Neal Weisenberger

The right way to stake trees

If you have lived here a while it seems like the wind blows about 30 miles an hour from the southwest for a couple of days, then we have a calm day. Then the wind blows about 30 miles an hour from the northeast for a day or two, then it is calm again, then the cycle starts all over again.

With all the wind in the valley an important gardening task is staking your trees. I have seen trees tied to walls, to homes, to other trees.

Plants do not have bones like us, but they do have a skeleton. The plant’s skeleton is found in two places. One place the skeleton is found is around each cell in the plant. Each cell is surrounded by a calcified hardened cell wall. The other place is in some special cells where the walls are extremely thick. These specialized ‘’strength’’ cells are commonly called fibers.

Commonly trees can be staked using one stake, with two stakes or with three stakes.

One method and the worst way to stake a tree is using one tree stake. When you buy a tree at a nursery, you may find it tied tightly to a single stake. This is not a healthy way to train a tree; when you remove the stake, the tree may bend over.

Don’t worry and don’t blame the nursery. Like a person with a broken arm, given some time and proper exercise, the tree will develop strength. The nurseries must grow trees against a single stake to develop a straight tree and so they are able to move the container and staked tree. The single stake found tied to a nursery tree is just like a splint, a temporary treatment planned to be removed once the tree is planted in the ground.

Using a single stake is the least expensive but the least effective method, and I would not recommend using this method. Drive the stake into the ground about one foot from the tree, best outside the planting hole into undisturbed soil. The stake should be directly between the tree and the prevailing wind. This helps hold the tree but allows the tree to develop some of its own strength. Do not ever tie the tree directly against the stake.

The second method is to use two stakes. This is a much better method to support your tree. In the two-stake method, a stake is driven into the ground approximately one foot away from the trunk on two sides of the tree again best outside the planting hole into undisturbed soil. But instead of the stakes being parallel to the wind, they should be perpendicular to the wind. This means that, because for most of the Antelope Valley the prevailing wind comes out of the southwest, the stakes should be on the north (northwest) and south (southeast). As I drive around town, the trees planted with the two-stake method seem to have the stakes parallel to the street, no matter which direction the street runs. The reason for the stakes to be perpendicular to the prevailing wind is to allow the tree to develop some strength to the wind, but still be supported. If the two stakes were parallel to the wind, the results would be the same as the one stake method but cost twice as much.

The third method of supporting trees does not even require large stakes. This method is using three wires tied from the tree to small stakes in the ground. This method is called guying. When guying a tree, it does not matter which way the wind is blowing. You drive in the stakes about five feet from the tree and in equal triangles around the tree. From the stake a wire or rope is tied to the tree about five feet up from the ground or where the branches come out of the trunk. This method is the best for the tree and is very inexpensive, but it does have problems. Unless you protect the guy wires with pipe or flags, you will walk into them or trip over them. It is difficult to mow around trees that have been guyed. If you want to guy your trees most, of the full-service nurseries carry a guying kit called a duckbill guying kit. These kits are easy to use and have all the stakes, wire and tying straps you need.

In any of the three methods, how you tie the tree to the stake is as important as how you stake the tree. The material that you tie the tree with must be flexible. If you tie your tree to a stake with rope, twine or wire it can kill the tree.

As the tree grows larger in diameter if the tying material does not expand with the increased diameter it can cut into the tree. Eventually this will stop the movement of food in the tree and can kill the tree. This process is called girdling.

In the nurseries, you will find ties made out of rubber or old tires, or spring-loaded wire surrounded by plastic hose. These ties are designed to protect your tree. (If you have trees a couple years old that are staked make sure they are not being girdled or injured). You should re-tie the tree at least every two years until the tree no longer needs to be staked. I have started using bungee straps as the tie around the tree; they stretch and give, helping the tree get stronger. The straps will usually break before the tree becomes girdled.

When you buy that tree, don’t forget the stakes and give your tree an extra start by planting the tree slightly leaning into the wind. Once your tree is planted check the stakes and ties occasionally to see if they are broken or if the ties are girdling the tree.

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