Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Tree Ties and How To Fit Them Correctly

This is a topic which keeps arising,  mostly because I get a new Trainee every year, so every year I have to run through all the basics: but you'd be surprised how many people don't know how to fit a tree tie correctly.

Right, point one: what exactly is a Tree Tie? Tree Ties are usually thickish rubber strips, designed to link a newly-planted tree to a firmly-planted stake. Their purpose is to hold the new tree steady, until it has put down enough roots to hold itself stable.
They generally come in two types - either a plain rubber strip with a buckle at one end, and a rubber block to act as a buffer:

Or a single strip with slits, which allow you to make a figure-eight around the trunk and the stake.

In both cases, the important point is to separate the trunk from the stake - we don't strap them directly to each other, because if you do, they will rub against each other, and cause damage. In a perfect world, the stake would be rock-solid and immovable, and the tree will have a little big of wiggle room so it can sway with the breeze, but not enough that it will damage itself.

Normally, at this point, I'll give you a quick How To Do It section.

But today, just to be different, I'll start with How Not To Do It.

Firstly, read this article on what is possibly the worst tree tie ever.
I might need to sit down for a bit after that one.

Now here's another example, left, which sends me into a decline every time I see it: the tree - a standard Rose, in this case - was strapped to the stake with INSULATING TAPE!!

*shrieks hysterically, rolls around on the floor laughing*

No, not laughing, shaking my head in sorrow. 

What is so bad about this? Insulating tape is stretchy, isn't it? No, not really - you can stretch it when you apply it, but then it shrinks back to the original size, thus clasping your items very tightly.

This is nice for many DIY applications, not so good for trees - "strangulation" is the word that comes to mind. If you look closely at the pic (brace yourselves!), you can see how indented the stem of the rose it, where the plastic tape is strangling it.

Here's another lovely example - not quite a tree tie, but in the same "damaging of the bark" category:

This poor tree was used as a fencepost, and had wire tied around it.

It grew.

The wire didn't.

It's now being strangled by the wire.

I had to cut away a section of the bark at the back, to get at the wire and cut it. I couldn't pull out the wire, it was so deeply embedded in the bark, and the tree will probably die in a couple more years.

But plants are remarkably resilient, so I've told the owner to keep an eye on the tree, and to keep their fingers crossed.

So, let's get back to proper tree ties. There are two types, hang on while I find a photo of them:

1) Traditional "buckle" tree tie. It's a length of strong plastic with a buckle at the end.

Please note the buffer block in the middle. If you are handed one of these buckle ties without the buffer, don't use it!

Without the buffer, this is merely a strap, and won't do the job properly.

How to apply it: pull out the end of the tie from the buffer block, wrap it around the tree, and re-thread it into the buffer block.

Then take the end of the tie around the stake, and slip it through the buckle.

Like this - right. The tree is on the right, the stake is on the left. The buffer block separates the two. 

The tree is held firmly, but not strangled. If you find that the strap keeps slipping - which can be a problem if your tree is very skinny at the time of planting - then the tie can be nailed or stapled to the post. 

NOT to the tree!

And if you do this, make sure you nail immediately behind the buckle, so that you can still undo the buckle to adjust it.

I should also say that if I had installed this one, I would have put the buckle on the other side of the stake - the far side, from this perspective. This is so that the loose end of the strap doesn't stick out into empty air. You should never cut off the spare length of strap, because you will need to adjust the tie every few months, and one day you might regret chopping it off! Also, they last forever, so in a few year's time you might well remove this tie and use it on another tree, which  might need the full length.

2) Modern trendy "Soft" tree tie:

This is a length of soft-ish rubber/plastic, with two slots in it, lots of bobbly bits, and some corrugations.

Look closely at the picture, and observe those corrugations.

How to apply it:  undo the tie, so that it is one long length.

Wrap it around the tree, with those corrugations on the INSIDE, against the bark of the tree. Why? I'll come back to that.

Thread the end through the first slot, the one at right-angles to the length of the tie, just as per this picture, and pull it up so that it is firmly around the tree.

Then take the tie around the stake, and thread it through the other slot, the one which is in line with the tie.

Keep pulling the tie through, until it is tight: you will notice that the "bobbles" act like brakes: once you have slotted one through the slot (clumsy phrasing!) it will hold itself in place until you pull it tighter. 

But you can still pull them out, by twisting the tie sideways, and with a bit of wiggling: they are not like zip-ties that have to be broken or cut once you've used them.

This is how they should look: tree on the left, stake on the right.

Note how the figure-of-eight conformation has the same effect as the buffer in the buckle tie: it keeps the tree safely away from the stake, so that the bark does not get damaged by rubbing against the stake.

Now let's get back to those corrugations: look closely at this pic, and you can see that the corrugations form vertical channels, allowing air to get to the bark of the tree. 

This prevents the bark from getting damp, mouldy and soft, under the tie - and therefore prone to damage. 

I'd like to add a couple of points about these ties: they are soft, yes, but that means that they are not particularly strong. I have had several failures of this type of tie, and by "failure" I mean that they have broken. So now - as I bought two dozen of each size, thinking that they would be great! - I have to use two or three of them at the same time, at various points along the trunk. This looks ridiculous, but is better than coming in to work one day to find a 6' tall standard rose lying on the ground because the tree tie broke.... *sobs quietly*    It's ok, luckily the rose survived, but it nearly gave me palpitations.

Another issue with these soft ties is that they are not infinitely adjustable, as the buckle ties are: you have to go with the best "bobble", so sometimes they are a bit looser than I would like, and sometimes they are a bit tight.

Finally, they always seem to end up with a great long loose bit flapping about, which looks untidy. Buckle ties are rigid, so the loose end just stays in place, and if you put the buckle in the right place, the loose end is not visible. With these soft ties, I usually end up tucking the loose end into the gap between tree and stake, which is ok, but not as "nice" as I would like. And I do like things to be "nice".

OCD? Me? No! I just like things tidy, neat, presentable. 

So on balance, you can see that I prefer the traditional type of buckle tie.

Any article on tree ties is obliged to include the warning: Go Back And Check!

Check, a week or so after installation, that the tie is still in place, and hasn't slipped down or loosened. If it has, adjust it, replace it: consider nailing it to the stake if necessary, remembering to do so in such a way that you can still adjust it.

Then, for ever afterwards, check the plant at least 2-3 times a year, to see how much it has grown, and to loosen the tie as needed. Otherwise one day, you will find that the tree has outgrown the tie. 

If you are unlucky, the tie will have strangled the tree and killed it.

If you are lucky, the tree will have won the battle, eaten the tie, and broken it, as happened here, left:

You can see the black plastic tie: well, can you see to the right, there is an indentation around the main upright? That's the mark of the tree tie. 

I cut it off on the far side (there was no sign of the original stake, just the strangling tree tie) but I couldn't get it out of the tree, because the tree had engulfed it, on the left. All I could do was cut it off short - the tie, not the branch.

So, heed the warning - once you string a piece of plastic around a tree, remember to go round a couple of times a year, to check that they are still needed, still fit correctly,  and are still doing the job properly.

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