Crooked Tree? Stake it Straight.

Erin Conant

Has your newly planted tree sunk and tilted as the soil settled? Follow these steps to help stake it straight.

The first tree my hubby and I ever planted was a lanky Chinquapin oak on the southwest side of our new-to-us home. Considering it came root-bound in a tiny three-gallon pot and spent its first winter enduring dozens of below-freezing episodes and even a brief ice storm, it has really done well.

Though healthy and growing, one thing bothered us – it had a slight lean. It was ever so slight. But as months went by, it was clear our precious first tree – now a year and a half old – was leaning so far over, it looked like it was trying to touch its toes.

Lucky for us, I have a friend who’s an arborist. He suggested staking the tree — or taking two vertical stakes (aka guy wires) and connecting them horizontally halfway up the tree trunk using guy wires (ropes, straps or even pantyhose).

Tree staking is something that should only be done if absolutely necessary, as in my own situation. Of course, the combination of shifting or loose soil, tall trees with underdeveloped root systems and strong winds can easily make it a necessity. But it must be done correctly.

Here’s how to set it straight for good:

  1. Regardless of the number of stakes you use (1-4 is pretty normal), don’t drive them into the root ball. Obviously, this damages the roots of an already weak tree. Instead, stakes should be placed outside of the root ball, away from the tree. Make sure your stakes are driven firmly and securely into the ground.
  2. Guy materials can vary, but make sure they have some elasticity and are generally smooth in texture. Rope, twine, and sturdy textiles are all acceptable. Bailing wire is generally NOT acceptable because it lacks flexibility and doesn’t allow gentle movement with the wind that helps the young tree to build strength. And never use wire and a hose. They will cut into the tree and damage it.
  3. Attach a soft, flexible material at the point where the guy and the tree bark touch. This helps to prevent damage to the water and food exchanging tissues of the tree.
  4. Do not leave the stakes in for more than one year. Stakes are like training wheels for trees. If you never take them off, they’ll never learn to balance and sway on their own.

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