Tree Questions

By Jeff Rugg

August 13, 2014 4 min read

Q: I planted several 8-foot trees in the spring. I have had one of those water bags around the trunks to slowly add water. I have filled them regularly. When do the trees not need them anymore? Do I need to use them again next year?

A: The purpose of the bags is to keep enough water in the soil that the roots can grow out of the root ball and into the surrounding soil. The bags don't need to be filled if there is enough rain in a week. You should remove them as the trees go dormant this fall. They shouldn't be necessary next spring. If next spring is dry or you notice one or more trees needing water, you can replace them then.

Q: I will be planting trees this fall and a friend suggested I need wooden or metal poles next to the trunk to hold the tree in place. I wasn't going to use any stakes and if I did, I would probably use three small stakes and some guy wires. Do I need stakes and what kind is best?

A: Many and maybe even most trees don't need to be staked. If the tree is secure in the root ball or container, then it should be fine in the hole. If the roots are loose before planting, it might need stakes. If the tree is being planted in a windy location or has a large top and small root system, it may need to be staked. Never pile dirt on the trunk to try to hold it in place.

If the planting hole is large and the backfill not securely tamped down (and we don't want it tamped down so hard that the roots can't grow through it) then the roots may float when the tree is watered. The tree may lean or fall over and need to be staked.

If a tree is leaning, don't try yanking it straight and holding it in place with a guy wire. First, it could break and second, it will most likely lean back into its original angle when the wire is removed. Dig out enough soil to properly stand the tree up and then stake it.

The two vertical pole method of tree staking is used in some areas of the country. I have seen more wood in the stakes than in the trunk of the tree being held up. The stakes need to be placed far enough apart to miss the root ball and be in solid soil. Having the stakes and tree all in the ball (as I have seen) can still allow the tree to blow over or lean if the there is a strong wind or too much water in the hole. The cross wires between the stakes needs to allow the tree to flex.

The three small stakes and guy wire method is used in many places. It does present more of a tripping hazard and may be too wide for trees planted in narrow parkway areas between the street and sidewalk. The stakes need to be placed in solid soil at a 45-degree angle into the ground. The guy wires need to be flexible enough to allow the tree to move. If a wire is going to wrap around the trunk, it must be covered with a wide strap or piece of garden hose to prevent damage to the trunk.

No matter what kinds of stakes are used, the tree needs to be able to flex and move in the wind. The trunk should have the freedom to move at least six inches in all directions without being stopped. If the tree is held too tightly in place, it will not develop the trunk strength to hold itself up when the stakes are removed.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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