A few days ago, I talked about the proper way to dig a hole for a tree.  Now I realize that it may seem like a boring subject, but you would be surprised at how many people get it wrong and their trees suffer problems afterward.

So I am determined to go forward and talk about another fascinating subject, which is how to and how not to stake trees 😉

Okay, before we get into staking, we need to get our tree into the hole.  It can seem a bit daunting when you have to figure out how to get the tree out of the container.  For trees that are in 15-gallon containers, cut down one side of the container until you reach the bottom and do the same on the opposite side.  Then cut along the circumference of the bottom between the two vertical cuts.  Get the tree as close as you can to the hole and as you carefully grab the root ball, have another person slide the container back away from the tree.

Hasn’t this been incredibly so exciting so far?  Well, there is more….

When planting a tree that has been in a wooden box, first tilt the tree and have someone take out the wooden bottom.  Then place the entire box, with the tree, inside of the hole.  Then cut the metal strips that are bound around the box and lift out the sides of the box.  That’s it!  You can now fill the hole in around the tree, while gently packing in the dirt around the tree.  Water in well.

Okay, now some trees need to be staked while others do not.  If your tree does not stand upright on its own, then you probably need to stake it.

Now there is a right way and a wrong way to do this and many trees are staked the wrong way.

A single trunk tree should be staked, using two stakes that are tied to the tree at one point.  That’s it!

Well okay, there is a bit more.  First off, make sure that the part that is tied to the tree is covered cable or wire.  You can cut a piece of hose or drip tubing to cover the wire where it ties to the tree.

**If your tree came with a stake that is tied right up against the trunk – REMOVE IT!  This stake does not help your tree and actually keeps branches from growing where the stake covers the tree trunk.  It also limits the movement of your tree that is necessary to develop trunk strength.

The point where the cable or tie should be attached to the lower half of the tree.  

Stakes should not hold up a tree so tightly so that the tree cannot move.  Trees need to move in the wind.  They build their trunk ‘muscles’ that way.  The goal is for your tree trunk to flare out at the bottom, which is an indicator of strong root growth and trunk strength.

If you have a multi-trunk tree, then you may need to use more then two tree stakes, above.

Tree stakes are not meant to be permanent.  Think of them like your kid’s braces – they are temporary.  From time to time, check the tree cable (tie) and adjust if necessary to allow for tree growth.

A good goal is to try to remove the stakes one year after planting.  I have seen quite a few large trees that are still attached to their stakes.  It often looks more like the tree is holding up the stake.  

Removing tree stakes is very easy and you don’t have to dig them out.  You can usually break them off at the soil surface.
Unfortunately in some cases, people do not remove the stakes  and damage occurs….

This can actually kill your tree.
So remember, stakes are temporary and should be used to keep your young tree from falling over until it can increase its trunk strength.  So, be sure that your tree can move about while still staked and be sure to remove your stakes AND ties once your tree is able to stand on its own.


I hope all of you are having a good April so far.  For me, life has been extra busy with consults as well as with writing.  I wanted to share with you that I have been asked to become a garden columnist for another magazine and I am very excited about it.  I will let you know when my first article for this newer magazine is published 🙂

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

4 replies
  1. Skeeter
    Skeeter says:

    Just last week we spotted a tree that had the rope growing within. Poor Tree was doing the best it could and to think, this tree was right outside of the Garden Center! Ha….

  2. Kyna
    Kyna says:

    Have you written any posts about how to correctly prune a tree?

    I have a tree that is very dear to me. It's a southern magnolia that's about 8 or 9 years old, although I've only had it in the ground for 4 years. I really want to start limbing it up. I read different things about pruning. Some say to paint the cut with a sealant, and some say to leave it open to the air. Anyway, if you have a post about tree pruning, could you direct me to it? 🙂 Thanks 🙂

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