My tree is 2 years old and still can’t stand by itself. How many years more before I can remove the stakes
Q: My tree is 2 years old and still can’t stand by itself. How many years more before I can remove the stakes?
A: My guess is that the tree is staked so tight that the trunk has never been allowed to develop much strength.
One urban myth is that all transplanted trees must be staked. There are two reasons for staking: to stabilize the root ball until new roots can do it, and to hold the trunk upright if it is not strong enough to grow straight by itself.
Landscapers nearly always stake new trees as insurance that they won’t have to come back if the tree can’t stand by itself; however, no provision is made to remove the stakes when the tree no longer needs the help. I see trees daily that have been in the same location for several years and are so large they seem to be holding up the stakes. Homeowners who plant their own trees may not need to stake. Logically speaking, if you keep a broken finger, arm or leg in a cast for years, when will it develop the strength to function normally? The purpose for staking trees is similar to casting or splinting an arm or leg that has a broken bone: to stabilize it only until it has enough rigidity to function without external support. The same principle applies to staking a tree. Remove all stakes for a while to see if it can grow without assistance from stakes, then add some only after it has proved it can’t stand by itself.
Always remove the nursery stake; it is only there to stabilize the trunk until it is planted.
If you leave the nursery stake in place, the tree tries to grow away from the nursery stake because the tissue cells next to the stake are shaded by it and elongate to get more sunlight. The rest of the cells, in direct sunlight, are shorter, so the tissue in the sunny side of the tree is shorter than the side shaded by the nursery stake. When you then remove the stake, the trunk tends to fall away from it in an arch. Compared with a tree that stands alone and is free to move, a staked tree will develop a smaller root system and produce a decreased or reversed trunk taper.
If the trunk is so willowy it has no strength, add two stakes in the direction of the prevailing winds in undisturbed ground outside the root ball, but put the ties only as high as necessary to keep the trunk straight. If you use wire as a tie, put a sleeve of tubing or garden hose over the wire to keep the wire from cutting into the trunk tissue. Do not tie the supports tight. Make a loop in the wire tie large enough to allow the tree to move around in a breeze and develop strength. Even though you add supports, if you don’t allow for loose movement of the trunk in the loop, the trunk may still not have enough strength to stand by itself after several years — which is what I suspect has happened to your tree. The principle here is not to keep the tree upright by staking, but to help the young tree stand by itself.
After the tree has been in the ground about six months, loosen the ties a little to allow more movement. There is no need for stakes after one year if the tree has been allowed to develop its own strength.
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