Horridculture – Well Done Stakes Are Rare

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Stakes are temporary. That is what so called maintenance ‘gardeners’ do not seem to understand. Stakes should not stay any longer than necessary, so need to be removed sooner than later, depending on their function. Stakes that are left too long can interfere with the healthy development of the trees and vines that they were intended to help.
Nursery stakes are used either to straighten the trunks of developing trees, or to support climbing vines. They must be removed when the trees or vines that they worked for get installed into the landscape, or as soon after installation as possible. Some flimsy trees may need their stakes for more than their first year.
The problem with leaving trees bound to their nursery stakes for too long is that they rely on the stakes for support as they grow, so do not put much effort into supporting their own weight.
The picture above shows a coast live oak that was staked properly with landscape stakes to the side, but while still bound to the original nursery stake. Because the tree was bound for too long as it grew, it may be too flimsy to support itself without bending when the binding nursery stakes eventually gets removed. For this particular tree, the bindings may need to be removed in phases so that the tree can learn to support itself before the last binding is cut loose.
The problem with leaving vines bound to their nursery stakes is that they remain bundled in the middle while new growth spreads out more naturally. Vines should instead be unbound and spread out onto their support, even if they need to be bound to the new support like they were bound to their nursery stake. Only a few vines that will get cut to the ground annually or after their first growing season, such as Boston ivy and creeping fig, can remain bound through their first year, only because the whole mess will be pruned to the ground, and replaced with new growth later.
The picture below shows a pink jasmine vine that is still bound to its stake, right in front of a disproportionately small trellis. The bundled mess of stems in the middle is partially obscured only because the tangled upper growth is so overgrown. There are so many problems with this unfortunate potted pink jasmine that it will be a topic for next week.P81128+

Landscape stakes are very different from nursery stakes. They are not needed to straighten trunks of trees, but are merely used for a little bit of support while new trees disperse their roots. When trees have adequately dispersed their roots and are stable enough to stand up to a bit of wind on their own, landscape stakes must be removed. They are not as likely to interfere with the development of structural integrity like nursery stakes do, but can interfere with root dispersion and development of adequate stability if trees become reliant on them for support.
The flowering cherry tree in the picture below obviously does not need the support of the unsightly landscape stakes that remain partly strapped to the trunk. The stakes did not compromise stability only because the tree is so naturally stout. The stakes really are unsightly though. So is the overgrown Boston ivy on the trunk and up into the canopy, . . . and the mutilated stubs and stems that were ‘pruned’ by the maintenance ‘gardeners’. Seriously; what kind of ‘gardener’ does this sort of atrocious work?! Well, those topics can be addressed at another time.P81128

Straight And Narrow For Trees

30731thumbIn the wild, trees do just fine without any help from anyone else. They certainly are not stupid. Their roots disperse for adequate stability. Their trunks grow upward as limbs spread outward for adequate structural integrity. Trees only need help in landscape situations because they are expected to perform so unnaturally. From the very beginning, their trunks are bound and their roots are confined.

While they are growing in the nursery, trees are bound tightly to stakes to keep their trunks straight. Unfortunately, this binding inhibits natural development of trunk caliper. Since they can rely on stakes for support, trees do not waste resources on developing the strength of their own trunks. The various eucalypti are particularly sensitive, and can bend over to reach the ground when unbound.

Roots are confined to cans (pots) or boxes because that is how trees are grown in the nursery. Even in regions where trees are field grown, roots must be severed when trees get dug and moved. Many types of trees do not mind much, and are eager to disperse roots into a new landscape as soon as possible. However, oaks, pines and many others do not recover as efficiently from confinement.

Once in a new landscape, most trees need to be staked to recover from being staked and confined in the nursery. New sturdier stakes that extend below the confined root system into soil below should stabilize newly planted trees. This is particularly important for evergreen trees that will be blown more by wind than bare deciduous trees, and particularly because most trees get planted in autumn and winter.

These new stakes should be installed a few inches away from the tree trunks so that they can support the trunks loosely when the tightly binding nursery stakes gets removed. To prevent abrasion, new straps should be somewhat loose, and cross over between the trunks and stakes. A pair of opposing stakes, with straps supporting in opposing directions, is sturdier than a single stake. A few straps may be necessary.

The new crepe myrtle trees in the picture above remain  bound to the stakes that they were grown with in the nursery. Sturdier stakes that can support the trunk in a less constrictive manner have yet to be installed.