A woman's hands use wire to attach a tree stake to a small sapling
(Image credit: lolostock)

Staking is a common practice that can help stabilize a newly planted tree as its root system becomes established in its new location. Though common for newly installed trees, staking isn’t always necessary, so consider well before deciding. When to remove stakes from trees? Stakes are temporary devices that should be removed a year or less after planting in most circumstances.

Should You Stake a Tree?

There is no simple answer to the question of whether to stake a tree. Since nature doesn’t stake trees, yet produces forests, it’s clear that trees can grow without staking. But trees in the wild grow from seeds, establishing a strong root system before growing a tall trunk or a spreading canopy.

Trees we purchase at the garden store have taller stems and smaller root systems than they would if grown from seeds in nature. Still, many of these trees can be transplanted without stakes. Stakes are only required in windy areas, where vandals may damage them, or when the trees are exceptionally large.

How to Stake a Tree?

One way to stake is with two wooden tree stakes. Drive them into the ground on either side of the newly transplanted tree perpendicular to the prevailing winds. Use thick straps or rubber ties. Forget the old favorite: wire passed through a hose. It can hurt the tree.

Where to place the ties? Test out the best spot by holding the trunk with one hand at various heights. If the trunk leans over, try moving up a few inches (8-9 cm.). Place ties at the lowest point at which the tree will not bend over. Attach one tie to each stake. It’s important that the trunk can move a little to allow it to develop a strong trunk.

How Long to Stake Trees?

How long should you stake a tree? The question of when to remove support from trees is an important one. As trees age, their trunks and branches grow thicker as they grow taller. When stakes stay tight around tree trunks over years, they cut into the tree and can stunt growth.

The general rule is to remove stakes no longer than a year after they are installed. But the timing depends on planting time. Remove the stakes in the fall both for spring-planted trees and for trees planted the previous fall. At this point, check the tree for stability. If the root system is not well developed and the tree’s root still wiggles when the trunk is moved, or if the trunk bends a lot, reattach the straps to the stakes and leave them in place for another season.

If you are wondering how to remove stakes from the ground, this is usually not very difficult. Just grasp the stake and pull. If you cannot get the stake out by pulling, twist it and try again. You can also use a shovel to dig it out.

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.