If you are planting bare root trees this January, you may need to provide tree supports for the first year or two.
Structural support, or anchor staking, prevents the root ball from moving while the new roots are established. Tree supports hold the young tree by tying it to 2-4 posts with straps. Do not use rope, wire, or hose segments, as these put too much pressure on a narrow area, risking bark damage. Straps spread the pressure out over a wider area, keeping the bark healthy and intact. Since your tree will be growing, be sure to keep the strap around the trunk loose.
Damage caused by tree supports
Tree supports are only needed when a young tree cannot stand on its own or if it is being planted in an area with heavy winds. Also, tree supports should be removed as soon as they are not needed. Too many trees have become structurally unsound or vulnerable to pests or disease because the bark was allowed to grow over the support system. Don’t do this to your tree!
You may be surprised to learn that unnecessarily staking trees can actually hurt them in the long run. Plants grow in response to their environment. They lean toward sunlight and brace themselves against breezes, developing strength as they do so. This is called thigmomorphogenesis. Young trees that are prevented from developing this strength are more prone to breakage as they get bigger.
If you absolutely must provide tree support, it should be installed when the tree is planted, to avoid disturbing or damaging tender root systems. Tree supports should be placed one foot from the tree, with no branches touching.
There is a correct height for tree support ties. Too low and no support is given. Too high and the tree won’t learn how to stabilize itself. To determine the correct height, grasp the trunk of your floppy new tree and gently try to bend it over with the other hand. As you move your hand up the trunk, you will reach a point where the flop ends and the tree bounces back to an upright position. This is the magic spot. Your stakes should only be a few inches taller than this height to avoid damaging new branches as they come in.
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