Studies show that trees develop best with-out staking. But sometimes staking is necessary when trees are planted in heavily trafficked areas or on windy sites where they need the support. Sink two 2-foot-by-2-foot boards, each about 3 to 5 feet tall, into the ground on opposite sides of the tree, 2 to 3 feet away from the trunk. Loosely secure the lower half of the trunk (about 2 to 3 feet above ground level is usually best) to each stake with a flexible material like chain-lock tree tie or, if you’re forgetful, biodegradable twine. The root system should remain stable, but the trunk should flex a bit to encourage the development of stabilizing roots. Remove the stake and ties within the first year, as bindings can girdle and kill a tree as it grows.
During your tree’s first three summers, it will need regular, deep watering. The amount of water you supply depends on the size of the tree’s roots: A small seedling might need a half gallon of water daily at first, while a 6-foot tree with a 2-foot diameter root ball might need 5 to 10 gallons twice a week while getting established. The best way to determine when to water is to feel the soil beneath the mulch and water if it’s dry below the surface.
Looking to the Future
Of course, you want to plant a tree that is appropriate to its setting. When nicely scaled to its environment, a healthy tree is a soothing presence, while the wrong tree in the wrong place makes you want to run for your loppers every time you see it. If your site can accommodate it, think big: Large trees provide a resting place, shelter, and a sense of permanence and solidity in a yard or garden. Also, practically speaking, the bigger the tree, the more oxygen it supplies, the more storm-water runoff it mitigates, and the more shade it provides to buildings and city streets.
While not all trees will live past the 40-year mark, there’s a certain pleasure in imagining that your long-lived tree might be cherished by a future inhabitant of your house, who will be thankful for your clever planning—and proper planting.