Live Staking: A Sustainable Tool to Reduce Erosion

TTF Admin
Apr 14, 2021

live stake example

By Riley Britt, TTF Intern

The creeks in our watershed face many challenges particularly erosion. Erosion occurs when the soil around creeks is gradually worn away by water flow  over time. It’s a vicious cycle: without stable ground for their roots, plants are uprooted and swept away. Without these plants on the creekbank to hold and stabilize the soil, more soil is washed away, especially during heavy rains. This loss of habitat is detrimental for a variety of reasons— the creek’s flow surges faster (which creates even more erosion), and there is less habitat for wildlife. Plus, when soil enters our creeks in high quantities, the soil itself becomes a pollutant, clouding the water and impacting the health of creek life.

These issues require a range of restoration tools. To combat erosion, TTF uses a technique called live staking. We take cuttings from trees and shrubs in their dormant season and place them into creek banks. These live stakes will grow into new trees and shrubs, re-establishing a system of roots along the creek banks to prevent future soil loss. We use species of trees and shrubs that are hearty and easily adaptable. These species require minimal care and grow quickly. The best kinds of trees to use for live staking are those that are already found growing near creek banks, like Black Willow or Red Osier Dogwood. These two species do well in wet conditions, and have incredible root strength which make them ideal for live staking. 

To harvest live stakes, we cut branches from full grown, healthy trees that are about 2-3 feet in length and 1/2 – 1 1/2 inches in diameter. This is done in late winter just before the buds start to break, when the plants are still dormant. Typically the best cuttings are taken from the previous year’s growth. When cutting the bottom of the stake, we make sure to form a point for easier insertion into the ground. Then, we put the stakes along the stream bank about two to three feet apart, to keep them in contact with the moisture of the steam they need to survive. The stakes are then driven firmly into the streambank. This is done by hammering a pilot hole and then pushing the stake into this hole. It’s as easy as that!

We love live stakes because they don’t require much maintenance. Typically, you can tell if a live stake is successful within the first year. We don’t always see new growth above ground, but by giving a gentle tug, we can test whether the live stake is growing roots or not. If we feel resistance, that means that there are roots growing, and that there will soon be growth above ground. However, if a live stake comes right out of the ground when we tug on it, we’ll replant another stake there, and hope the new cutting will take root. 

TTF collected live stakes of Silky Dogwood from the Abington Junior High School riparian buffer along East Baeder Creek to place along the creek bank at Ethel Jordan Park and above the restoration site at the Conklin Pool. These dogwoods were prime for cutting, because they were planted several years ago and are large and mature.  We placed these stakes with the hope that they will help stabilize the banks and curb erosion at these two sites. This sustainable solution will enable us to make more improvements at restoration sites as we watch plantings develop and grow.

Be sure to check out Ethel Jordan Park’s live stakes and other features virtually or in person. Learn more about our Jenkintown Creek restoration projects.

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