KC Gardens

Can this oak tree be saved?

Red oak tree, bent over.
Red oak tree, bent over. Submitted.

QUESTION:

In September, 2014 I bought a red oak tree from a local nursery. I’m not trying to blame a nursery, I just am hoping maybe I can still save the tree.

It was a slim and tall red oak tree. By the next spring, it was bent over at the top. I phoned the nursery in May 2015.

The owner came out and cut off the small portion at the top that was bending over.

He used two sticks (like broomsticks) to hold up the rest of the tree, using masking tape to hold the sticks to the tree.

He left the stakes close in, as in one picture.

The tree looked great all through the rest of 2015.

But this spring (2016) it grew out at the top and is bent over.

I phoned the nursery again early in May.

The first person came out and took off the top broomstick.

I phoned the nursery again within a few days, and a second person came out and took off the second broomstick.

He said there were two ridges (I think that meant where the broomsticks met and at the top, which had grown out).

He also moved the stakes farther out, probably supporting the ridge where the broomsticks met.

The second picture was taken today. The tree looks healthy, except that it is bent.

Is there anything I can do? Is there any hope for the tree?

- Cecilia

ANSWER:

Essentially, your red oak is growing quickly at the top and still hasn’t developed the trunk circumference to support it. It should straighten up in time. With the rain we had last year, a warm winter and sufficient rain this year, the growing conditions have been very good.

I do take issue with the manner in which it was originally staked. Trees should never be tightly staked, as they need to move in the wind in order to develop the trunk and root strength necessary to support themselves. A tree that cannot move is a weak tree.

And by taping the stakes to the tree, damage was caused to the trunk since the tape and the stakes were so tight they started to girdle the trunk. This situation can over time greatly inhibit the growth of the tree by restricting the flow of nutrients and water, and cause its death. Good that those stakes are gone!

I also have to question — if the very top of the tree was pruned off by the nursery and why? Generally a tree’s dominant growth point should not be removed, unless it was corrective pruning so that there remained only a single leader. We would need more information regarding that.

In the second picture, there seems to be a dark spot at the base of the tree. Did the stakes cause some damage there?

Well, as to how the tree is staked now. Can it move in the wind? Are the guy wires touching the bark of the trunk? There should be something soft there to prevent more damage to the trunk. The staking height seems a little high. And four of them? Please read Dennis Patton’s recent post about the correct staking of trees. There is a picture of a properly staked tree also so you can compare.

Since the tree may be in a weakened state from poor staking early on, I would adjust the stakes to match Dennis’ recommendations, then remove them at the end of this year. To promote good growth conditions for your tree, it would be good to remove the grass in the area around it, mulch about 3 feet out on each side, but making sure the mulch stays away from the trunk about 6 inches. That will give it the best environment in which to thrive. Dennis may have additional information to add to this post.

To answer your question, can the tree be saved? Yes, as long as there was no long-term damage caused by the original staking method. Only time will tell. I hope this helps.

Carole - Johnson County Extension Master Gardener

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