When a tree needs help establishing itself
Think twice about staking that tree.
Yes, wind can cause damage but is also essential for a tree's development and strength. A tree swaying in the wind stimulates its root system while this stress also prompts the young tree to grow extra bark in the lower trunk. The normal stress of this swaying produces extra fibers which then increases the trunk diameter and therefore, the tree's strength.
Trees that have been grown in a container with a small or restricted root ball may need steadying early on until the roots develop. For the most part, however, the root balls of trees can establish themselves. Certain environments may leave trees more vulnerable to high winds such as new housing tracts and areas with sandy soil. Top heavy unsupported larger trees with underdeveloped root systems may tip or move, interrupting the establishment of fine roots important for nutrient absorption. Good-sized evergreen trees may be prone to tipping. Staking or guying may be advised in these situations. Consulting a trained arborist for advice is recommended.
A secondary benefit from staking: visually, people are alerted to a young tree and are at least temporarily barred from approaching the tree. Also, those using various types of lawn equipment (particularly mowers and weed whackers) are less like to run into the tree and cause damage especially in its fragile first year.
Trees in stressed city or urban areas prone to vandalism may be candidates for guying. If vandalism is a concern, then guying does provide a level of security. Trees are not cheap, particularly those that have been carefully cultivated and are worth protecting.
The area in contact with the tree--a tree collar is wrapped around the young tree and should be a flexible, woven material that does not abrade the bark. This collar should not stay on too long, usually not longer than a year, as the tree has not been able to strengthen itself by the usual exercise provided by swaying in the wind. Though stabilized, the guying should not be too tight, still allowing for some sway.
Here's a step by step instruction video that helps illustrate the process: