Aussie Green Thumbs # 1 guest contributor, Dom, is back to help you with the basics around staking a new tree in your home garden! You can also now check out some of his other work at his own firewheel landscapes website!
Words and images by D.Bowd.
Staking a tree may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people do not stake their trees correctly. I have strolled down many a street, and seen many juvenile trees staked either too tightly, too loosely, or trees in situations where the stake is actually impeding the growth and mechanical stability of the plant, instead of doing the opposite.
Staking is necessary for any newly planted large tree. Staking can also be necessary for smaller trees and shrubs, depending on the individual plant and the environmental conditions present at the site itself. For example, if your site is either at high altitude or along the coast, shrubs and small trees that may not require staking in calmer environments, can often benefit from staking. Soil type can also impact whether or not you’ll need to stake your particular plant. A deep clayey soil will provide the root-ball with a greater degree of support than will a loosely consolidated sandy or gravelly soil. So first up, undertake a site assessment to ascertain whether you need to stake your plant or not.
How to Stake a Tree
There are a number of different methods for a staking tree. How you stake your shrub or tree depends on the type of plant, its size, and its planting method. For trees, which I will concentrate on here, I tend to ensure the stakes penetrate the soil to at least 60cm in depth. The deeper the stake, the less likely it is to fall over, taking the plant with it. Once you’ve hammered in your stake, secure your tree using the Figure-8 technique (shown below). This will ensure there is enough slack so it can gently swing in the breeze, which encourages your tree to produce important structural tissue. Wood commonly used for staking includes bamboo (useful for smaller trees and plants), and hardwood stakes. For medium to large sized trees, hardwood stakes are advised.
Single stakes are often used for bare-root trees. Bare-root trees are trees dug out from the ground when they are dormant (leafless). In this case, insert the stake prior to planting, because there is no existing root-ball to damage, as in container-grown trees. For most trees, the stake should be roughly one-third of the height of the tree. This safeguards the roots of the tree whilst allowing the stem to move with the wind, encouraging it to strengthen and thicken. For trees with long dextrous stems, use a longer stake for increased support. Ensure there is a gap of 3cm-4cm between the stem and the stake. If the stake is too close to the stem, it can impede growth and potentially disfigure your tree. Secure the tree to the stake using hessian ties, a buckle tie and spacer, or an old stocking.
This is commonly used for container-grown trees and trees with significant root balls. In this case, two or three stakes can be inserted into the ground opposite each other (two stakes) or equally spaced around the tree (three stakes). In both cases, ensure that the stakes are emplaced outside the root ball. This is because penetrating the already established root ball may inflict damage on the root system, leading to growth and/or stability problems in years to come. Secure the trunk of the tree using hessian ties, a buckle tie and spacer, or an old stocking.
Angled Stake: Angled stakes are less common than single stakes or multiple stakes, but if you’re planning to plant your tree on a steep gradient, an angled stake may be a good option for you. In this case, drive the stake into the ground at a 45o angle away from the tree, leaning into the prevailing wind. Ensure you use a flexible tie to wrap around the stem – a hessian tie or an old stocking are suitable. This method is particularly useful for sites that both slope and are exposed to windy conditions – such as in coastal dune sands.
Guying Anchors: Guying (using guy ropes to anchor the tree) is mostly used for large transplanted trees. Guying involves driving three small wooden stakes into the ground on three sides of the tree, attaching rope or wires to these stakes, and then connecting them to the tree using a broad and smooth material, such as hessian or buckle ties. The distance of the stakes from the tree should be proportional to the height of the tree, with the attachment of the wires or ropes to the material being made one-third or two-thirds up the stem.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, incorrect staking of trees is a common, yet avoidable, problem. Storms however, are unavoidable, and can result in stakes being damaged or broken, and your ties becoming either too tight or too loose, or falling off altogether. So, if you’ve just experienced a large storm, head outside and check up on your staked trees to ensure the ties are not causing the problems they are meant to be preventing. In general, you should check up on your stakes and ties every once-in-a -while, just to ensure that the ties are not rubbing up against your trees, or that your ties are not constricting the growth of the stem. Fast growing varieties such as Wattles (Acacia) and many Gums (Eucalyptus) may require more frequent attention. If hessian ties are proving too coarse for your tree, which can be the case for more delicate species, you can always use a buckle tie and spacer, a recycled piece of fabric, or an old stocking.