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Supporting Newly Planted Trees

by Don Janssen, Extension Educator

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Some think the bigger the tree at planting time, the sooner it offers shade and other benefits. And the more likely it is to need bracing until it gets established.

Many deciduous trees over 1 inch in trunk diameter and upright evergreens 4 to 5 feet tall or taller should be braced during the first year after planting. Generally, the bigger the tree, the greater its need for support.

The root ball is generally undersized in relation to the top and strong winds blowing against the top may cause the root ball to roll or pivot in the ground. This loosens the soil around the root ball, and that can make it even more prone to move. The results will be damaged roots, slow establishment and, if the tree survives, a plant that grows leaning away from the prevailing wind.

Tree size determines how much bracing it needs. Trees up to 2 inches in trunk diameter can be supported by one sturdy stake. Larger trees need two or three for adequate support.

Place a single stake about 12 inches away from the tree on the side toward the prevailing wind so the wind pushes the tree away from the stake rather than toward it. Be careful to avoid damaging the roots when you install the stake. Use soft rope or commercial tree ties made of rubber, vinyl or nylon. The tie should form a figure eight, with one loop around the tree and the other around the stake and the cross between them.

Avoid using wire or cable around trunks or stems. Such materials can cut through the bark or girdle and kill the tree. Damaged bark may also heal and grow over the wire, making it impossible to remove it without seriously damaging the tree.

If you use two stakes - for trees 2 to 4 inches in diameter - place them on opposite sides of the tree. Three stakes - for trees more than 4 inches in trunk diameter - should be placed at equal intervals around the tree about 18 inches from the trunk. Install the figure-eight ties between tree and stakes, and then brace the stakes with cleats attached 4 to 6 inches below the tops of the stakes. They will form a triangular structure surrounding the trunk and stabilize the stakes.

Because the aim of supporting the tree is to prevent movement of the lower trunk and root system, supports should be low on the trunk. They should be snug enough to provide good support without being so tight that they make an impression on the trunk. It's a good idea to check the tree once a month during the growing season and after storms or periods of high wind to make sure guy wires are adequately cushioned and the bracing is doing it job.

Remove stakes and ties after trees are well established. This usually takes no more than one or two growing seasons, even on exposed or windy sites.

(This resource was added October 2003 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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