CO-Horts Blog

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hort Peeve: Tree Torture with Staking Materials

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Every time we launch a new Master Gardener class, we warn the students, who are cheerful, happy and enthusiastic, that the class can sometimes made you jaded. Instead of seeing the beauty in the world, you start to see telephone pole trees, diseases and just general landscape practices that make you facepalm.
(photo courtesy of The Simpsons)
But there's one that really gets my goat...and that's the torture of trees by staking materials. My colleague Linda Chalker-Scott at Washington State calls it "Tree Bondage" and that's an accurate description. Wire embedded into bark, trees staked so tightly they can't even move in wind and straps carelessly left on trees for years, which end up causing girdling.
Wince. Sob. Grimace.
Sigh. It's sometimes tough to swallow the bile in my throat. Poor trees. My first thought is how long it takes for trees to grow in the nursery--depending on species and size, it can take anywhere from 4-7+ years. That's a long time for a diligent nursery employee to care for a tree, only to have it choke to death a couple years later.
Do you see both areas that were girdled?
So let's make a plan to stop the torture and let our trees have a healthy successful life.

First of all, staking may not be necessary. You read that correctly. If you plant the tree properly (see a step-by-step here), staking materials may not be needed. Staking has been found to decrease trunk taper, increase height but decrease caliper, develop a smaller root system and suffer from girdling, which can kill a tree. There's only a few instances where someone should use stakes:

1. Planting trees in a windy site. Now, don't just use the disclaimer that Colorado (or North Dakota or Tennessee) is windy. We're talking WIND. Perpetual wind. So windy that if you wore a toupee, you'd probably move out of the area.

2. Planting in an area with many people activities. In general, trees planted in parks, golf courses and right-of-ways may fit into this category. If your backyard has a soccer game every night of the week, then staking is probably a good idea.

3. To support trees that cannot stand up on their own. And this leads to another peeve. You should never, ever buy a tree that flops over. Never. There is no excuse. As consumers, we should be proactive in only buying quality nursery stock. I know it was a good deal and that you felt sorry for it...but don't buy a floppy tree.
No, don't even think about it! Don't buy this tree! Move away from the floppy trunk.
Everything else probably doesn't need staking--again, if you plant it correctly.

But let's say you want to stake. Because staking your trees is like a hamburger with cheese. It just not right without it. If you stake, follow these suggestions:

1. Use canvas staking straps with grommets in either end. It was found that wire or even hose with wire was found to girdle trees lickity-split. So using the wider canvas straps will help distribute pressure along the trunk.
The proper staking strap.
2. Make sure the tree can move in the wind following the staking process. The tree should be allowed to move from top to bottom.

3. Keep the straps low on the trunk. They should be placed no higher than 2/3 the height of the tree. Again, the lower straps allows movement of the tree.

4. Remove all staking materials within one year following planting. Various research has found that staking straps can cause injury even a couple months after planting. The day you plant your tree, make a note on next year's calendar to take off the straps. It's very easy to forget staking straps and then your poor tree suffers.

Poor suffering tree. I bet he feels foolish around his friends because he has a dumb staking strap growing out of his trunk.
I fully advocate that we should free our trees of such pain and suffering...remove those straps and sing "Born Free!" Your tree will thank you. And so do I.


  1. Alison O. (the daughter)January 30, 2016 at 7:50 PM

    It's ok, mom! I know how important the birds are to you and yes, they have been a great source of entertainment. We also won't mention the metal rod that grew into the trees from our old swing... :) Fortunately, you do an excellent job maintaining your oaks (which are spectacular) and get them pruned on a regular basis, as well as water and care for them. So really, you've done everything right. Plus the birds really do love the suet!

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