Staking trees

When you plant a new tree, however old it is, it is likely to need some additional support for at least the first two years. This gives the trunk extra support while the roots are becoming established in the soil.

When staking a tree there are a few general guidelines to adhere to:

  • Always put the stake in the ground first, then plant the tree, otherwise you risk damaging the roots by hammering the stake in through them. Spread the roots gently around the stake – you may need to reposition the stake if the roots are particularly dense on one side and won’t spread around the stake sufficiently.
  • The trunk should never be allowed to rub directly against the stake. In some methods, a spacer or padding is used to prevent this happening.
  • It’s useful to drive in a nail to secure the tie, however the tie should only be nailed to the stake, not to the tree!
  • Stakes should be driven at least 60cm into the ground to ensure their stability.
  • Wooden stakes (which are the usual choice) should be treated with a preservative, preferably including a fungicide, before being used.
  • Ties should be checked regularly to ensure that they aren’t too tight and cutting into the trunk.

There are many different methods for staking trees and much debate about which is the best approach. Below we outline a few techniques and the pros and cons of each. As a general rule, however, we recommend you go with the ‘angled stake’ option.

Angled stake

The stake is angled at 45° and should meet the trunk about 1/3 of the way up. The stake should be positioned so that its top points into the prevailing wind. It should be tied in using a spacer or padding.

The benefits of this technique are that the low setting of the stake allows the trunk to flex and, therefore, build up its own strength, while the stake pointing into the wind means that the trunk isn’t being blown against the stake (which can cause it to snap).

Tall, straight stake

This stake is driven into the ground vertically, so it aligns with the trunk. It should be cut off just below the point where the top growth starts to grow out of the tree trunk. At least two ties will be required, with spacers or padding, one at the top and one 1/3 from the base of the trunk.

While this method does not allow the trunk to flex and strengthen, it is a useful technique for top heavy trees (such as top-grafted or weeping trees) or if a new leader is being trained in and needs to be kept vertical. As the trunk is given less opportunity to strengthen itself, the stake may need to remain in place longer than an angled stake.

Two stakes

A stake is driven in vertically on either side of the tree, so the stakes are opposite each other a short distance from the tree. The stakes should be about 1/3 the height of the trunk. Two strips of rubber are used: the end of one strips is nailed to one of stakes, looped around the tree stem, then back to the stake where it is nailed in place. This is then repeated with the second strip of rubber and stake. The bands allow the tree to move and flex, while giving it reasonable support.

This technique does allow the tree to flex, although it may not provide as much support as the tall or angled stake options. It is beneficial where the tree is bought rootballed or in a container and, therefore, it isn’t possible to drive in a stake nearer the trunk.

Guy ropes

Three or four sturdy wooden pegs are driven into the ground roughly under the edge of the tree’s canopy, angled away from the tree. Strong wire is then looped around the tree’s trunk above a sturdy fork in the branches, each wire then being attached to the pegs with tension adjusters, so that the tautness can be adjusted to ensure the tree is vertical. Padding (such as cut hosepipe sections) should be placed around the loops of wire around the tree, to prevent the wire cutting into the wood. Make sure that the pegs are clearly marked (eg with yellow paint or by placing small solar lights at their bases) to prevent people tripping on them.

This rather complex method is useful for larger trees where the root system is too large to allow for normal staking. While it reduces the flexing of the trunk, this isn’t such an issue for a larger tree which has already undergone significant growth.