If you are planting your tree in open ground (as opposed to training against a wall or fence) it is possible the tree will need supporting. In most cases it is the rootstock which determines what is required - some trees will need support for their entire lives, and will therefore require a permanent stake or post, whilst some will need a temporary post or stake for a few years to help them get established.
The following table shows what to use - start from the top and use the first entry that matches your tree:
|What are you planting?||Stake needed?||Explanation|
|Any apple tree on M27, M9, or other dwarfing rootstocks.||Permanent stake||A permanent stake or other permanent support is essential because trees on these rootstocks cannot support themselves.|
|Any fruit tree grown as a central-leader or spindlebush form.||Permanent stake||For gardeners who prefer fruit production over garden aesthetics a central-leader form, such as a spindlebush, in conjunction with a permanent stake is the best choice for production and fruit quality.|
|Apple trees on M26 rootstocks. Pears on Quince C or Eline rootstock. Plums on Pixy or VVA-1 rootstock. Cherries on Gisela 5 or Gisela 6 rootstocks.||Temporary stake||These are semi-dwarf trees which may eventually be self-supporting in most situations - so use a temporary stake. After 3 years consider reducing the height at which the stake supports the main stem as the tree gets bigger and stronger. The actual time when you can remove the stake depends on many factors - in general trees of vigorous varieties and/or growing on good quality soils will become self-supporting sooner; less vigorous trees and/or trees growing in poor sandy soils (which are less supportive for the roots) may take longer. Local wind pressure is also an important factor - in windy situations the temporary stake may need to be left permanently in place.|
|Semi-mature fruit trees (older than 3-4 years when transplanted).||Temporary stake||When trees of this age are transplanted much of the root system will be damaged, whereas the canopy of the tree is probably well-developed and intact. A substantial temporary stake (or possibly two) will be needed to hold the roots immobile in the ground for several years until the tree re-establishes itself. See our guide to transplanting semi-mature fruit trees for more details.|
|2 year old trees on semi-vigorous or vigorous rootstocks (e.g. Apple trees on MM106, MM111, M25 rootstocks; Pear, Medlar, Quince trees on Quince A; Pear trees on Pyrodwarf or Pyrus rootstocks; Plum trees on St. Julien or similar rootstocks; Cherry trees on Colt rootstock; crab-apple trees on semi-vigorous rootstocks).||Temporary stake||Although fruit trees on vigorous rootstocks soon become free-standing trees, if they are purchased as 2 year old trees (often as container-grown trees) then they will need a temporary stake whilst they get established. However this need not be a substantial stake - a heavy-duty bamboo cane will often be suitable.|
|1-year bare-root fruit trees (rootstocks as above) being planted on loose soils and/or very windy situations.||Temporary stake||1-year bare root trees on vigorous rootstocks usually do not need any support, but on loose soils or very windy situations a temporary stake will help the tree to get its roots established. A heavy-duty bamboo cane is usually sufficient.|
|All other fruit trees (such as 1-year trees on semi-vigorous or vigorous rootstocks).||No stake required.||No stake is needed for 1-year bare-root fruit trees on semi-vigorous or vigorous rootstocks when planted in good quality soils in areas with average or light winds.|
If your tree needs a permanent stake, this should be planted before the tree if possible, because banging in a permanent tree stake requires a large hammer - and you don't want to accidentally hit your new tree.
Permanent tree stakes are usually wooden posts 6ft - 8ft / 2m - 2.5m tall by about 2" - 3" / 5-7cm, sharpened at one end and treated with preservative. Metal stakes (e.g. used for grape vines) are also suitable. In either case the best way to plant the stake is to start a pilot hole using a crowbar, then lift the post and force it bodily down into the pilot hole as far as it will go. Then use a hammer to bang the stake firmly into the ground.
If you are using a wooden stake you can prevent the top of the stake from splintering under the hammer by putting a metal jam jar lid over the top first. The stake will probably need to go in 2ft / 40cm-50cm or more depending on the type of soil - but it is easy to tell when it has gone far enough, because it will be firmly in the ground but still with a bit of give. Check the alignment as you bang it progressively further into the ground.
If your tree needs a temporary stake, you can go ahead and plant the tree first.