed either 1/3 or 2/3 the distance from the ground up to the first set of branches (Fig. 6, 7). Never place the attachments directly beneath the first set of branches. Stems will snap in heavy wind loads if the canopy (branches and leaves) move but the stem is held rigid directly below the canopy (Fig. 4). For guying trees, the attachments should be made on the canopy stem, that is, around the stem above the first set of branches (Fig. 9). This will allow maximum stability of the entire tree during windy periods.
Always attach the stem to the stakes or anchors loosely, with some flexibility at the point of attachment to the stem as well as the attachment of the ropes/wires to the stakes or anchors. Trees need to move a little during windy periods in order to develop flexible strength and stem diameter. Rigidly supporting trees to stakes or cables will result in tall but weak stems.
Removing the Stakes and Anchors: Install the staking or guying attachments at planting time or straightening time and leave them in place for one growing season. Remove the attachments in the autumn for spring planted trees and in the autumn for trees planted the previous autumn. After removing the attachments, check the tree for stability
If the tree’s root system still moves in the soil when the stem is moved or if the stem still bends excessively, reattach the connections to the stakes – loosely to accommodate new growth – and leave the stakes/anchors on for one more season.
Straightening Wind Thrown Trees
Occasionally, wind thrown trees can be straightened and saved. The success of this technique depends on several key factors, however:
1. It must be a true, wind throw. That is, the roots must be pushing up through the heaved soil as in Fig. 10. If the tree is leaning or horizontal and there is no evidence that the roots are pushing up and heaving the soil, then the tree stem probably broke off below ground and is essentially lost.
2. It is most successfully done when the trees are relatively small: up to 15-20 feet in height and a stem diameter of six inches or less. Larger trees may be straightened, but it takes a skilled tree care company with special equipment to perform the operation.
3. The roots must still be alive. If they have dried out or if it’s several days after the windstorm, the chances of success are greatly reduced.
4. The soil must be moist. Straightening trees in dry soil conditions, especially if the soil is clay in nature, is generally not a very successful operation.
5. The tree should be in good health. If the tree was diseased, infested with insect pests or otherwise stressed, the chances of survival are not very good.
6. Shallow-rooted species (e.g., maples) may be straightened with more success than deep-rooted species (e.g., walnut).
Straightening the Tree
1. Straighten the tree (Fig. 10) soon after the windstorm has subsided, at least within a couple of days. If you can’t straighten it immediately, keep the root system moist with irrigation and a mulch such as loose straw or burlap.
2. Excavate under the heaved-up root system to the depth of the lifted mass of roots and soil (Fig. 11). This allows the root and soil mass to settle back to a normal depth once the tree has been straightened. Never pull or winch a tree into an upright position without excavating under the heaved-up roots. Without the excavated area for the root and soil mass to settle in, it will be pulled up and out of the ground, which will result in more broken roots on the opposite side.
3. Install a triangular guying system, water thoroughly, back fill with loose soil to fill any open areas around the roots, water again and mulch the entire rooting area (Fig. 12). Make sure that you include the guying anchors within the mulched area.
The information given in this publication is for educational purposes only. Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in Forest Resources, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.