How to properly stake a tree

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Our resident allotment aficianados reveal everything you need to know about staking a tree in your own garden or green space

Being fans of apple-based booze, the first thing we planted on our allotment was an apple tree. Four, to be precise: Browns Apple, Kingston Black, Fair Maid of Somerset and Harry Masters Jersey. The following year, we added a Yarlington Mill and a Sweet Coppin to give us a nice mix of bittersweet and bittersharp apples from which make our tasty (yet dangerously potent) allotment cider. Having six trees also means we can lay claim to having an orchard—common horticultural wisdom is that you need at least five to qualify. 

When planting our apple trees, we followed a time-honoured method. We chose a sunny, sheltered spot on the allotment that boasted moderately fertile, well-drained soil. We also refrained from adding compost to the planting site, as this can result in the tree developing a weak, lazy root system. Tree roots that have to reach out and find nutrients in the soil, rather than bathe in a ready-prepared nutrient-rich patch, will grow stronger and longer.

We dug each hole three times, approximately the width of the root ball and as deep as the trees root system. As roots spread laterally as well as vertically downwards, we forked the sides of the hole to loosen the soil enough to give the roots a helping hand. Each tree root was watered thoroughly before positioning into its respective hole. We then backfilled the holes and gave each site a thorough soaking with two or three buckets of water. Finally, we mulched around each trees base to keep naughty weeds at bay.

Now, the one thing we didn’t do is to stake our trees. There are a couple of different schools of thought when it comes to staking. Some say that the staking of a young tree provides support until its anchor roots develop. Others claim that the to-and-fro motion of a free swaying, unstaked tree will strengthen the roots, leading to a sturdy tree. We went for the latter—largely down to the fact that we’d forgotten to purchase tree stakes. Needless to say that seven years on, we now have two rows of decidedly wonky cider apple trees.

Unfortunately, our Kingston Black has the most pronounced lean. Unfortunate because this tree produces the best apples for cider—its juice is bitter-sharp with a near-perfect balance of tannins and acidity, making it one of the few cider apples from which you can make a truly great, single variety cider.

In an attempt to rectify our poor old wonky tree, we’ve retro-fitted with an angled stake, combined with a single guide rope. Here’s how we did it. 

 

Guide to staking a tree

1. Angle your stake at 45 degrees, with the blunt end pointing into the lean of the tree. Upright stakes are usually positioned between the tree and the most likely direction of the wind to prevent the tree rubbing up against the stake but because our tree is leaning at such an acute angle we want the stake to be pushing the tree back into an upright position. The 45-degree angle will also help us to avoid damaging the established root system.

2. Secure the tree to the stake with a soft, rubber tree tie. Remember that ties need to be loose enough to allow for growth, so make sure you go for one that you can adjust easily.

3. For extra support we have attached a guide rope to the tree. Gently raise up your tree (this is easier with two people) to a point where the trunk is as vertical as you dare. Use a non-stretchy rope at or above 4mm thick. Cut a 30cm length from an old water hose and thread your guide rope through the middle. This will prevent the bare rope rubbing on the tree and damaging the bark.

4. Wrap your rope around the trunk and fix it to the ground with a sturdy peg. You’ll want to peg it out at a distance of at least four foot from the base of the trunk for maximum stability. Be aware that this can be a trip risk, so try to use a bright coloured guide rope to head off any potential accidents.

5. Give the tree some time to adjust to its new vertical growing position—all being well we’ll be able to remove the stake and rope combo in a years’ time and marvel at our fine, upstanding Kingston Black. Cheers!