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 🙂

 Some of you may be surprised to find that many trees are not planted correctly.  As a Certified Arborist, I have seen countless trees that are suffering from problems that are caused by improper planting.  The damage can actually take years to show up in some cases.
As a young horticulturist working for a 36-hole golf course, I had hundreds of trees that I was in charge of.  At that time, there was we were planting quite a few more trees around the golf courses. During I was fortunate to work with a Consulting Arborist whose company we would hire annually to prune the very tall trees that my crew could not reach.  
I learned so much from him and he inspired me to obtain my Certified Arborist certification.
Growing beautiful and healthy trees is not very difficult, especially if you start them out right.  So over the next few posts, we will cover how to prepare the hole, how to plant trees, stake and water them.
Okay, so you have your tree all picked out and you are ready to plant.  Before you dig your hole, you need to do one thing first if your tree is a box tree or in a container.
Gently scrape the top layer of soil until you reach the part of the tree trunk where it begins to flare out.  
Many trees from nurseries and even those that have been boxed, often have an extra layer of soil.  This layer can smother the roots if it is too thick.  Roots need oxygen and if there is too much soil, that decreases the amount of oxygen that is available to them.

Okay, now we are ready to dig ‘the hole’.

Now if you are like me, I love it when someone else is digging the hole 😉
  So at this point, may you are just quickly reading through this post, which is fine with me. BUT, if you will only remember a little bit of this post, this is the most important piece of information:

Make a hole at least 3X as wide as the root ball of the tree and just as deep as the root ball (once you have scraped off any excess soil from the top).
There, that wasn’t so bad was it?
You want the hole wider then the root ball so that the roots can grow easily outwards.

The hole should be no deeper then the root ball because the roots can be easily smothered.
Now if you live in an area with poor drainage, you will need to check the drainage in your hole.  To do this, simply fill the hole with water and let it drain (this may take a while).  Then fill it up again and if it does not drain out within 24 hours – you have a drainage problem.
You can either locate your tree in an area with better drainage, or create a ‘chimney’ through the bottom of the hole to break through the impermeable layer, known as caliche.  This is back breaking work, but it will be worth it when your tree lives instead of dying.

Look at the original soil level that this boxed tree had (where the shovel is) and where the trunk flare is at the bottom.  The workers actually had to dig their newly planted tree up and add more soil to the bottom of the hole so that the soil level would be where the trunk flare started.

Okay, we are almost done with preparing our hole.

Now many of you would probably think that this would be a good time to add organic matter such as compost and maybe a handful of fertilizer.

Well the answer is actually NO…..

Numerous studies have shown that when people add organic matter to enrich the soil for ornamental trees that something interesting happens…..

Imagine that you are a tree root and you have just been planted in a mixture of really rich soil.  So, you begin to grow outwards and then you reach an area where the soil is not rich… fact it is rather boring.  Well, at this point you decide to just stay where the soil is rich and you do not grow outwards any further.

So, just use the existing soil when planting ornamental trees, which will result in the roots growing outwards for greater distances.

Okay, so now we have the perfect sized hole and our tree is ready.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on how to plant and stake your tree….


Please check out my latest Birds & Blooms post
“A Hummingbird Takes a Bath”