Committing Tree-icide: Staking & Protecting

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If we lay perfectly still for weeks and months, we know that our joints will stiffen and become less flexible. Movement will become difficult. Bending will hurt. Holding perfect still is bad for our health. And it’s bad for trees as well. Yet, every year hundreds of trees are splinted into immobility by well-intentioned gardeners. It’s no better for them than it is for us.

We have a tendency to regard a newly planted sapling as fragile, and we want to protect it as best we can. That trunk looks so flimsy, as if the first breeze will snap it in two. So what do we do? We stake it so it can’t wiggle. And that’s a very bad idea. Movement causes trunks to enlarge and strengthen. Trees that are firmly staked will never become strong.

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Planting a Tree

Improper staking_LAH_5226How do you plant a new tree? Most people know to dig a hole “twice as wide and deep as the root ball” (according to the label I found hanging from the branches), then stick in the tree, making sure the roots are well buried. Amend the backfill with plenty of compost, pile it over the roots and tamp it down firmly. Finally, securely stake the thin trunk so it won’t wiggle in the wind. Right?

Wrong!

This advice was being questioned as far back as 1980, but it is still widely practiced, much to the detriment of the poor plants.

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