Are your trees at “Stake?”

Each and every time we have a wind event, there is a lot of tree damage. Some of the damage is in the form of trees that are uprooted. Many of the trees that come out of the ground are only partially torn from the earth. Several questions are usually asked about this scenario: What caused my tree to fail? Is it worth saving? How would you go about fixing it? I will attempt to answer these questions in this issue of the root zone.

I think it makes sense to start with some of the reasons that trees fail or blow down. One of the main reasons trees fail is severe wind combined with an extended period of moisture. A root plate failure, as it’s properly called, often happens during rainy or wet seasons. The trees are held into the ground by friction and water acts as a lubricant and roots can pull loose. Sometimes the cause is improper root development from poor cultivation and/or improper planting depth. If the ratio of anchoring roots to tree canopy is off, this can set the plant up for failure. Starting with really good nursery stock and proper planting techniques are vital. Certain hybrids like Thundercloud Plums are a tree specie that tends to have a large canopy relative to its root system right from the grower. This in an of itself is an issue and perhaps the subject of another blog post.

What determines if we should upright and stake or guy a tree? If the tree is really new, one to four years in the ground, it may be worth staking. First, good planting depth should be established and then the tree should be properly staked. If the tree has been in the ground 5 years or more, it may be worth starting over with a new tree. If the root system has been inhibited for some reason and not allowed to grow properly, chances are this is why it has failed. What you have is a properly formed head with a small and insufficient root structure. By staking the tree you are treating a symptom and not the actual problem. Most times, if you stake one of these trees, it fails a second time. These trees never really seem to get properly anchored. I feel clients are better served cutting their losses and starting with superior plant stock that is properly planted.

Once we deem a tree worthy to be uprighted and staked or guyed, here are some tips. Apply just enough force to right the tree without fracturing any roots. To get a good bite on the tree, you must put the tie material in the upper third of the plant. The tying material should be soft and not choked tightly around the tree. Leave room for growth. We use a product called arbortie. Also, three points of contact with an equal spread is ideal. This will provide protection from multiple wind directions. Good Oak stakes are my favorite but metal can certainly be used as well. Drive the stakes into the ground and fasten the arbortie from the plant to the stake. Where and when possible, trees should be allowed to move and sway. Trees grow stronger from wind stress.

In the event you need something stronger, guy cables with ground anchors can be used instead. These ground anchors work like toggle bolts in the soil. My ground anchor of choice is the duckbill system. These are sold in varying strengths and come in kits with instructions. The process of uprighting the tree is the same as above. Then simply follow the product instructions in the bag.

So as you can see, it’s not as simple as just “fixing” it. In order to give clients the best value and solution, some thought must be given. It has been my experience over the last 30 years that most times staking is not the best solution. We are often putting a band aid on a deeper issue! If questions remain please feel free to email our office or call and we can walk you through a proper solution.

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