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The Coastal Gardener:

Stake properly for a strong tree trunk

January 22, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff

Two weeks ago we discussed one of the most basic of gardening tasks: digging a hole. Not surprisingly, I received lots of e-mails and encouraging comments about the column.

As I assumed, most gardeners had never been instructed on this fundamental skill.

With the heavy rains and winds we have been receiving I am seeing a lot of leaning trees, uprooted trees and snapped trunks. So this is a good week to answer another basic gardening question, “How do I stake a tree?”

The short answer is ... don’t.

Most trees that are staked do not need to be. Trees only need to be staked when their top growth significantly outweighs their root ball, which usually means the tree is root bound and not a good investment anyway.

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However, if you must stake a tree, it is important that it be done correctly — most are not.

The diagram shows a properly staked tree, as well as some comments on the planting hole and soil.

The three cardinal sins of tree staking are: staking too tightly, staking too high and staking too long.

Most importantly, the goal of staking a tree is not to immobilize the tree trunk. This is an important misconception. If a tree does not move, it does not develop a strong trunk.

Tree trunks strengthen in response to wind and movement. Imagine if your arm were in a cast for a couple of years, with no bending, lifting or other movement. Once the cast were removed, your arm would be thin and incredibly weak.

A firmly staked tree is no different. Trees that are over-staked develop a dependency on the stake. Their trunks are thin and weak, and their root development is significantly reduced.

Not coincidentally, these incorrectly staked trees are the ones most of us saw in our neighborhoods this past week, blown over or snapped at the trunk.

Instead of immobilizing the tree trunk, the true goal of staking is to provide a little time for a newly planted tree to establish its roots into the surrounding soil and anchor itself.

In addition to not wanting to completely immobilize the tree, you also need to stake it only until its roots are established, which means one year, tops. Any longer, and it will tip over like a limp noodle when you un-stake it, just as your arm would after coming out of a two-year cast.

By the way, there’s a tip here: When you go shopping for a tree, don’t buy the tallest. Buy the one with the widest trunk; it’s the better investment.

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