Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

215 How to Stake a Tree

July 29, 2022 Fred Hoffman Season 3 Episode 215
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
215 How to Stake a Tree
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A mature, healthy landscape tree can add thousands of dollars of value to your home. And that road to a healthy tree begins as soon as you get the tree home from the nursery. And that’s where many homeowners start making what could be fatal mistakes. Today, Master Gardener and tree expert Pam Bone has the vital tips on how to stake a newly planted tree.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes. Let’s go!

Previous episodes, links, product information, and transcripts at the new home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout

Tree Staked Properly

Previous episodes, links, product information, and transcripts at the new home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout

Subscribe to the free, Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter
Smart Pots
Dave Wilson Nursery

How to Stake a Tree - Sacramento Tree Foundation

The Myth of Staking Trees by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott

Tree Ties

Harvest Day, Aug. 6, at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center

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GB 215 How to Stake a Tree TRANSCRIPT

Farmer Fred  0:00  

 Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. it's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.

Farmer Fred  0:17  

A mature, healthy landscape tree can add thousands of dollars of value to your home. And that road to a healthy tree begins as soon as you get the tree home from the nursery. And that’s where many homeowners start making what could be fatal mistakes. Today, Master Gardener and tree expert Pam Bone has the vital tips on how to stake a newly planted tree.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes. Let’s go!

Farmer Fred  1:00  

We like to answer your garden questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. We get an email from Kenneth who says, “I would like your advice on the proper way to stake trees when they are young. Attached is a photo of what my gardener did for some young English Laurel trees. It seems like the ties are attached much too tightly, and there should be freedom for the tree to move”. 

And he pointed out in a follow-up email that those tree stakes weren't the original tree stakes. He sent another picture that showed the tree still tied in several places along the trunk tied to their original single thin nursery stake. And it took him a year to discover this a year after planting. And then he had his gardener restake the trees. We're talking with Pam Bone, Sacramento County's original master gardener. She's part of the Sacramento Tree Foundation's Tree Advisory Committee. Pam, where do you want to begin with this one?

Pam Bone  1:49  

Okay, well, luckily, you sent me a picture of it ahead of time. So actually, the second technique, the second picture where they restated, they sort of did it right, but not quite. The big mistake was the first one where they staked, as he said, to a single nursery stake, you should never stake a tree to a single nursery stake. That was the original nursery stake. original, the originals. This stake that comes from the nursery, usually they leave it tied to it, though I've seen many iterations. I've seen people staking the right way with the nursery stake still stuck down the middle, and we'll talk about the right way. So the thing is, trees have to move back and forth. We found out through a lot of research that trees produce hormones when they move, and there's a real fancy name for it called thigmamorphogenesis. Yeah, you know how when you touch a plant people talk all the time about touching plants, and that it makes them grow better? Well guess what, it does. We found out that touching a plant makes it grow better because you're causing it to move. Well with trees. What does a tree get touched by? It gets touched by wind. I suppose you can blow on it. But that's not going to do it. Maybe your house plants? Yes. Plants. Yes, they  do well with touch. So wind does touch. so a tree needs to move back and forth. It strengthens the trunk of the tree and it strengthens the roots beautifully. We get wimpy trees when we leave them lashed to the nursery stake. In fact, the best thing to do if they could is just not even grow them with stakes at all. But for a lot of different reasons. Wholesale nurseries feel that they need to use staakes oftentimes. So we have to take them off. Oftentimes, though, you've got a very spindly little trunk that hasn't grown, it grows tall at the expense of putting out good trunk girth, and you know with the trunk and putting out a nice root system. So we want to minimize Mother Nature. Because you take the nursery stake off and people say to me, well, Pam, the tree falls over. And you know, we're not into planting horizontal trees. So we move the stake back to the upright position. And we're going to mimic. As I was just saying Mother Nature, we're going to put two stakes on either side of the tree, depending on how big you dug your hole, two and a half to three times the diameter of the root ball is usually the minimum that you want. And you're going to space those stakes out probably around about 18 inches or so. You want to make it so that you have two short stakes. But how short and where do you place those tree ties. And the thing is,  every tree is going to tell you itself, you're going to pick that tree up after you've taken that nursery stake off and you're going to grab the trunk of it and you're going to work your hand up the tree trunk until the point at which the tree will just remain upright. 

That means that if you were to sit there and pull the tree back from that point, or you were to attach a tie to that point and the wind was to move the tree the tree would come back to the upright position. I've seen many cases where people have used the two stake method but they've placed the ties in the wrong place they've placed them too high so that the tree can't move at all. They've placed the ties too low and left the stakes really high so the tree  moves back and forth was which what you want , but then it beats itself to death on the stakes. I've seen them snapped off where Tree ties were, when they were staked that way. So you then put the ties at the top of the stake at the lowest point at which the tree will remain upright. And you know what that means a lot of times: those really tall stakes, you may have to cut them. you may have to make it a size that fits your particular tree. So that is the technique, letting the tree move back and forth, keeping the tree ties going from the tree around the tree trunk back to the tree. Another one on the other side doing the same thing so that you don't have a little fulcrum point right in the middle where it's going to rub. And using wide ties that you can hopefully not rub and not pulling them too tight. The fellow that wrote the letter was worried. The second technique, what they did, they put the two stakes in, they left them really tall, who wants to put in a big old lodgepole pine stake and then cut off $2 worth of it that you just paid for. Nobody wants to do that. That's the problem. But then they put the tree tie down low. And the tree just was, you know flopping and wobbling around and that and then sometimes they tie it all the way up. And many times Fred, I see people put the two stake method with a single stake still lashed in the middle. Worst thing you could do,

Farmer Fred  6:16  

let's talk about tying that tree with what is commonly called tree tape, which is usually a green colored tape, and it's about three quarters of an inch or an inch wide. And as the pictures demonstrate, the ties in both instances, were way too tight around those trees.

Pam Bone  6:32  

That's the problem. First of all, put your stakes out further so that your ties, then you've got a longer tie, you're not just trying to lash it real tight close to the trunk, what will happen is if you put the ties on, you want to secure them so they don't flop and fall down or anything like that. But then on the other hand, if you put them too tight, it's going to cut into the trunk of the tree. Now, I don't know if you've ever tried to suck out of a straw that has collapsed. But what you do when you have a tight tie, it first crushes that bark, and then it starts crushing the inner wood and the inner vascular tissue. I think I've mentioned that before in some of my segments with you.That’s the part of the tree that transports water and nutrients. And pretty soon it's like the tree is trying to suck through a straw and to take its water up and its nutrients down and it can't get through. And then if it crushes just a little bit more in the tie goes in and it's too tight, and you don't do anything about it. It'll then start severing or girdling the phloem tissue, the cambium tissue that keeps the tree alive. And eventually the xylem tissue, the water conducting tissue, and then you've got a dead tree. 

Farmer Fred  7:45  

And you also have tree tape, or whatever you use, to tie it basically embedded in the tree.

Pam Bone  7:51  

And then once it's embedded in the tree, there's nothing you can do about it. Because most of the time people don't notice it. If it's just embedded in the trunk a little. Yeah, you'll have a trunk wound you could pull it out most of the time. It's embedded all the way in and trees grow bigger every year through growth rings, and those growth rings and pretty soon just the tie gets immersed inside there and totally swallowed, and you try to take it out. You're damaging all the tissue inside. You probably cut it off Anyhow, it's a dead tree. It's just waiting to die. It's going to be some hot summer day, maybe five years from now. 10 years from now I've seen it until it completely circles in and girdles it and then people say oh my tree just died overnight. No, it's been dying for a long time because you left the tree tie in.


Farmer Fred  8:39  

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Farmer Fred  10:29  

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Farmer Fred  11:38  

Let's get back to our conversation with Sacramento County Master Gardener Pam Bone, a tree expert, and more about how to stake a tree and how to take care of it through its growing years. A lot of people make the mistake of putting up swing sets and tying things into the tree and tying them very tightly to the branches. And I've seen this in my neighborhood where if you look closely enough, you can see that band or whatever it is that is holding that swing up, has now ingratiated itself into that outer layer of the tree.

Pam Bone  12:12  

Exactly. And then pretty soon it'll rub rub rub. That allows entry for decay organisms to get in, for bark beetles to get in. But more importantly, if you leave it even longer, pretty soon there goes the nutrient, the sugar conducting tissue, and then there goes the cambium tissue that keeps the tree alive. This happens with any plant but trees particularly because we do so much damage to them with staking and with swings and other things like that. You have to understand the anatomy of a tree. But you do have to know what's going on inside of a tree because what you do on the outside can affect the health of that tree. And even its very life.

Farmer Fred  12:49  

in defense of wholesale tree growers and retail nurseries. There is a good reason why those original trees are strapped to a very thin stake tightly. And that's for shipping purposes. It holds the tree upright.  they can ship more in the truck that way. But, like you say, the first thing you do when you get it home is cut off that tie, take out that stake and see if the tree will stand up by itself.

Pam Bone  13:14  

Exactly. And the other thing that I've had a lot of nursery professionals tell me is that in the wholesale growing grounds, they can put the trees much closer together, it protects the trees and helps them to first of all grow very tall, skinny, but tall. And people prefer a very tall tree. The other thing is unstick trees and I went out to a local nursery, one of our best nurseries in the area. And they had both the real stake lashed to that single little tiny little sometimes  piece of bamboo stake and then they had some that they'd gotten out of Oregon, that were beautiful trees, beautiful trunks never been staked in their life. And they cost probably three times more than the others. Because the wholesale growers have to charge more it takes more energy and effort. And like you said in shipping too, it makes it more difficult. So yes, if you take it off, and you just use this two stake method, so that you keep the tree ties then loose enough on the tree, but yet enough to hold it upright, and maybe a really large tree. If you're going to be planting a 24 inch box or a 15 gallon tree, you're going to maybe need more than two ties on it in two different locations. That's why we recommend first of all the smaller trees. They adapt to the soil better and to the whole environment better and usually outperform a larger tree within about five years. However, if you're going to do the larger tree, you may need some additional ties, but still flexible enough to allow the top of the tree to move back and forth. And then don't leave them on forever. Oh my gosh, people will say to me but I have to leave the tree ties on because the tree falls over. Well, the problem is is the tree will fall over because it's basically becoming dependent on that stake. And then I tell people it okay Did it get staked correctly in the first place? Did you take the nursery stake off? Maybe you did the two stake method but the nursery stakes are still on. Take that off. Restake that using the two stake method with lowering the tree ties, allowing the top to move back and forth more. Because it's pretty dramatic how much it increases the root growth, and root growth is the key to a healthy tree.

Farmer Fred  15:20  

Is that called developing reaction wood? you used a very fancy word, Not thermogenesis, but something like that. 

Pam Bone  15:27  

Thigmamorphogenesis, which you don't even have to remember at all. By the way, one of your favorite horticulture professors, Linda Chalker-Scott, has a really good leaflet or pamphlet online that people can look up on trees and their movement, and how trees with the thigmamorphogenesis. and how trees like to be touched and moved and what it does to strengthen the tree. And also, you might want to look that up.

Farmer Fred  15:53  

But is it the same as developing reaction wood?

Pam Bone  15:57  

 reaction wood, and compression wood, these are all things that a tree will react to. movement of the tree. So yes, you are getting that kind of wood reaction and strengthening it. But also, when a tree is young, it has to do a lot with hormone with auxins and other hormones that are in the tree that are stimulated when the tree is moved. And so that those are what you're getting. For the most part, the type of wood that you're getting is called reaction or compression wood. The reason you're getting it is because the movement releases these hormones.

Farmer Fred  16:32  

Alright, let's go back to the ties for a second. Because I was taught a long time ago that when you're making that tree tie, it's in a figure eight loop, loosely tied around the branch and then basically tied to the stake. And the last time I talked to you about this, you did just what you did just now : you shook your head and said no, that's not the way to do it.

Pam Bone  16:51  

Well, actually, to tell you the truth, all this research that was done on staking and what it does to trees and how it causes trees to have all of these bad characteristics. If you lash a stake to a tree, to a single stake was done by Dr. Richard Harris and his colleagues at the University of California Davis. It was research that was done in the 60s and 70s. And their literature shows exactly that. They originally used that figure eight, with one tree tied going from one stake to the other. But then they found over the years, if especially because what people do, they forget to take them off. And then it has this rubbing point. So later in their literature and in their studies, they found out to use wide strapping type tape, they used a cloth tape that was really quite nice. Anything wide, you'd mentioned the plastic green stuff. Tree tires, and things like that are often used  tires, I guess rubber tires, like old garden hoses. Yeah, they look like old garden hoses. And it comes from recycled tires, I guess those kinds of straps are nice and wide as well. Some of them are flat and wide. A lot of the commercial landscapers use the big flat tire material, then again, those are tied loosely and they're tied a little bit loosely. But if you tie them too loose, they'll all flop and the tree will flop. So you have to make sure that you've got the right amount of pressure on it without it flopping but without it cutting into it. And what I suspect with the fellow that's sent you the photos is that the tree ties may have been okay to start with. But that was a pretty large tree. And it should have been standing on its own by now. And probably they were on, left on too long. And as the tree expands and grows, the ties get tighter. And so what might have started off well intentioned, then unfortunately, because people don't realize you don't want to keep them on that long. Basically, I say one year, get it through the winter growing season and whatever. And if it can't stand on its own, find out what you did wrong. Find out if maybe it's too top heavy, because the tree was topped in the nursery and has all the growth coming out of the top and you need to thin it back. Maybe you didn't stake it right to start with. Maybe the nursery stakes on it, maybe you need to leave some of those little lateral limbs that go clear to the ground and people go, Oh, I'm gonna take those off or they're not even on the tree to start with. Those are the nurse branches that protect the tree and photosynthesize for it and build up the nutrients and protect it from sunburn. And we keep them short. But we encourage those for a short while, things like that. So you've got to look at what was done. But just don't leave them on. I have seen trees that were so big. They were three times the size of the stake and you wondered who was supporting what.

Farmer Fred  19:31  

And here's a scenic bypass on much the same idea. If you buy fruit trees that usually has a branch tag, maybe two branch tags, attached to it. One that has the variety of the fruit tree and maybe another tag that talks about the root stock of that particular fruit tree. Well hey, there's a ready made label you can just leave on the tree. Well, how tight is it on that branch, and what's going to happen if it stays in that position?

Pam Bone  19:54  

And remember, it's growing. A Tree Grows. The wood keeps growing by the xylem tissue we call the wood and it makes those growth rings. And yeah, pretty soon it's going to cut into it and you know roses do the same thing. You, you  keep the label, that nice little metal label, on the rose, and pretty soon, that thing's embedded inside the canes of the rose. 

Farmer Fred  20:16  

And that's really easy, because it's usually a thin metal wire that's attached to that rose tag. With a fruit tree, at least, the label is plastic, and there's usually several notches on it so that you can make it a little bigger and still keep it attached to the tree.

Pam Bone  20:29  

For a short while. But on the other hand, I have photos and I can take you there right now, Fred, because it's still growing there. And it's not dead yet. It's a fruit tree with a plastic tie completely embedded in it. I can barely read what kind of tree it is because it's so embedded in the tree, but it hasn't gone so far all the way around, you have to cut off the water conducting tissue. So it's not dead yet, but it will be.

Farmer Fred  20:51  

My cure for that is, when I see it getting too tight on the branch and it’s on the last notch on that particular tag, I will take it off and put it on a smaller diameter branch.

Pam Bone  21:01  

That's a great idea. The other thing is this: take a little bit more time, go get a little index card or a piece of paper and you tape it to it. It is what I do. And you write on it “Fay Alberta Peach”. Include when you planted it, and there's your tree tie right there, never to ever harm your Fay Alberta.

Farmer Fred  21:21  

And always keep an indoor garden diary of everything you plant. So you'll always have the list in case a ground squirrel takes that sign away.

Pam Bone  21:30  

That's true or you forget, which I do all the time. In fact, people are always asking, oh, what's that plant? What's that plant? And then you go home? What was that again? Yes. Anyhow, so I agree with you, definitely tree ties or ties of anything or anything looped around a woody plant can lead to potential failure of that limb or the entire trunk. Someday if you leave it, keep it loose for a successful tree. That's true. And stake it right to start with. That's for sure.

Farmer Fred  21:57  

Pam Bone Master Gardener, also a member of the Sacramento Tree Foundation's Executive Advisory Committee. Thanks for teaching us to keep a tree upright.

Pam Bone  22:04  

Well, I appreciate it. I want people to go out there and really look at their trees. And I think they'll find maybe you could do a little bit better with my tree. Because remember, trees gonna be around for years.

Farmer Fred  22:14  

And Pam is going to be at Harvest Day at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, talking about trees on Harvest Day on Saturday, August 6. It's a free event in Fair Oaks Park in Sacramento County. We'll have a link to it in today's show notes. And you're going to be talking about exactly what concerning trees?

Pam Bone  22:29  

Selecting landscape trees in a changing climate. So we're going to talk about landscape trees that work in your area, and particularly in our area, Sacramento County. But we're also going to talk about hey, maybe we better think about how we take care of these trees. And can we grow certain trees now that we couldn't before because it's warmer in our area? But then does that also lead to problems with how we irrigate and these trees shouldn't be growing here? So sometimes, I remember Fred, you and avocados, you said you shouldn't plant an avocado here. And now I know you're already changing your tune on that one. Because we can grow avocados a little bit better than we used to be able to in our area. 

Farmer Fred

Maybe you can. 

Pam Bone

Some people can though. And they do. redwoods, on the other hand, is a tree that used to do just well here and we'd water like crazy. But now we seem to get drought after drought. And it's a tree that probably, in fact, most certainly shouldn't be planted anymore here.

Farmer Fred  23:23  

It's why it's called a coast redwood. It's much happier on the coast. Exactly.

Pam Bone  23:27  

So we're going to talk about all of that kind of stuff and talk about actually how to select a tree, too. if you're going to go out there, not just for the climate, but just all the considerations so that maybe all these things won't happen to the tree that we talked about in these various podcasts. The bad things that happen because you've selected correctly.

Farmer Fred  23:44  

Harvest Day, put on by the Sacramento County Master Gardeners, coming up Saturday, August 6, and again, we'll have a link to it in today's show notes. Pam. Thanks so much. 

Pam Bone  23:52  

Thank you. 

Farmer Fred  23:56  

In the last episode of the Garden Basics podcast, you might recall Napa County Master Gardener Penny Pawl talking about composting, including a composting technique you might not be familiar with: African Keyhole Gardening. Developed in  Zimbabwe Africa, the design of the keyhole garden allowed the residents to have thriving gardens, using easily available materials, without having to use too much water, perfect for hot, dry environments. We do a deep dive into the topic In today’s Beyond The Garden Basics Newsletter in which we continue our chat with Penny Pawl about African Keyhole Gardening.

It’s in the current Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, out Friday, July 29th. Find a link to it in today’s show notes, or visit our website, Garden Basics dot net, where you can sign up to have the free Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter delivered to your inbox each Friday. Also at Garden Basics dot net, you can listen to any of our previous editions of the podcast, as well as read a transcript of the podcast episode you are listening to now. That’s at Garden Basics dot net. For current subscribers, look for the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter on Friday, July 29th in your email. Take a deeper dive into gardening, with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter. And it’s free. Find the link at gardenbasics dot net.

Farmer Fred  25:19  

Garden Basics With Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and is brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, GardenBasics dot net. That’s where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much for listening. 

How to Stake a Tree, Pt. 1
Smart Pots!
Dave Wilson Nursery
How to Stake a Tree, Pt. 2
Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter