Buyers' guide - Tree stakes and ties

Additional support can be necessary when planting large trees in exposed sites, Sally Drury explains.

Double staking supports the root ball
Double staking supports the root ball

Q. Do all trees need staking or guying when they are planted?

A. Trees should only be staked or guyed if they need support due to their size and/or they are likely to be exposed to high winds. The aim of support - whether achieved aerially or underground - is to hold the root system steady in the soil while the roots spread and develop an anchor. Unsupported, a newly planted tree with a well-developed branch structure can easily rock in the wind. This leads to the root ball drying out and working loose. Roots fail to spread and the tree, probably dead by now, topples. However, there are good reasons for not staking some trees. Some movement of the tree in the wind can help to encourage the development of anchoring roots and strengthen the tree.

Q. How do I know whether a tree needs staking or guying?

A. If there is a rule of thumb, it is this - whips and stock shorter than 1m high and where a planting notch is made with a spade will probably not need support. If the tree is planted into a prepared, excavated pit, then support should definitely be considered.

Q. Should we dig round or square tree pits?

A. Most people today favour square pits in the belief that it is easier for the tree's roots to break out of the corners. It is also the easiest shape to dig with an excavator.

Q. Do we put the stake in before the tree and how long should the stake be?

A. Before planting. Otherwise you risk damaging, even severing, some of the roots. Drive the stake into the side of the pit in the side subjected to prevailing winds. Although staking right into the crown of the tree is still seen, especially in urban areas, I believe that it creates a fulcrum or leverage point in a vulnerable part of the tree and this is why we often see trees snapped at the top of tall stakes. A stake that reaches no more than one-third of the way up the stem will be sufficient to hold the root ball steady. Research by the Forestry Commission has shown that this type of staking allows a little movement in the upper part of the tree - a factor thought to reduce stem weakening as well as helping to encourage a strong root system.

Q. When should a single stake be used and when is it more appropriate to use two or three stakes with cross braces?

A. Single-stake support is suitable for feathered up to standard, and especially for field-grown stock. Doubleor triple-staking is used for container-grown trees because the stakes can straddle the root ball. In this instance, the stakes are normally positioned after the root ball has been lowered into the pit.

Q. How deep should the stake be sunk?

A. This depends on the nature of the soil and its level of preparation, the exposure of the site to winds and the size and type of the tree being planted. But as a general guide, I would suggest at least one-quarter of its length.

Q. How often should the tie be checked and adjusted?

A. It will depend on the tree, its rate of growth and the type/material of tie. Some have greater stretch, others need adjusting annually. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

Q. When should underground guying be considered?

A. Underground systems, such as the Platipus Tree Anchor, are normally used to support root balled stock to prevent above-ground systems spoiling a tree's appearance. They avoid leverage point associated with staking and trip hazards associated with guying.

Q. What's new in underground guying systems?

A. The Platipus D-Man from Platipus Earth Anchor Systems is a new solution for underground anchoring. Designed to replace the traditional deadman, such as kerbstones or railway sleepers, it uses simple to lock/unlock omni-directional cells and a letterbox-style wire tendon anchor point system. It can be used where the presence of services makes the use of normal underground anchors impossible. It can also solve problems in areas of shallow soil, roof gardens or where there are gas-tight membranes on brownfield sites.

Q. Is there anything new for tying small shrubs and wall plants?

A. Biostretch, soft material that is gentle on even the most delicate plants, was introduced earlier this year and won the Green Award at Glee - the garden and leisure exhibition held in September. A biodegradable twine that rots into the ground after two years outdoors, the product was noted by judges as "the ideal way of supporting a plant as it grows". Surprisingly strong, the twine should be able support large plants as well as small.

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