Staking A Tree After Planting: Should You Stake A Tree Or Not

Single Staked Tree
tree stake
(Image credit: Sportactive)

For many years, those planting saplings were taught that staking a tree after planting was essential. This advice was based on the idea was that a young tree needed help to withstand the winds. But tree experts advise us today that tree staking after planting can and often does more harm to a tree. Do I need to stake a tree I am planting? The answer is usually not. Read on for more about the “to stake a tree or not to stake a tree” issue.

Do I Need to Stake a Tree?

If you watch a tree in wind, you see it swaying. Swaying in the breeze is the norm, not the exception, for trees growing in the wild. In yesteryear, people routinely staked trees they planted in order to provide support for newly planted trees. Today, we know that most newly planted trees do not require staking and can suffer from it.

When you are trying to decide whether to stake a tree or not, keep the overview in mind. Studies have shown that trees left to dance in the breeze generally live longer, stronger lives than trees staked when young. While in some cases staking may be helpful, usually it is not.

That is because staked trees invest their energy in growing taller rather than wider. That makes the base of the trunk weaker and inhibits the deep root development a tree needs to hold it upright. Staked trees produce slender trunks that can be easily snapped by a strong wind.

When to Stake a New Tree

Staking a tree after planting is not always detrimental to the tree. In fact, it is sometimes a really good idea. When to stake a new tree? One consideration is whether you bought a bare-root tree or one with a rootball. Both trees sold as ball-and-burlap and container-grown come with rootballs.

A tree with a rootball is sufficiently bottom-heavy to stand tall without a stake. A bare root tree might not be at first, especially if it is tall, and might benefit from staking. Staking a tree after planting can also be useful in high-wind areas, or when the soil is shallow and poor. Properly placed stakes can also protect against careless lawnmower wounds.

If you decide on tree staking after planting, do it correctly. Insert the stakes outside, not through, the root area. Use two or three stakes and attach the tree to them with inner tubes from old tires or nylon stockings. Don’t try to prevent all tree trunk movement.

Most important, when you decide the “to stake a tree or not” question in favor of staking, monitor the tree well. Take a look every so often at the ties to be sure they aren’t too tight. And remove the stake the beginning of the second growing season.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.