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Friday, July 29, 2011

Tree Stakes Should Be Removed After One Season Of Growth

Q. Hi Bob!
Tree trunk girdled by wire supports
after two years
I just found your editorial in the "The View" yesterday. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions about my trees in my yard. I have an African Sumac tree. I pulled out the wooden stakes thinking it would stay upright until the first wind storm came along. The landscaper put padded loops around the top of the branches and then secured the wires to three stakes around the tree. The tree started growing over the loops so I changed the position of the loops. Now, another landscaper took the wires off completely. I'm afraid that the next wind storm will blow the tree over again. The width of this tree is about 12 1/2 inches in circumference. Should I put wooden stakes back for this tree or should I wait to see if the tree can stand on its own?

My next question is, does the wires that hold down the tree stunt its growth? Someone told me that the tree needs to move around so that it can grow thicker and stronger. My tree looks so small compared to my neighbors who have the same tree and didn't use wires to keep it upright.

I would appreciate if you could answer my questions that I have been wondering about for a long time.

A.  Just a couple of quick rules about staking and tree growth.

Tree staked and the trunk
allowed to move
• When staking, the tree should be immobilized so that the roots do not move, not the trunk. The trunk should be allowed to move so that it becomes stronger but not move so much that it forces the rootball to move in the soil.

• Try not to leave stakes on planted trees for more than one growing season. This should be as much time as they should ever need if they need any staking at all.

• Allow side shoots to grow along the trunk the first couple of seasons. Only remove them when these become pencil diameter or larger.

The staking of trees is primarily to prevent the rootball from moving. If the rootball is prevented from moving inside the planting hole, the roots have a better chance of becoming established in the surrounding soil. Wires from the stakes should be low enough on the trunk to prevent the rootball from moving but not the upper part of the trunk.

Another possible way of staking
a tree with one stake
Unless you want a large tree for aesthetic value then select the smallest but healthiest tree possible for planting. These smaller trees become established more quickly and will surpass the larger plants in a couple of growing seasons.

Use organic surface mulch around the bottom of the tree to a distance of 3 to 4 feet from the trunk. This organic mulch should not be bark mulch but wood chips from trees that were removed by arborists in the valley and then chipped for disposal. The mulch should be 4 to 6 inches deep and kept at least 6 inches from the trunk for the first four growing seasons.

Allow shoots to grow from the trunks of newly planted trees for the first 3 to 4 years. Remove these shoots when they grow to be pencil diameter or larger. Remove them from the trunk leaving no stubs. Allow young shoots to grow from the trunk in new locations. These young shoots help to strengthen the trunk against wind and increase the trunk diameter more quickly. They also provide some shade on the trunk which can help prevent sunburn.

Wire supports attached to the trunk from stakes should be removed after one growing season. All plants grow in two dimensions: primary growth and secondary growth. Primary growth is growth from buds that contribute to the plants overall height and width. Secondary growth originates from inside the plant and makes the trunk and limbs larger in girth.

I hope this helps.


  1. I had read a while back that bark mulch was recommended for Gem Magnolias (especially in alkaline soils) so I used it on those, and had extra so I placed it around a peach tree, an apricot tree and a fig tree. I see you recommend NOT using bark chips. Do I need to remove the bark mulch from the fruit trees? What does using it do (or not do) that is detrimental to the tree's health?

    1. YOu didn't hurt anything. Bark mulch doesn't do much for plants or the soil. It is purely decorative. Wood chip mulch on the other hand decomposes into the soil and enriches it. Textbooks will warn you that using wood chip mulch or wood chips will "rob" the soil of nitrogen and warn about its use. I have used wood chip mulch well over 20 years in orchards and landscapes and do not find this to be true at all if plants are being fertilized regularly. I do see this happening if wood chips or sawdust is used with bedding plants.

      There is a difference between bark mulch and wood chip mulch. Bark mulch comes from the outer "bark" of the tree and does not contain any wood. Wood is the white stuff under the bark. Wood chip mulch improves the soil. Bark mulches do not decompose as rapidly and so don't improve the soil as quickly. Bark mulches are decorative. Wood chimp mulches improve soils.