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LANDSCAPING

Doubling Your Stakes That New Trees Will Grow Right

March 22, 1997|From Associated Press

Container trees from commercial nurseries normally arrive with only one stake. Such rigid staking increases production space, cutting initial cost to customers. But it can lead to trees with weak, spindly trunks.

So most newly planted trees will need extra staking to hold them upright until the root system develops.

Unfortunately, when single-staked trees from a nursery are transplanted, improper staking is often continued and unnatural growth continues. Unless the single-style staking is reworked to a two-stake system, trunk development is slowed, top growth delayed and root development set back.

Properly set stakes should be anchored outside the root ball and attached by a flexible tie at one point on the trunk. Such placement allows the trunk to move slightly in the wind and develop taper.

Taper allows for equal weight distribution along the entire height of the tree, enabling it to stay upright. It also is needed in home landscaping.

Check trees growing in the wild if you question the merit of taper. How many would benefit from staking? Their trunks usually are well tapered, with the greatest diameter at the base and a smaller diameter as one moves up the trunk.

Not all newly planted trees need staking, of course, but fast growers--such as eucalyptus--almost always do. Species such as conifers generally never need it.

Experiments indicate that a strong taper is caused by the gentle swaying of trunks in the wind. Field-grown nursery trees have good taper and usually need no staking after transplanting.

Staking is usually necessary in formal landscapes, such as along roads and around commercial buildings where space is often restricted or in windy sites.

Newly planted trees (and shrubs) also benefit from small amounts of slow-release fertilizer, providing a steady, balanced supply of nutrients. Follow label directions. If a slow-release fertilizer is not mixed in the backfill, wait to apply surface fertilizers until you are positive root growth has started.

Proper pruning also will improve the health and function of many plants. It also can transform an ordinary-looking specimen into a striking form. But proper pruning requires a knowledge of how the plant grows so that it responds the way you want it to. Even more important: To minimize pruning later on, select plants well-suited to the landscape.

To restore a balance between top and root growth, transplanted trees often need pruning if their roots have been damaged in the process.

Young trees also may require training to develop strong branch structure. Don't do this with species having naturally irregular or sprawling growth habits.

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Oaks, for example, do best with minimal pruning. For most species, however, require directed growth. First study growth habit and eventual needs. And remember that incorrect pruning can cause serious defects.

If training, select a strong leader (the principal branch out of and around which other branches emerge) and identify the other framework branches, known as the scaffold branches. Remove scaffold branches that are not healthy and well-spaced vertically and radially. Keep no more than four or five.

Allow some small-caliper branches to remain for a time below the lowest permanent branch. This strengthens the trunk of a young tree while encouraging it to develop taper. They should be cut off as the tree develops.

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