Free the trees! Why it’s important to remove tree stakes

October 5, 2020

While staking young trees may seem like a good idea, the stakes can often do more harm than good. Read more to learn why it might be a good idea to skip the stakes.

50 trees planted at a rebuilt school from two years ago had been staked and forgotten, so Montgomery County students recently volunteered on their day off to help DEP save the trees from disease and death.

There is almost never any need to stake a tree, if the tree was well-grown at the nursery, and planted well. Stakes are only needed in the first year if things are expected to bump into them (car doors or soccer players, for instance).

Students removing tree stakes and wires.

Check out these reasons to SKIP tree stakes:

  • Save money and time: You won’t have to pay for stakes or take time to remove them.
  • Trees grow better and get bigger: When they sway in the wind, they grow more roots, which provide water and nutrients for growth.
  • Save the environment: Tree stakes are made from wood, which was logged, and metal, which was mined, and this all ends up in the trash.
  • Protect the trees from bark damage: Stakes can pull too tightly or cut into the bark if left on too long as the tree grows.


Student clearing mulch away from the base of a tree

A volunteer takes time to pull mulch away from the base of tree. When placed in a volcano formation touching the base of trees, mulch can have negative impacts, causing disease and rot.

Always remember to treat the bark of a tree like your skin—don’t leave anything on it all of the time! (What would happen if you left your socks and belt on for a year non-stop?) Take off old watering bags, pull mulch off the base of the trunk, and remove stakes and plastic labels. Plant a tree well, protect it, and it will reward you for years to come!

Want a free tree on your property, to provide shade and other benefits? Sign up on Tree Montgomery.

Blog by Mary Travaglini, Planning Specialist in DEP’s Stormwater Facility Maintenance Program

Scroll down for more images of tree damage.


Deep cut in tree from wires left on too long.


Pulling mulch away from base of tree

Volunteers pulled several inches of mulch away from the base of this tree. If you see mulch volcanoes, it is recommended that you pull mulch away from touching the trunk. When mulch touches the base of the tree, it can cause disease and rot, as seen in the damp bark in this photo.


Tree rot on tree from watering bag

A watering bag was left on this tree for too long. A DEP employee was able to remove the bag, which exposed bugs and dampness that are negatively affecting the trunk of the tree.


11 comments on "Free the trees! Why it’s important to remove tree stakes"

  1. Curt Nelson says:

    Thank for this info about tree care Mary.

    1. Gwen Bausmith says:

      Thanks for the comment, Curt. We’re glad you enjoyed the article!

  2. I find it scary when you showed the picture of a tree trunk overrun by bugs after removing a watering bag has been left too long on it. In case they reach the inner trunk due to being covered in this manner for too long, my suggestion is to call a professional removal service to take it down. Doing this will help prevent it from becoming a home to wood-boring insects, which in turn can prevent a home from being invaded by these in the future.

  3. Jenel Moosakhanian says:

    Are the bugs on the tree termites? Thank you for the article. Does Montgomery county offer free compost and mulch?

  4. Jenel Moosakhanian says:

    Are the bugs on the tree termites? Does Montgomery county offer free compost and mulch?

  5. Carol Carbone says:

    We have large cypress trees that were staked when initially planted 10years ago. They were never removed by prior owner. Seems that the top half of tree above rubber support is dying. Trunk is growing over the rubber ties. Should we remove the remainder of them to save the other trees? Would require some peeling away.

    1. Mary Travaglini says:

      Carol, these trees may not last long due to the damage they incurred. But yes, please get that wire off the tree for a few reasons–one being that the wire in the tree can cause a dangerous situation to workers if they cut it down or put it through a grinder in the future. If they are dead above the wire, you’re not going to make the situation too much worse even if you peel away that bark that grew over them.

    2. Janelle Matisse says:

      Carol: Did you ever get a response to your above question? A shoestring stake that had grown into the base of my 3 year old leyland cypress was recently removed. Now my beloved cypress is leaning over a bit and seems to be uprooting, bleeding out its vital essence I suspect. This saddens me so; I feel that trees are sentient beings and most bring me more joy than my own species. Is there any hope
      for my tree?

  6. Kelly Foster says:

    I just received a very young Shoestring Acacia. It was delivered tied to a stalk of bamboo. I know I am to remove it but the tree it too young to stand on it’s own, too fragile to tie to stakes that were provided. Can I wait unit the tree is stronger?

    1. Mary Travaglini says:

      Kelly, yes, you can wait a while!

  7. Hi there fellow tree huggers😊. Love this post! It’s spot on with regards to the usual damage caused by staking & guying. Just wanted to let you know that if you’re in search of a non removable (biodegradable) tree stake solution, try ArborStakes™ .
    The ArborStake is a below-grade root anchor that’s completely soil-degradable so no worries about removal, future maintenance, or damage to the tree! Here’s the URL if you’d like to get more info.

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