How to Stake a Tree

May 20th, 2009

Short answer, don’t. Most trees that are staked do not need to be. In fact I would venture that most trees you, the individual homeowner, plant do not need to be staked. Yes, any tree small enough to be handled by one person really doesn’t need to be staked. Trees only need to be staked when their top growth massively outweighs their rootball, and that tends to mean a large tree.

However, if you must stake a tree, let me explain to you how, because it is not as easy as you may think.

The above tree is an example of what not to do. For one, the tree is far too small to need such massive stakes. If your stake is wider than the trunk of the tree, you’re doing it wrong. For two, there are three stakes. The people obviously thought they needed to immobilize the tree trunk, and long term, those stakes have been there years. This is not the goal of staking.

Staking is used to moderate swings or to protect the tree from violent winds that could uproot it prior to it being established. It is not meant to prevent all movement. If a tree does not move it does not develop a strong trunk. Trees develop strong trunks in response to wind, it is a response mechanism, all plants do. This is also why plants grown indoors can be spindly and tall, there is no wind indoors (you can direct a fan at your seedlings to correct this).

So, when plants aren’t allowed to bend, then don’t put energy into growing stronger, so instead they grow taller. You can see this in nature. Trees clustered together in a grove will be taller and skinnier because they offer each other wind protection. Whereas the tree alone in a field with no wind protection develops a much wider trunk. This has repercussions even within the maple syrup industry as farmers have to balance planting density with the desire to encourage large trunk development.

In addition to not wanting to completely immobilize the tree, you also only need to stake it until it is established, which means one year, tops. Any longer than that and you can permanently weaken the trunk. The tree will grow tall, and spindly, and if you ever unstaked it it’d tip over like a limp noodle, so you think it needs to be staked more, nope. The only think that’ll fix a spindly trunk is removing the stakes. You stake for the roots, not for the trunk. Because of how staked securely increases vertical growth in lieu of a thicker trunk, nurseries often do it because many unwitting consumers buy the tallest tree. When you do your shopping, do yourself a favor, buy the one with the widest trunk.

Then, finally, the actual material you use to tie the tree has a big impact as well.

The above is a picture of my espaliered apple tree. Espalier is a method of training a tree to grow two dimensionally (such as along a fence) as opposed to three dimensionally. It is used for aesthetics, but also to increase air flow, make it easy to harvest fruit, and to spray fruit trees. Training is the exception to all of the above rules and is different from staking, if you’re training a tree for bonsai, espalier, niwagi, or whatever else (such as training a weeping tree to stand upright), you obviously need to tie it and manipulate it as such, but I show you this picture to show you what can happen. I had wrapped a wire around the trunk of this tree and forgotten about it, as you can see the tree has now grown around the wire and is completely encapsulating it. There is also now a good chance that eventually this wire could choke off and kill all the top growth of the tree. This wouldn’t be the end of the world to me, because two good scaffold branches exist below this point, but it would be a set back. What I should have done is loosened the wire every year, I forgot to.

But I mention all this to illustrate what can go wrong if you use the wrong material, like wire (or even synthetic ropes), to stake your tree. The tree can and will grow into it. and it can permanently harm the tree. The one thing the first picture in this post did right was to run their wire (which they shouldn’t have been using to begin with) through a bit of tubing to provide it some padding, but over time even that tubing is not big enough to fully prevent the tree from growing over it because padding or not, it is still on there tight.

So, now that I’ve written you a book on what not to do, let me write you a couple sentences on what to do.

To properly stake a tree place two stakes one foot away from the trunk on either side of the trunk in such a way that they’re perpendicular to the prevailing winds (which means typically one stake on the north side, and one of the south side, unless you’ve got abnormal wind directions in your area). Tie the stakes to the tree using something broad and flexible. Specialty tree ties are made, but old nylons work great. They’re stretchy, flexible, and broad. Then, leave your stakes on no more than one year. But before you do any of that, think if you really need to stake at all, and if the tree is less than six or seven feet high, the answer to that is usually no.

35 Responses to “How to Stake a Tree”

  1. Helen at Toronto Gardens  Says:

    Good information. When I see saplings died down like the Lilliputians tied down Gulliver, I want to sneak in at night and liberate the tree.

  2. jacque  Says:

    Great info. Thanks for the tips for planting a tree.

  3. M. D. Vaden of Oregon  Says:

    On occassion, people call me to tweak their espalier apple trees near Portland.

    And about half the ones I see, have embedded wire or twine similar to the photo that you posted above.

    Sometimes, they bought the house and it was a previous owner.

    MDV

    Oregon

  4. Jim  Says:

    I have a small (about 3 feet high) Dogwood that seems to be bending towards the north. Most wind it gets from the south or west. I don’t want it to lean further and further to the north as it grows, are you saying it will straighten itself out? Without a stake?

    Thanks in advance for your answer.

    Jim

  5. Administrator  Says:

    Likely it is just planted crooked.

    It should straighten out though, at most trees will typically grow towards the sun, so it shouldn’t be reaching North.

    If you staked it all you would be doing is weakening the trunk.

    If you’re really concerned about it at most I would harshly stake it for one year, bending it into what you consider to be an upright position. You’re training it like someone would a bonsai, only on a larger scale, so it will need to be tight and forceful, but after a year the shape should be adopted so you must remember to remove the stakes.

  6. Jim  Says:

    I have two crape myrtles [Multi trucks] brought in and planted approx 10 months ago, container grown and approx 10 feet tall. We get some rather strong winds at times. I’m concerned that the movement may affect root estabishment. How to “Stake down” the multi trunks of crape myrtles?

  7. Administrator  Says:

    The trees have been in the ground 10 months, the roots are fine, staking is not needed. All staking will do is weaken the trunk.

  8. Lynda  Says:

    I have a 15 foot honey locust tree. This is it’s 3rd year in the ground and it has never been staked. The trunk is straight for the first 6 feet then it bends away from the west wind. The branches grow fast, at least 2 feet so far this year. The branches grow out of all sides of the tree, then about a foot away from the truck, they turn east. All the weight is on one side of the tree. We have had other honey locust trees that have broken from the weight. Should I stake the tree? Should it be tied above 6 feet? Should something else besides staking be done?

    Thanks for you answer.

    Lynda

  9. Administrator  Says:

    The idea that staking will strengthen a tree is a myth, staking always weakens a tree, always.

    Your tree will grow stronger in response to the wind, it will grow weaker in response to a stake.

    If you worry about weigh distribution, prune it. That will lighten the top load and allow the trunk to grow stronger.

    It could also be that Locust can’t take wind well (I’ve no idea specifically) and so it was just a poor location to plant them.

    But if you stake them, you will never be able to unstake them, as the tree will become dependent on that stake, and will need you to keep increasing the size and robustness of it as well.

    Understand that lateral forces from wind forces trees to grow stronger and thicker trunks. This is why trees sitting alone in a field get girthier (but shorter) than trees growing in a forest with other trees on all sides blocking wind. Staking promotes a tall weak trunk.

  10. gary  Says:

    i have a purple plumb tree that i had planted 2 years ago. it is about 9 foot tall now. I staked it when i planted it. a year ago in a storm the ties broke and i found the tree lying on the ground. i restaked it and every time the wind blows it leans drasticly in the direction of the wind. i guess i was wrong to stake it. what do i do now?

  11. Cherie  Says:

    We have 3 autumn blaze maple trees. They were 3 inch caliper field dug burlap and ball trees when we planted them 3 years ago. They have grown to have 12-14 inch trunks. They have never been staked. Everything has been fine until a few weeks ago when we started having strong southwest winds. Two of the 3 trees, rock significantly at the base and when the wind stops, they lean to the north. We have pushed them into a more upright position, but as soon as the wind blows,they lean again. What can we do to keep them upright? Are they top heavy? Do they need to be thinned or staked? The third tree does not rock or lean, but we lost a large branch in the last windstorm. Thank you.

  12. Administrator  Says:

    Time.

    You did good in not staking them, and doing so helped them develop that caliper.

    In areas with constant wind trees grow bent, it is just a fact. It is the windswept look, they also do not get as tall, but their trunks get wider.

    If your wind is not constant, you just had these gusts, the tree will eventually self correct, and be stronger for it.

    If you’re worried you could temporily stake them by placing a stake away in the direction it needs to go, and bending and tying the tree… BUT that will only weaken the trunk making bending MORE likely in the future, in the next wind storm.

    I have seen trees bent significantly from a single great wind storm, but they self correct eventually. So my recommendation would be to ignore the bend.

    As for pruning, you should prune the trees if one side is heavier in appearance of substance than another, to even things out. This is mostly for aesthetic reasons, you should do this regardless of any lean, but certainly not because of a lean. So if the low side has more growth, sure, prune it, but you should prune it anyways (for best appearance) even if the tree was straight up and down.

  13. julie  Says:

    I just received a dwarf japanese maple (4-5ft max), and it came in soo small with two branches- one twice the size of the other. Im afraid it will tilt from the heaviness after I plant, plus it looks so delicate, am I just being overprotective or should I just plant it and see what happens…

  14. Dana  Says:

    Thank you for the valuable information. My daughter planted seed from a Red Delicious apple last year around this time (they were studying Johnny Appleseed. Our treeling sprouted in the spring (luckily we remembered what we had done and recognized it for what it was)and is now about 4 feet tall. It has been rather windy lately and we were discussing staking it. I am glad I did some research and came across your site. Now I know what not to do. We are going to plant some more seeds in the next few days and see what happens next spring. Thank you.

  15. Rick  Says:

    I recently transplanted 3 ~10 ft Leyland Cypress trees to another part of my yard, and I am having a difficult time staking them well. I have tried a few different approaches, but each time the stakes are unrooted by a large wind and I end up back at the drawing board.

    I know these trees are known for their relatively small root ball, and their sail-like leaves, but I gotta figure out a way to keep them in the ground before they die on me. Help!

  16. william zak  Says:

    I just planted 4 autumn blaze trees about 6-7 feet tall. they dont appear to be real straight. should I stake them or will they straighten themselves out ang grow straight ? thank you

  17. william zak  Says:

    The branches on my newly planted autumn blaze maples are breaking/snapping off. Is this an indication tha they are dead ?

  18. Morris Myers  Says:

    I have 3 weeping willows that are 3 yrs old and I have had to stake them numerous times because of the S. W. prevailing wind. I know that staking a tree only makes it weaker but not due to the strong winds these trees are leaning over more than 45 degs and these trees are also on a very steep part of the lawn. What can I do. They are beautiful but leaning over entirely toooooo much

    Please advise what to do and if staking is the only way please tell me proper way to stake. I have used 3 stakes per tree but have NOT kept any of them tight – this is too allow movement but I will have to have at least one very tight now on each tree simply because they are leaning down the hill so mucn

    Thanks

    Morris

  19. Andrew  Says:

    I recently had landscapers plant a 10 ft tall 2 in trunk autumn blaze maple that was burlap sacked. The following day, strong winds from the north caused the tree to tilt. The tilt was caused by a shift in the positioning of the root ball. Just as another blogger had experienced, I am able to rock the trunk back and forth. We live in a pretty open, gusty area. I am tempted to stake the tree to correct the lean which would require significant tension on the side opposite the direction the tree is currently leaning. Since the tree is freshly planted now only a few days ago, are there other methods that i could attempt other than staking? Also, I noticed you made it a point to mention that the tree should be staked north and south (which is the direction of prevailing winds in the area where I live) yet a local landscaper told me to make sure I stake east to west but did not offer an explanation, and I didn’t think anything of it until i read your insightful posting above. What would you suggest? Stake or not, north to south or east to west? Thank you.

  20. Administrator  Says:

    You want it perpendicular to the prevailing winds, so however that works in your area. In most areas of the world the winds go from west to east.

  21. Susan McCabe  Says:

    I have an arborvitae which was planted about 5 years ago and is about 10 feet tall. It has been growing fine, however when I returned from out of town I noticed it is now leaning over quite a bit. Should I stake it?

  22. brian casey  Says:

    i planted a scarlet maple it is 12 to 14 foot tall i live in windy wyoming iknow i need to stake it but am confused as to what size stakes i need

  23. rick  Says:

    I have a peach tree that is about 3 years old. It has never been staked. This year when inspecting it after severe wind storms I see that it rocks back and forth pretty seriously. The soil around the trunk is pushed back about 1 to 2 inches all around the tree. It seems to pivot about a spot about 8 to 12 includes below the ground. Leaves and peaches are still growing, so doesn’t appear to be damage.

    I’ve tried filling the soil around the trunk, and then compacting the area, but within a few days the tree is loose again. I’m worried it is working itself more and more loose.

    Should I stake it? Or maybe instead shim it?

    (There are a few ants around the trunk, but I don’t know if they are contributing to this problem.)

    Thanks.

  24. Drew  Says:

    I recently planted a tiny ‘Baby Lace’ Japanese maple that does not have much of a root ball. The graft is on top of a fairly thin trunk and without staking, the tree will flop over severely. I have staked the tree with the expectation that the roots will take hold sooner rather than later and the stake can be removed, perhaps in the Fall. Is this an acceptable form of staking or should I be doing something else?

  25. Paula  Says:

    I planted a Honeycrisp Apple about a year ago and as we are in high (very high) winds in our area of Idaho, the tree has grown almost evenly with the lawn area it’s on. It’s about 6 feet tall now and is loose around the base of the tree. I thought that I should stake it this year and try to get it upright for the next year, but am worried that it will create a weak trunk. Should I replant it or stake it? Will stake closer to the ground give it a better chance? I’m at my wits end with the wind in the area and don’t have any idea ho to approach this.

  26. Administrator  Says:

    I would avoid replanting as that can disturb the root ball, it may seem loose near the soil top, but I promise the roots further down are strong and holding it in place. You could try mounding dirt and mulch a little bit on top of it.

    As for staking. It will make the trunk weaker, in a way wind is a blessing as a fruit tree needs strong wood to bear the weight of the fruit. My own pear tree was severely damaged by fruit weight, in a windier area it may have grown stronger and not gotten that way.

    If you absolutely feel compelled to stake it, use two stakes, one a foot north, one a foot south, and tie them to the tree with something flexible like old pantyhose, not to tight. Your goal is not to stop all movement, just extreme movement. Leave it staked for no more than one year.

  27. Jack  Says:

    Stumbled on this, due to a new planting. I bought a few trees at the local ‘Big Box’ home improvement store. Most seem to likely not need any staking, however I did get one Poplar that’s pretty spindly. I’d guess it’s about 10 feet tall, and the base of the trunk is only 1.5″. The only growth on it so far starts up at 5.5′.
    It was in a 3.5 gallon container. As I’m in the Atlanta area, it was of course planted in the rock hard red clay.
    I placed this tree out at the front of our yard, as it will eventually (hopefully) be pretty tall, and I didn’t want it too close, as we get seasonal strong weather/tornadoes in GA.
    So yes, I fell for the ‘let’s buy the tallest tree’ thing, and I should have known I’d have a problem, because it wouldn’t stand up on it’s own in the container.
    So now that it’s in the ground, I’d say it bends over almost 90 degrees halfway up the tree, to the point that if the root ball isn’t either staked or I put some rocks around it, it will eventually fall to the ground, and pull the root ball out.
    So do I stake it high to keep it kind of straight the first year, but not tight, so it can still give enough for root/trunk development, or…?

    HELP!

  28. Administrator  Says:

    I would try for one year Jack, but ultimately the tree has to be allowed to move if it is to grow stronger.

  29. Bill  Says:

    I plant trees from seed. Once they get big I give them away to friends, plant them in my yard, plant them in the parkways (between the sidewalk and street) on my street, plant them in the park. I have been doing this for years. The only tree I have trouble with is the Tipuana, aka Tipu. One for one they are spindly and fall over. I stake them very loosely, so they have sway, but then they tip over at the highest stake, what ever what height that is. If I don’t stake them at all, they tip over completely. They are all single leader with no spread or crown. This is the only species I have trouble with. Every other tree grows up straight and tall, with miniumal staking necessary if at all. How do I get the Tipus to grow up sturdy from the start? I am in the Los Angeles area. Thanks in advance.

  30. Eric  Says:

    I have a plum tree that is several years old and is now as tall as a two-story house. The trunk is a foot across. After the recent storm, the tree is now leaning towards the house a few degrees and there is a crack about 4 feet across in the ground on the opposite side. What to do: Should the tree be staked while it regrows roots? Should it be taken down? Do nothing and pray?

  31. Ken Thompson  Says:

    We had a winter storm and the ice build up pushed the trees over and onto the ground. Now the base is loose and the trees won’t support themselves and fall back over.

    What should I do to help these trees get back to strength to support their own weight.

  32. Allison  Says:

    I see trees staked in commercial parking areas that have been staked since they were planted. Many die because they are choked to death. Then the yard service sells another tree to replace it.

  33. Fred  Says:

    Bought 3 inch Autumn Glory tree, planted in late fall. Tree is aout of plumb 2 5/8 inches at 4 feet up; obviously out of plumb. It is April. Should I stake?

  34. Susan  Says:

    I have a japanese lilac tree that was planted by the builders when I moved in 9 years ago and it is smaller than other trees in the neighborhood and it’s crooked. Very noticeable so. If I stake it, should I do it for a year or a shorter time as it is a mature tree?

  35. Linda  Says:

    I have a approximately 10′ spiral juniper that was planted over 15 yrs ago, it started leaning about a yr ago (I believe thanks to hurricane sandy) and is getting worse. I think the only way to save it is to trim the top of it to lighten the weight and then push it straight and stake it until it reroots properly. Am I correct?

Leave a Response








(Email field must be filled in)

Top of page...