University of Maryland Extension

Embedded Wires, Nylon Cord, and Wire Baskets

embedded wire i trunk
Tree support girdling (strangling) a tree trunk

Key Points  

  • Research indicates that hose, wires, and ropes used to stake trees usually are not needed and can cause tree trunks to become deformed or girdled as they grow if these supports are not removed.
  • Prevent problems by removing the wires, hose, and stakes supporting a tree after the first year. There is no additional benefit in leaving wires and stakes on trees for a longer period of time.
  • Wire baskets that encase root balls, nylon cords used on ball and burlap plants, and synthetic burlap (a plastic material often used instead of natural burlap by the nursery industry because it does not rot) can cause trunk damage and prevent roots from spreading if not cut or partially removed before planting.
  • Remove plant label tags that encircle the trunk, stems, or branches of plants after planting. 

Tree Support and Staking

  • Staking newly planted trees with wire, a hose (to protect the trunk), and wooden stakes is a common landscape practice. Staking is still required in many commercial landscape contracts. But, this is an old practice whose benefit is now questioned. If a tree has a proper size root ball and is correctly planted there usually is no need for staking. Research has indicated that trees become established faster when they are not staked. Unstaked trees have better trunk growth and develop a more extensive root system making them more stable. 

  • A tree planted on a slope or on a windy site may need to be staked. Be sure to cover the wire around the trunk with a rubber hose to protect the trunk. Secure the wires so that there is some movement of the tree.

  • As tree trunks grow, wires can cut into them restricting or cutting off sap flow. As the trunk caliper (diameter) increases, the trunk can grow around the wires, causing them to become embedded into the trunk. The tree may also have increased trunk diameter above the wire making it prone to breakage. Over time, most trees eventually die from strangulation. But, in some cases, these diseased trees actually do survive. 

  • If partially embedded wires are noticed, remove as soon as possible. If the trunk completely encases the wire, it may cause more damage to remove it. Trim excess wire, remove stakes, and monitor the tree, realizing that it will be prone to breakage at the site of the embedded wire.

trunk damage from an embedded wire
Embedded wire in trunk

Wire baskets, Nylon Cords, and Synthetic Burlap

  • Nylon cords used on ball-and-burlap (B & B) plants can also cause trunk girdling.  The cords are tied around the trunk at the top of the root ball. They will not decay, and if not cut loose at planting time they will eventually kill the plant as the trunk expands. 

  • Sometimes plant nurseries use synthetic burlap instead of natural burlap to encase the root ball. It is not easy to distinguish one from the other. So it is recommended to remove or cut away the burlap from the top of the root ball and about halfway down the sides of the root ball after you place the plant in the planting hole. 

  • Wire baskets are often used on the root balls of large trees to make them easier to handle and to support the root system. Roots can be girdled when the top of the wire basket is not cut at planting time. The wire should be removed from the top 8-16" of the root ball during planting. Cut the wire after the plant is situated in the hole at the proper depth and partially backfilled with soil.

  • Make sure that there is no burlap or wire visible above the soil line when you are finished planting. 

  • Some trees may become deformed or prone to breakage when wires from the basket become embedded in the roots. When the top of the wire basket is cut as recommended, roots may encircle the wire with little or no disruption in root function.

Additional Resource

Rev. 2019

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