What some tree planters do not understand is, rather than helping a tree develop root and trunk growth, improper tree staking replaces a supportive trunk and root system with an artificial support that causes the tree to put its resources into growing taller but not growing wider.
If and when the stakes are removed, the lack of trunk and root development makes these trees prime candidates for breakage or blow-down. In the first good windstorm, down these trees come. They have lost the supportive protection of natural development.
Most containerized and correctly dug balled and burlaped tree seedlings and saplings do not need staking. If you are planting bare root trees you might consider staking for a short period.
If trees must be staked, place stakes as low as possible but no higher than 2/3 the height of the tree. Materials used to tie the tree to the stake should be flexible and allow for movement all the way down to the ground so that trunk taper develops correctly.
Remove all staking material after roots have established. This can be as early as a few months, but should be no longer than one growing season. Materials used for permanent tree protection should never be attached to the tree.
Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D. in horticulture from Washington State University says she believes there are several contributing factors to people improperly staking trees:
1) Containerized nursery materials are often staked for stability, and many consumers don’t understand that the staking material needs to be removed upon transplanting.
2) Oral and written information from some retail nursery centers instruct their customers to stake their trees regardless of the need for doing so. These instructions are sometimes incorrect in addition to being unnecessary.
3) Some landscape architect specs describe outdated staking procedures, and these are followed by the landscape installation company.
4) There is little to no aftercare for many tree installation sites. Without a management plan as part of an installation agreement, staking materials will not be removed at the appropriate time (if ever).
Dr. Chalker-Scott says "the first two practices are probably responsible for most incorrect staking in home landscapes, while the last two factors are probably responsible for most incorrect staking in public and commercial landscapes."