Planting Trees

Remove Your Stakes!

“Plant trees!”

If I were to write a book about my 365 horticultural thoughts for the day, this one would come in 12 variations! And, not far behind, there would be “Remove your stakes!”

The small sections of garden hose failed to protect this trunk from the steel cable. Strangulation has begun. Photo: Julie Boudreau

There is a great irony in the art of planting trees. We plant trees to help the planet. We use the best techniques, the best amendments, and fertilizers. We even install a stake. However, too often, it is that same stake that injures the tree and causes damage. We do it for good. But the result is wrong!

A Little Reminder on the Purpose Staking

Basically, the one and only function of the stake is to prevent a newly planted tree from being uprooted by high winds. This makes a lot of sense, because the unrooted tree has no way of staying in place on its own. Unfortunately, installing a stake has become an automatic practice. Plant a tree, install a stake.

However, it is not mandatory! Why put a stake on a small tree, or a little whip as I like to call them, that won’t tip over in the wind? Why install a stake on a tree that is sheltered from the winds? There are some occasions where staking is unnecessary.

There’s No Good in Hurting Trees

The damage caused by stakes are numerous and creative! First, there are all the injuries caused by an improperly installed stake. In times of high winds, the trunk of the tree, bumps into the stake. Same thing for the lower branches which rub on the rough and cold metal. These injuries are preventable. All you must do is install the stake correctly and position the tie correctly, and that’s it.

But there are also these wounds caused by the stakes that we completely forget to remove. Over the years, the trunk expands and the stake ends up merging with the trunk. In our line of business, it is sometimes said that the tree ate the stake! That’s a problem!

This sunken stake partially blocks the flow of sap to the wound area. Surprisingly, many trees live vigorously for many years, even with a stake planted in their heart. But you also have to think about the end of the tree’s life and the surprise the chain saw will have when it comes into contact with a hidden piece of iron…

It is not the stake that has been planted too close, it is the trunk that is growing! At this point, the stake will be practically inextricable. Photo: Julie Boudreau

There is also the damage caused by those fasteners that we forget to detach. Well screwed in, the ring of the strap, immutable, ends up being overtaken by the trunk which increases its diameter from year to year. A constriction then forms, which can block the circulation of sap. In extreme cases, you can observe a crown that withers and the appearance of many suckers at the base of the tree.

But the worst of the worst, and one of the reasons why I urge you not to wait a century before removing your stakes, is that the longer you wait, the harder the stake is to remove! The “young” stake is simply removed by swinging it from left to right (far from the trunk, of course) and lifting it vertically. But the old stake, a little rusted in the ground, is practically inextricable.

In the trade, for these situations, we have a glorious tool, often patented by the “mechanic of the municipal garage” or by uncle John. Oh that resourceful uncle John! It is generally an old jack to lift cars on which we weld some kind of belt buckle (or a hook or a thick chain with a bolt). The latter leans on the stake and the jack is activated! I’ve also seen installations done with a vice-grip. In short, there are many variations. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo at hand, but what a museum-worthy tool!

Old car jacks get a second life as stake removers! Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Remove the Stake, Yes, but When?

Normally, the presence of a stake on a young tree should not exceed two years of growth. If you plant in spring 2023, you remove the stake in fall 2024. If you plant in fall 2023, you remove the stake in fall 2025. Sometimes you can even remove the stake after only one growing season. Why? Simply because the tree has had plenty of time to develop its own roots: its own anchoring system in the ground. The stake is no longer useful.

It’s a bit different for large caliber trees, which are often secured with three lines. In these cases, the fasteners can remain in place for several years. It is the development of vigorous new shoots in the spring that will be our indicator of the good rooting of the plant in question.

In short, let today become National Stake Removal Day! Your trees will thank you with an extended life. And it’s also lovelier in the landscape!

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

0 comments on “Remove Your Stakes!

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: