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I recently purchased a tree from a local nursery. It was originally in a 15-20 gal pot.

The trunk of the tree was not centered in the pot. Instead its was an inch or two away from the edge. As a result, the root system has all grown to one side of the tree trunk. When the wind blows the tree I can see the root ball moving up and down on that rootless side.

My first and only remedy has been to stake the tree on that side to prevent movement. My hope is that this additional stability will allow it to grow roots on that weaker side. The stake is about 3 ft away and I used an old rubber hose where the twine wraps the tree.

What additional measures should I take to stabilize the tree and/or roots?

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The right way to stake a tree is to use two or three stakes, spaced equally around the tree, and outside of the tree's root system. If you have just one stake, the tree can freely move toward the stake, or it can swing from side to side like a pendulum at the end of the support line. With two stakes at opposite sides, you only allow as much motion to or away from either stake as there is slack in the support lines, and you've reduced the amount it can swing laterally. With three stakes, you reduce the possible motion even more.

The stakes should go in the undisturbed ground outside of the hole you dug for the tree. Secure the stakes to the tree with twine, tying a loop around the trunk and a separate loop around the stake; the loops should be tight enough to stay in place, but not so tight that they choke the tree.

Leave the stakes in place for a couple of years (you may find they're rotting off at ground level by that time anyway) so that your tree has time to settle in before having to stand on its own.


You often see trees supported with just one stake that's right beside the tree. This can be harmful in two ways:

  1. If the tree had a normal root ball, you'd be driving the stake right through the roots, damaging any that happened to be on that side.

  2. In your case, there's now an obstacle right next to the tree, preventing it from growing new roots in that direction.

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    This. However, I'd just add that I like to cut up old pantyhose to use in place of twine. It has a little give to it, so the tree will still sway a bit (which will encourage the tree to grow a strong root system), and it is gentler on the tree bark. – michelle Apr 24 '14 at 16:15
  • Stake is about 3 ft away and used old rubber hose where twine wraps the tree. I'll update the question. Good idea on the pantyhose. – Rich C Apr 24 '14 at 16:33
  • @RichC OK, I'll update my answer accordingly. It's still a good idea to use two or three stakes as it reduces the amount the tree can move – Niall C. Apr 24 '14 at 16:36
  • @NiallC. Thanks. The other comment mentioned the tree swaying a bit for root growth. I was under the impression that trunk movement was more to develop proper tapering rather than root growth. I had assumed that movement at the root level would actually be detrimental due to continual tearing of the delicate root hairs. Maybe I'm way off there. – Rich C Apr 24 '14 at 16:43
  • @RichC A little bit of movement is OK; too much is bad. It's like pruning to stimulate new growth and shape the tree vs. chopping the tree down. – Niall C. Apr 24 '14 at 16:46
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I would feed it regularly on the side where the roots are poorly developed, forcing it to develop roots to that side.

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