Should I support a new tree with stakes?
Staking is unnecessary for most newly planted trees.
An excellent publication (pdf), "Staking and Guying Newly Planted Trees"," by the Cooperative Extension Service of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources gives a few reasons why a tree may need stakes temporarily:
1. Planted in loose, sandy soil
2. Planted in an excessively windy location
3. Has a weak trunk because it's been grown inside a group of trees until now.
4. Tall and/or top-heavy
5. Overgrown in a container when purchased
6. In danger of being knocked over by pedestrian or mechanical traffic
7. In danger of vandalism
In these cases it may be necessary to stake a tree just until it grows enough roots to steady itself. The stakes should never be kept in place for more than a year, and usually they should be removed much earlier.
The ties that attach the tree to a stake can cause long-term damage or even kill the tree if they are too tight and are left in place too long. A tree that is kept staked for a long time will have a smaller trunk and a less extensive root system. In other words, it will be a weaker tree.
The tie fabric should be soft and broad, and ties should be loosely attached to minimize damage to the trunk and to allow room for growth. Avoid wire in any form, even wire that is threaded through a garden hose. The top of the tree should be able to flex with the wind, and the trunk should be able to move.
If a tree does need support, the need is greatest immediately after planting. Dig the planting hole and then drive the stakes into the ground before you put the tree in place. That way, you can avoid inadvertently damaging the tree's roots.
The image at right shows a method of protecting a young tree which will be much better for its health than long-term staking.
More suggested reading:
Staking and Guying Landscape Trees (pdf)
Staking Young Trees