I was recently sent to a new strata site to re-stake a Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus) tree. The owner was concerned because the tree was leaning on his gate. So I picked up the required tools and materials for tree staking: stake pounder and a headset, two stakes, arbor tie, and a staple gun.
A sad specimen
Compared to its cousins in neighbouring yards, this tree wasn’t doing as well. And I wonder why? It has fewer branches thanks to past pruning, and there is a distinct bump on the trunk close to the ground which almost looks like the result of previous injury or girdling.
First, I removed the old stakes. Tree stakes shouldn’t stay on for more than a year and clearly this tree is older than one year. Then I installed two new stakes so the tree wasn’t leaning anymore. When I moved the tree trunk, the root ball moved as well.
This is where the unscientific “wiggle test” comes in. I learned about this test from Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. When you gently move a tree trunk the root ball shouldn’t be moving on healthy, well-established trees. The same is true of shrubs.
On this Styrax there was a lot of movement so I jumped over the fence into a neighbouring yard and performed the same test on another Styrax. The trunk moved but the root ball held nicely suggesting that the tree is well-established and healthy.
I used a staple gun to attach the arbor tie to both stakes and I had just enough staples for the job. Always bring spare staples and extra stakes just in case things go wrong.
I worry about this tree because it should be well established like its cousins nearby; I’m assuming, of course, that all of the trees were planted at the same time. When I performed the “wiggle test“, the root ball was moving which is bad. Considering the size and age of this Styrax, it should be nicely established. But, since I’m new on this site, I have no idea what happened in this yard in previous seasons.
If you have doubts about trees and shrubs in your gardens, try the “wiggle test“. It’s unscientific, but it gives you a good indication about the health of your plant.