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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Mar 11

Right Tie for the Job

Posted on March 11, 2016 at 9:18 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Securing a plant may seem like a simple task; however, the choice of material and how and where the plant is tied can determine the health or cause the demise if not properly approached. There are various reasons for staking plants. For example, peony flower heads are often too large to be supported by the fleshy stems. The same holds true for most tomato plants. Caging these types of plants can be done using strips of wood or welded metal cages. Young trees also require support, as it takes time to develop strength in their trunks to bear the weight against strong winds.

Let's start by discussing the ties. There are numerous types on the market. You can buy ties made of rubber strips from tires, inner tubes, sponge-like twist ties, as well as rolls of green stretchable tape that come in various widths appropriate for the size of the plant being secured. A creative gardener is even known to cut strips of nylon stockings to secure a plant to a stake. Avoid any material that does not stretch as the plant or tree grows. As the plant increases its girth, wire, chain, twine, and even rope can cut through the cambium layer, choking the supply line from the roots. In time, the tree will die.

Some gardeners try to prevent a staked tree from moving. However, if a tree is firmly attached to a heavy tree stake, it loses its ability to sway with the wind. As odd as it sounds, the tree's movement by the wind will build up strength in the trunk of the tree as well as its root system. Proper staking ensures the tree will soon stand on its own as it builds its strength from within.

staked tree
 Tree staking (courtesy Urban Tree Foundation)
The placement of the stakes is also crucial in the development of the tree. Always use at least two stakes per tree. I find 2-inch peeler poles are the strongest and best able provide proper support to the tree. Install the stakes just outside of the root ball and running parallel to the prevailing wind. The position of the stakes will assist with developing the "muscle" strength of the tree trunk and its root system.

Remove any existing tree stakes and ties supporting the tree in the container it came in. Once the tree and the new stakes are in place, loosely slide the tie of choice around the tree trunk, create a figure-eight loop with the tie as it is wrapped and tied around the stake. Leave space between the trunk of the tree and the stake so the tree is upright and parallel to the two stakes. Repeat this process by reversing the figure eight loop with a new tie and capture the opposite stake. Ties should be placed approximately two-thirds up the trunk. The final outcome of this procedure is the tree is secured using two ties with at least a foot of space between the trunk and stake, allowing plenty of room for the tree and root system to build strength through movement. After the first year, the tree should be able to support itself and the stakes and ties can be removed.

Even with all the rains we are experiencing, you can sleep soundly if you trained your tree well as a sapling, knowing it can survive in saturated soils and strong winds.

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