The lone voice of horticultural reason

Don’t stake young trees at planting time.

Repeat after me: Thigmomorphogenesis. It’s really not that tough, sound it out and say it slowly, quite soon it rolls off the tongue. Plus you’ve learned the word that means, the response of plants to wind. And now can easily learn why saplings should not be staked.

Staking trees at time of planting, particularly tall deciduous trees, involves placing three stout stakes in the ground around the tree, then running taught wire or strong cord from each stake to a girdle of rubber or strong cloth affixed to the trunk about a third of the way up. This keeps the tree from swaying in the wind. Pull the wire or cord taut enough, the trunk won’t move at all.

Not such a good thing. Botanists experimenting with tree planting discovered in the 1950s that trees planted and allowed to sway in the wind grew thicker, stronger trunks and branches than those that were staked. The reason? Thigmomorphogenesis. The buffeting from winds causes trees to release ethylene gas, a growth mediator that triggers the formation of wood-strengthening lignin. Staked trees tend to mature a bit taller; however, in the end they are more susceptible to wind/storm damage due to their weaker, more slender growth.

If planting a large evergreen or deciduous sapling in an area where constant wind is a concern, the best compromise is to stake the tree using one stake positioned on the windward side. The tree will sway a bit side-to-side, but cannot be blown clean over by a strong gust. Remove the stake after 18 months. The tree will have grounded itself with sufficient root system to prevent toppling, after which it should be allowed to sway away.

Thanks to the Royal Horticultural Society and UK Guardian for information used in this DDT.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener