This landscape is nothing fancy. It is out in front of a fast food establishment on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz. It is low maintenance, and starkly simple. It would be nice if the so-called ‘gardeners’ would cut back the African iris and English lavender a bit better, but they may have left them like this so that they are less likely to get trampled. The colored chips get replenished regularly, and the trash gets harvested quite efficiently. As I said, it is nothing fancy. The only remarkable feature had been this exemplary crape myrtle in the middle.
Only a few weeks ago, it was a perfect small specimen. Even though it is still quite dinky, the main stems were all at good angles, well spaced and aimed in the right directions. None of the stems were crossing over others, damaged or otherwise misshapen.
I can not explain what happened here since then. Are the so-called ‘gardeners’ trying to make more work for themselves by causing problems that will likely need their attention in the future? Do they just hate their work as much as this abuse implies? Is it possible that someone really believes that ‘this’ is somehow beneficial to the victim?
Each of the two fence stakes is sufficient to support a small tree, if such a tree needs it. If a tree, or in this case, a multi-trunked tree, does not need support, it should not be supported. Otherwise, it becomes reliant on the support. Besides that, these are fence stakes that are designed to be somewhat permanent. Now that they are there, they will probably be there forever. So-called ‘gardeners’ who do this sort of thing are not the sort to remove stakes.
The nylon straps are not flexible to accommodate the expansion of the stems they are tied around. If not removed, they will constrict, or ‘girdle’, the growing stems. What exactly are the straps doing anyway? The two closest to the bottom are tied to one stake, and pass the other to reach the respective stems that they are tied to, rather than tied between each of the two stems and the stake that it is closest to.
Someone certainly put a lot of effort into a whole lot of uselessness that will interfere with the healthy development of this formerly exemplary crape myrtle. Yet, with all this effort, no one bothered to prune it, or even so much as deadhead it. Yes, those are deteriorated floral stems from last summer.
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.
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.
In 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.
The sad little Scofield Tree in Felton Covered Bridge Park did not do much this year. (https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/135014809/posts/322 and https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/felton-covered-bridge/) In fact, it grew only about five inches taller, so is now only about four feet tall. The damage from the weed whacker really set it back. Growth was healthy on the side shoots, but that growth will need to be tucked back to promote apical dominance. The good news is that the vigor and health of the foliage of the sideshoots indicated that root dispersion was likely adequate to sustain healthier and normal vigorous growth next year.
Although the sideshoots will get tucked back to limit their competition with vertical growth of the main trunk, the stubble will remain to promote caliper growth of the trunk.
The trunk will be bound like a tree in a nursery; and the bound trunk will be staked for stability. Binding outside of a production nursery may not seem to be horticulturally correct, but is necessary for a straight trunk. The staking is done more to protect the tree in such a high traffic area than to support the tree. It would be better for the tree to do without binding and staking so that it can learn to support its own weight. Once the straight section of trunk is taller than about six feet, the bindings will be loosened, and eventually eliminated as the trunk lignifies into form.
A bit of fertilizer will be added to the soil around the tree before the last rains of winter. This might seem like cheating, bur for right now, the tree is too small to be safe in such a high traffic area. It will also be irrigated occasionally after the rain stops. It does not get much water, but will get enough to keep it vascularly active through the growing season. Too much water promotes shallower roots, which might damage the nearby concrete curbs and asphalt pavement. Valley oaks naturally disperse their roots very deeply, so the curbs and pavement should be quite safe for a century or so.