Totally Wired? Or Just Killing Me Softly?

Many things people do to trees annoy me, but one that always hits me hard is the slow death of trees caused by being wrapped with wires and other injurious materials to fasten a tree stake. Granted, this problem is typically not the fault of the tree owner; but ignorance is a tree killer in itself, so a little education goes a long way I think. There’s a series of events that leads up to this ultimate insult to a tree:

  1. A tree gets staked– Trees are staked in the nursery because, among other things, space is limited and there’s no room for unruly tree canopies. Nurseries generally use a flexible, plastic tree tie that stretches as the tree grows, and eventually breaks or is rendered harmless by the elements.
  2. A tree gets re-staked– Once a tree leaves the nursery, it may be re-staked after it is planted in the landscape. While this may or may not be necessary (a future blog topic I’m pretty sure!), let’s focus on how it is staked rather than why. The right way to stake a tree (if it needs staking) is to use flexible material that will stretch as the tree grows, and to fasten it loosely to the tree.
  3. Trees are tied with wire– During re-staking at planting time, landscapers, homeowners, gardeners, etc., may use inappropriate materials (such as wire, cable, or hose with or without wire) to fasten tree stakes to the tree. This is probably due to simple ignorance, lack of better materials on hand to tie the tree, etc. And once a tree has been planted in the ground, even if it was initially staked appropriately, it may get “re-staked” by someone who thinks it needs more support. At this time, it is likely the action of a gardener or innocent homeowner, and it is common that wire or some other unforgiving material is used.

So what makes wire (and other similar material) so nasty for a tree? Why do you care?

  • Wire kills– When materials that do not expand as the tree grows bigger in girth are tied around tree trunks, the tree becomes “girdled”, meaning water, nutrient, and sugar flow within the tree is diminished or halted altogether. This is deadly over time and can kill a tree. I see it a lot!
  • Creating a hazard– IF a tree doesn’t die from being girdled by a wire, it may grow around it, leaving the wire imbedded in the trunk of the tree. In time, given the right conditions, the tree’s trunk may snap and break at the point where this wire is imbedded. I have seen a very large pine tree fail as a result of a wire buried in its trunk. The pine trunk snapped clean off, exactly where the wire was imbedded. The wire was there when the tree was small (<8” diameter trunk); when the tree broke, the trunk was nearly three feet in diameter.
  • Flawed thinking– People always think, “I’ll just put this wire on for now, but I’ll be sure to remove it later.” But it never gets removed. People forget. It’s human nature. We are busy and cannot possibly remember all the little things we need to do. This failure to remember could be fatal. To the tree. Or to a person.
  • More flawed thinking– “I’ll put the wire inside a hose so it won’t hurt the tree.” Wrong. A wire in a hose is no better than a wire without a hose. A wire in a hose still doesn’t stretch with the tree’s growth, and will still become imbedded in the tree trunk over time.

So what’s the solution? It begins at the nursery by selecting a tree that doesn’t need to be staked in the first place, although this is often not possible. If a tree must be staked, the bottom line is: NEVER, EVER tie a wire, a cable, a hose (even without a wire in it), or anything that will not easily stretch and/or break, around a tree’s trunk. And then, remove the ties and stakes as soon as the tree will stand alone, usually within one year.

A few examples of poor choice in tree ties:

Cable, with clamps, inside a hose – soon to be imbedded.

Insulated irrigation wire – also soon to be imbedded.

And last, ouch!!! Tree torture! This is an example of girdling of a tree trunk.

Just for fun, here’s a list of things I have seen imbedded in a tree trunk, presumably to fasten stakes to the tree, in decreasing order of frequency:

  • garden hose with wire inside it
  • drip tubing
  • bailing wire, various other types of wire
  • heavy, thick, galvanized wire
  • insulated wire from irrigation controllers
  • braided cable with cable clamps
  • garden hose
  • split black rubber tubing (sold as tree ties)
  • tire rubber with wires attached (sold as tree ties)
  • nylon, cotton rope
  • boot laces
  • various types of chain
  • metal tree stakes designed to hold the tree in place and be adjusted

And some one-offs:

  • rebar bent in a circle
  • leather belt, plastic belt (yes, the pants kind of belt)
  • fan belt from a car
  • chainsaw chain
  • duct tape tied around a tree
  • neck tie