- Staking provides support to newly planted or damaged trees, but is not always necessary.
- Stem attachment materials should be wide and flexible to prevent damage to the tree.
- Straightening wind blown trees is possible, but can be difficult and depends on many factors.
When is staking necessary?
Staking is often unnecessary. Occasionally, newly planted trees may require staking when:
- They have unusually small root systems that can’t physically support the larger, above-ground growth (stem and leaves).
- The stem bends excessively when not supported.
- The planting site is very windy and trees will be uprooted if they are not supported.
- There’s a good chance that vandals will uproot or damage unprotected trees.
Install the staking or guying attachments at planting time or straightening time and leave them in place for one growing season.
If done properly, staking provides stability until the tree can support itself. However, if staking is done poorly or for too long, it can do far more harm than good.
- Materials vary depending on the situation and size of the tree.
- For small to average-sized trees (up to 10-12 feet in height), wooden stakes are sufficient.
- They should be at least 2 inches by 2 inches by 5 feet long.
- For larger or heavier trees, or trees in particularly windy situations, metal fence stakes may be necessary.
- The stakes are reusable, particularly the metal stakes.
- Stakes that are too tall for the tree may damage the branches in the canopy from rubbing.
Guying is usually used for stabilizing transplanted trees with larger diameters, 4 inches or larger.
Guying anchors are usually shorter and stronger, since they are driven deep into the ground and exposed only a few inches above the soil surface.
Stout wooden stakes (at least 3 inches by 3 inches by 24 inches), duck-billed soil anchors, or reinforcing rods (minimum of 5/8 inches in diameter) are most often used.
When planting a tree purchased from a nursery, always remove any materials used to straighten or stabilize the stem, such as poles or bamboo sticks. They can damage or girdle a tree if left on too long.
Whether attaching the tree to stakes or guying anchors, the rope, wires or metal cable should never come into contact with tree stems or branches. Any material contacting the stem should have a broad and smooth surface.
Suitable materials to wrap around the tree stem and attach to the stake ropes, wires or cables include:
- Wide canvas strapping
- Strips of old carpeting
- Bicycle inner tubes
Do not insert ropes or wires through sections of garden hose and wrap around the tree stem. It doesn’t work for very long, and abrasion and compression of the stem will soon occur.
Steel cables can be used to guy larger trees. The cable should be threaded through a webbing to protect the tree from girdling and abrasion. Close the wire with cable clamps and connect it to a guying stake.
Alternative stem attachments
There are a few alternatives that can be attached directly from the tree to the stake.
- Arbortie staking and guying material is a durable mesh polyester.
- ¾” wide and can be cut to a desired length.
- A polyethylene chain lock tree tie can be wrapped around the tree stem and locked, while the other end is wrapped around the stake and locked.
- The Tree Mate O tree support system for staking slides onto the metal post while the other end encircles the tree stem.
- Rubber bands connect the stem and the Tree Mate O, allowing for tension and movement in the wind.
Staking a tree
As a rule of thumb, use as few as possible. For many smaller trees, one stake is sufficient to keep the tree vertical and stable.
- Place the stake upwind from the direction of prevailing spring or summer winds.
- If one stake is not sufficient, place two stakes that run parallel to the prevailing winds.
- Drive the stake into the outer edge of the planting hole, safely away from the root system but still within the mulched planting area.
- For guying straightened, wind thrown trees, use three stakes or anchors, equally spaced around the tree with one placed upwind from the prevailing winds.
- Never place guying anchors outside of the mulched planting bed because this can become a safety hazard to people walking by or playing near the trees.
- For staking trees, the wide, flexible stem attachment materials should be placed either 1/3 or 2/3 the distance from the ground up to the first set of branches.
- Never place the attachments directly beneath the first set of branches.
- Stems will snap in heavy wind loads if the canopy (branches and leaves) move but the stem is held rigid directly below the canopy.
- For guying trees, the attachments should be made on the canopy stem, the area around the stem above the first set of branches.
- This will allow maximum stability of the entire tree during windy periods.
- Always attach the stem to the stakes or anchors loosely, with some flexibility at the point of attachment to the stem as well as the attachment of the ropes or wires to the stakes or anchors.
- Trees need to move a little during windy periods in order to develop flexible strength and stem diameter.
- Rigidly supporting trees to stakes or cables will result in tall but weak stems.
Remove the attachments in the fall for spring-planted trees and for trees planted the previous fall.
After removing the attachments, check the tree for stability.
If the tree’s root system still moves in the soil when the stem is moved or if the stem still bends excessively, loosely reattach the connections to the stakes. Leave the stakes or anchors on for one more season.
The guying method can be used on larger transplanted or balled and burlapped multi-stemmed trees. Treat each stem as an individual tree.
For example, if your multi-stemmed tree has three stems, each of the three trees would get its own staking system as described.
- Two anchors should be placed against the prevailing wind in a parallel line with each other.
- The anchors should be driven into the ground so only a few inches are left above ground.
- Angle wooden stakes away from the tree, so the attachments don’t slip off.
A guying system is recommended for large evergreens that are ten feet or taller in windy sites. The large aboveground portion of the tree can be a wind sail in windy sites leading to the tree leaning or tipping over.
The guying attachments should be placed approximately ⅔ up the stem. Follow previous directions for guying and what materials to utilize.
Tripod support system
The tripod support system can be used instead of traditional staking for transplanted conifers less than ten feet tall. It is primarily used in windy sites.
Staking a conifer can be difficult in some sites because the stakes and attachments require more space than a deciduous tree. The tripod support system provides an outer support with no attachments to the tree, so it removes the potential problem of girdling stems.
Evenly space three stakes around the tree and drive them into the ground. Weave the stakes through the branches and attach them to each other near the top of the tripod.
Leave this support system in place for a full growing season.
Wind thrown trees
Occasionally, wind thrown trees can be straightened and saved. The success of this technique depends on several key factors, however:
- It must be a true wind throw. That is, the roots must be pushing up through the heaved soil.
- If the tree is leaning or horizontal and there is no evidence that the roots are pushing up and heaving the soil, then the tree stem probably broke off below ground and is essentially lost.
- Straightening a wind thrown tree is most successful when the trees are relatively small: Up to 15-20 feet in height and a stem diameter of six inches or less.
- Larger trees may be straightened, but it takes a skilled tree care company with special equipment to perform the operation.
- The roots must still be alive.
- If they have dried out or if it’s several days after the windstorm, the chances of success are greatly reduced.
- The soil must be moist.
- Straightening trees in dry soil conditions, especially in clay soil, is generally not a very successful operation.
- The tree should be in good health.
- If the tree was diseased, infested with insect pests or otherwise stressed, the chances of survival are not very good.
- Shallow-rooted species (e.g. maples) may be straightened with more success than deep-rooted species (e.g. walnut).
- Straighten the tree soon after the windstorm has subsided, at least within a couple of days.
- If you can’t straighten it immediately, keep the root system moist with irrigation and a mulch such as loose straw or burlap.
- Excavate under the heaved-up root system to the depth of the lifted mass of roots and soil. This allows the root and soil mass to settle back to a normal depth once the tree has been straightened.
- Never pull or winch a tree into an upright position without first excavating under the heaved-up roots.
- Without the excavated area for the root and soil mass to settle in, it will be pulled up and out of the ground, which will result in more broken roots on the opposite side.
- Install a triangular guying system, water thoroughly, back fill with loose soil to fill any open areas around the roots, water again and mulch the entire rooting area.
- Make sure that you include the guying anchors within the mulched area.
Splinting is used primarily for excurrent trees, which are trees with one main stem or leader. A splint can be used when the leader is broken or lost, or for controlling the height of a tree. Broken leaders can result from vandalism, pest damage and environmental damage.
Splinting can also be used when the top of the leader is leaning or flopping over from wind or the weight of new wood.
Height control is typically used for fruit trees, such as apples, so the fruit is at an accessible height. You can modify the leader when the tree gets taller than you desire. If height control is the goal, then the main leader is cut back and a branch is splinted up to become the new leader.
Trees should be splinted at the beginning of the growing season. In Minnesota, the recommended time for splinting is in the spring, from April to May.
The new wood is flexible during this time, so the branches can be moved around with smaller chances of breakage.
Remove the splinting material when the branch is hardened off; this may take at least a month. The new, hardened off leader will be able to support itself when the connection material and support stake is removed.
The splint has to be made of a rigid material that will remain straight with the added weight and forces of a branch being attached to it. The splint can be a piece of bamboo, stake or other material.
The splint will ideally be on the tree for around a month, so there is little fear of girdling. This means attachments with broad surfaces aren’t necessary like they are for staking and guying. You can use zip ties, rubber plant tie bands and thick plastic twist ties to attach the new leader to the splint.
- Find the broken or leaning leader. Regularly check younger trees on windy sites or after storms.
- Prune off the broken leader to reduce chances of disease and insect damage. If the main leader is only leaning over, then skip this step.
- Connect the rigid splint to the main stem.
- For example, attach a plastic stake to the stem with multiple plastic twist ties.
- Place the stake low enough so the entire stem stays straight once the new leader is attached and when it’s windy.
- Connect the flopping or leaning leader to the splint. The leader will need to be pulled toward the splint for attachment.
- For a lost leader, select one of the highest lateral branches and attach it vertically to the splint; this will become the new leader. Try to find the most upright branch with no included bark.
- If there are other long lateral branches, prune them back so they will not compete to be the main leader.
- Remove the splint when the leader is able to support itself.
Reviewed in 2020