If high staking trees "provides a leverage point for wind and vandals", does lowering the stake and tie, thus the fulcrum point, not magnify that problem?

Sally Drury deals with a reader's query on potential wind and vandal damage to trees.

(Ref your article on tree stakes and ties (HW, 2 December)

A. I agree that the laws of physics would suggest so. However, we have to add in the fact that a tree is a living, growing subject and that there is some "flex" in the stem of young trees.

When a tree is lifted from the nursery, a proportion of the roots are left behind. Those that are on the tree need to develop quickly once the tree is placed in its new home. The point of staking is really to hold the root ball still while the roots recover from transplanting and establish themselves to anchor the tree. But we do not want the stem to remain static.

The reason why short stakes (no more than one-third of the way up the stem) are suggested is because the trunk of a tree responds to wind stress - to some swaying and flexing - by growing strong and increasing its diameter.

Think of a bodybuilder. Muscle will cannot be developed if it is held in a plaster cast. By staking up into the crown of the tree, movement of the trunk is prevented and this in turn prevents development of the right kind of secondary thickening - the thickening that will provide a strong tree for the future.

Regarding vandals, my thinking is that staking to the crown often presents the leverage point at eye level, making it noticeable, seemingly tempting and very easy to pull and snap the underdeveloped tree stem. Of course, it might not be vandals - it might be the wind.

Tying at the top of the short stake provides the means to prevent excessive swaying that might otherwise tear the roots out of the new soil. But tying should also be done with care. If the tree is able to rub against the stake, it will damage the bark and cause a wound that becomes a weak point and also an entrance for disease.

Aftercare is essential to ensure that the ties are checked and loosened as necessary. It does not take long for an unchecked tie to become "grown" into the stem, allowing the tight band to act like a garrotte.

If the tree is healthy in the first place, and assuming conditions are not detrimental to establishment, it should only take one growing season for the roots to develop to the point where they can hold the tree upright and by the start of the second growing season the stake can be removed.

Where no aftercare can be guaranteed for tie loosening and stake removal - and also for irrigation and weed control as appropriate - I would suggest that it is best to plant small stock that does not need staking.

Email your questions to sally.drury@haymarket.com

Sally Drury has been reporting on product developments and testing kit for 29 years. The advice given in this helpline is independent.

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