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Why Is My Tree Dying? Tree Girdling as a Result of Improper Staking When Planting Trees

Beautiful landscape requires a lot of time and effort. Everything we do from the moment we plant a tree can either contribute to its proper growth or impair it. Let's take tree staking as an example. This process is a subject of many mistakes that most people make without realizing it. When done inadequately, staking can have devastating consequences such as unwanted tree girdling which eventually suffocates the tree.


Do trees need staking?

There is a common belief that young trees need staking, but that's not always correct. The trunk of a newly planted tree will gently sway in the wind, which encourages the growth of the roots. At the same time, the trunk of the tree becomes stronger because flexing in the wind builds its strength.

In some situations, it’s practical to stake a tree. For example, when a tree has an excessive tip growth without adequate roots or soil for support, staking can give it much-needed support. Staking is also useful for trees that are planted in lightweight or finer soils, in high-wind areas such as coastal communities, or in areas with a high risk of damage, such as near schools and high traffic areas. Bare-rooted seedlings also require staking.



Effects of improper tree staking

Inadequate staking can inflict serious damage on your tree. One of the most severe effects of wrong staking is tree girdling.


What is tree girdling?

Tree girdling or ring-barking is defined as complete removal of a strip of bark from around the whole circumference of the trunk. Over time, tree girdling leads to the death of the area above the girdle. Please note: the information provided in this blog is NOT intended to dispute or support any responsible tree girdling techniques such as those used by the USDA Forest Service. For the purpose of residential and commercial landscaping, tree girdling can occur when improper staking techniques are used and/or the staking is left for too long.

Ideally, staking should be removed as soon as the tree is well-established with the roots growing out of the root ball and into the native soil. It’s not practical to leave the staking on for more than a year. The reason is simple, as a trunk grows in diameter it grows around and is girdled by the staking materials that encircle it.


Improper tree staking can also weaken the tree over time, which is counterproductive. Instead of giving strength to the tree, when done wrong, staking does the opposite. When a tree weakens, it is less likely to thrive, and the landscape suffers.

Other consequences of improper tree staking involve bending, breakage, and tissue problems. If you use materials that are too rigid, the growth of the tree will decline due to restricted movement.



Staking properly

As seen above, the consequences of improper staking are serious. These landscape tips for planting trees will help you perform staking adequately, and you will be supporting the tree's growth rather than blocking it:

  • Drive two parallel stakes (metal or wood) a foot in the soil outside the root ball making sure the stakes are in line with the prevailing wind

  • Move your hand up the trunk until it’s upright so you can attach the ties bearing in mind that they should be as low as possible

  • Use ties made of a material that is broad, soft, and flexible. Avoid using a wire or a rope.

  • Form a figure “8” with ties between the trunk and the stakes

  • When the tree is able to stand up on its own remove the ties


Bottom line

Poorly done tree staking can lead to various consequences, including tree girdling, impaired growth, and general lifelessness. Some trees don't need staking at all, and those trees in need of staking should undergo the process correctly. For staked trees, remove the ties and stakes as soon as the tree is able to stand upright on its own, and don’t leave the staking for over a year under any circumstances.

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