The Stakes Could Be High


UNITED STATES—The irony of landscaping and gardening to bring nature closer to the home is that it is so very unnatural. Plant specie are imported from all over the world, grown in synthetic environments, and then expected to perform in unfamiliar climates and soils far from home. Most plants have been bred for optimal retail appeal at the expense of their natural adaptations.

Trees grown in nurseries need to be staked tightly to develop the sort of straight trunks that branch at just the right height to be marketable. In the landscape, trees need to be staked because they have become so dependent on the stakes that they grew up with. Eventually though, trees need to learn how to carry their own weight.

When new trees get planted and staked loosely with heftier stakes that stand up to wind, old tightly bound nursery stakes should be removed since the tight binding interferes with trunk development. By the time trees gets planted, the nursery stakes are probably nearly rotten through at the ground anyway. The new heftier stakes should not hold trees tightly in place, but simply be there to keep them from getting blown over.

Straps should likewise not be tightly bound, but instead allow for a bit of motion with the breeze. Straps should cross over in a ‘figure eight’ pattern between trees and their stakes, so that trunks do not rub so abrasively against the stakes. Most trees need only two straps each, or two pairs of straps if two stakes are used, with support up high, and lower support to prevent outward bowing. If there are no branches to hold straps in place, straps must be nailed or otherwise attached to the stakes.

Some sturdy trees, like well developed redwood trees and small magnolias, may not need stakes. Palms and yucca certainly do not. However, limber trees like the various eucalyptus may need more support than just two straps. The problem is that many trees become dependent on their stakes and will not develop strong trunks if they do not need to.

It is better to prune maturing staked trees to limit weight and wind resistance (that might cause them to blow over) than to provide more support with heftier stakes. If a maturing young tree is relying on stakes and straps for support, it needs to be pruned. A young unstaked tree that begins to lean from the weight of its canopy should likewise be pruned until it regains its posture without getting staked and bound. Trees should never be tied to other trees, buildings or anything else that can be damaged by the tension.

Highlight: Flannel Bush

There is no way to say it delicately. Flannel bush, Fremontodendron californicum, is not easy to work with. It grows rapidly and rampantly with awkward form to about ten feet high and broad, but then starts to deteriorate when only about twelve years old. It can deteriorate even sooner if well irrigated. The fuzz on the foliage and young stems is irritating to the skin, especially during warm weather, so is very uncomfortable to handle. Otherwise, for out of the way spots, flannel bush is a striking native plant with impressively abundant bright golden yellow bloom this time of year. Neglected plants that do not get pruned or watered seem to be happier and more colorful, and can get older and much larger.

By Tony Tomeo