KC Gardens

There’s an art to staking a tree: Here’s how

Dennis Patton

A staked tree.
A staked tree. Submitted.

If you follow my weekly blog columns you’ve probably figured out that I repeat myself from time to time. Some topics are just annual occurrences that need friendly reminders. Then there are the topics such as this one that makes me want to jump up on my soap box.

Yes, I know I can get a little preachy but when healthy trees are being murdered by neglect it gets my blood boiling. So hang in there with me this week as I recycle an important topic that unfortunately almost always seems to be timely.

Trees across the county are shamelessly being killed by acts of kindness or neglect. The culprit is improper staking when the tree is planted, and the failure to remove the device. Over the last few weeks I have seen several trees in decline due to improper staking.

Staking is done at the time of planting to help stabilize the tree from the effects of strong Kansas City winds. The purpose of staking is to lessen the movement of the root ball. Proper staking should allow the tree to sway in the wind.

Problems with staking are normally the result of three incorrect practices.

The most common mistake is improper staking at the time of planting.

Most trees over 1-inch in trunk diameter should be braced with stakes, or guys, to hold them upright. Staking should occur low on the tree trunk, about one-third the height of the trunk. Staking higher on the tree prevents natural movement of the tree, resulting in the tree becoming dependent on the stake.

Trees that are stake-dependent will develop weakened trunks and have slowed root development. Trees with weakened trunks will not be able to support the weight of the tree canopy, thus it can simply fall over or break off.

Another common problem is leaving the braces on too long. Staking is not permanent. Staking should only be in place for the first growing season. After the first year, remove all guys and supports. Leaving the stakes in place longer causes a weaker tree to develop. Once again, the tree becomes stake-dependent and damage can occur during periods of high winds, heavy ice or snowfall.

Lastly, one of the most common problems with tree stakes is trunk damage. This arises from improper installation. Young trees quickly expand in trunk diameter. Make sure the stakes fit loosely around the trunk, allowing for natural growth of the tree. Staked trees should be checked often during the growing season to help prevent this problem. Guy wires that are too tight, or left in place for extended periods will girdle the tree, restricting the movement of nutrients and water. The tree can be choked to death.

Wires used to support the young tree should not come in contact with the bark. Run the wire through an old garden hose or some other soft material to buffer the tree from cutting into the bark. Also, make sure no part of the stake or wire rubs the bark, injuring the tree.

Staking is recommended for young trees and is important in plant establishment. It is our responsibility to make sure it is done properly, just as it is our responsibility to remove them in a timely manner for the health of the tree.