Collecting, Installing, Storing and Caring for Live Stakes

Wendy DesCamp

June 10, 2004


Live stakes are long hardwood cuttings that are planted outdoors usually without rooting hormone (WSU Cooperative Extension). Certain native species will grow new plants from cut sections of branches planted into moist soil (Sound Native Plants 2002). The stakes are (relatively) straight pieces of branches or stems that do not have other branches or leaves on them.


In the Pacific Northwest, willows (Salix spp.) and black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa) generally have high success rates using live stakes for plant production (Sound Native Plants 2002). Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) is another species commonly grown from live stakes that develops excellent root strength (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). Live stakes are a relatively inexpensive to use and are simple to install under the appropriate conditions (Sound Native Plants 2002).


Live stake cuttings may be used in a wide variety of habitats and applications: in wetlands, flood plains, marine bluffs, stream banks, lake shores, landslides, road slopes, and storm water detention ponds (Sound Native Plants 2002).


                                                                                    (Sound Native Plants Photo)


Using live stakes for bioengineering projects is also an effective, low cost method for protecting and restoring riparian areas (Department of State Lands 2003). Conventionally, engineers have used only static inorganic materials that provide neither habitat for fish and wildlife, nor shade for the stream (Department of State Lands 2003). Bioengineering techniques used in riparian restoration incorporate live stakes for stabilizing soil and addressing erosion control issues while at the same time improving riparian habitat. They can be used to stabilize erosion control fabric, geo-fabric and other soil bioengineering materials (WSDOT). Different species of willows and cottonwoods are used widely for bioengineering projects because they easily form roots on stem cuttings (Department of State Lands 2003). One challenge in bioengineering is protecting the bank from erosion until the vegetation becomes established, which can take one to two years. There are a number of structural components available, such as coconut fiber rolls (see photo below), to provide temporary protection while the stakes become established (Tennessee Valley Authority).

(Tennessee Valley Authority photo)



Live stakes are best taken when the plant is dormant, generally in the late fall through early spring before bud break. Tools used for cutting live stakes are sterilized hand pruners, a hand saw, a bag or bucket of water to place cuttings in, eye protection, gloves, and other appropriate safety equipment. Do not create an unsafe situation by leaving stumps after cutting stakes that are close to the ground, especially in areas that are frequented by people (Grillmayer).


Stakes can be made with wood of a variety of ages but results may vary with species, though no specific information was found addressing this factor. In the horticulture industry, cuttings are usually from wood of the previous season’s growth, although with some species older growth is used (Hartmann et al 2002). Since many native species in the Pacific Northwest root so well from cuttings, age may not be much of a concern for these species. Cut stakes between 18 and 24 inches in length and at least 3/8th inch in diameter from long, upright branches taken off the parent plant (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). Lengths and diameters may vary though depending on the species, your collecting goals, and the site conditions. The cuttings should have a sufficient supply of stored carbohydrates to nourish the developing roots and shoots until the new plant becomes self-sustaining so the thickness of the cutting is important to consider (Hartmann et al 2002). At the thicker end of the branch (that will be the bottom of the stake) cut the branch at an angle (~35 degrees) just below a leaf node. Where the top of the stake will be, make a straight cut just above a leaf node (Hartmann et al 2002). Tip portions of a shoot, which are usually low in stored carbohydrates, can be discarded (Hartmann et al 2002). A straight cut will expose less surface area of the stake to potential disease and insect infestation. Also by having two different cuts on the stakes, it will be easier to distinguish which end is up versus which end is down and will also be easier to drive the pointed end into the ground for planting (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). At the location where the stake was originally cut off on the parent plant, cut back the stem with a straight cut to just above the next leaf node. This will aid the parent plant in healing from the cut.


If there are leaves and branches on the stake, they should be removed to prevent the stake from drying out (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). Also, while cutting and collecting stakes, make bundles of 50-100 for easy transportation and potential storage (WSU Cooperative Extension). It is important to make sure the cuttings are all in the same direction in the bundles, especially if they are going immediately to their planting site (Grillmayer). This will help installation by preventing the wrong end being planted in the ground. Stakes should be kept moist by either wrapping them in wet burlap or placing them in buckets with water and kept in shaded conditions on hot days to reduce stress (Water and Land Resources Division 2001).


In general, stakes should be planted so at least half their length is buried in soil (deeper may be better, as long as a few buds at the top are exposed) (Sound Native Plants 2002).

Live stakes can be planted in the late fall through early spring, the same time period recommended to harvest live stakes (WSU Cooperative Extension). Live stakes should be planted in areas that will remain moist throughout the growing season, such as along the water line on streambanks or in wetlands (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). The best time to plant live stakes is during the dormant season. In western Washington, this is roughly from the beginning of November through the end of February, although live stakes planted in October and March will flourish almost as well (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). The earlier the stakes can be planted during this time frame the better (Sound Native Plants 2002) as it will allow the stakes more time to form roots while the leaves are dormant. Live stakes can also be planted during the growing season, especially at sites that will remain moist, although survival rates will be lower (Water and Land Resources Division 2001).


Certain species that are desired to be used as live stakes may not develop roots if stuck into the ground without any treatment. Rooting hormone can be used by soaking or dipping the ends of cuttings in a solution before planting to speed up and encourage root growth (Water and Land Resources Division 2001).  




Live stakes can be driven into the ground with a rubber mallet (WSU Cooperative Extension). Pilot holes must be made in harder soils to plant stakes (Sound Native Plants 2002), which can be made with a planting bar or a length of rebar (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). At first, the stakes will survive by rooting, but eventually leaves will sprout from the exposed end of the stakes (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). Spacing considerations include planting stakes in a random arrangement (not rows), taking into account how large the plants will eventually become and also the fact that some of the stakes will probably die (WSU Cooperative Extension). Sound Native Plants recommends planting stakes one foot on center to achieve a dense planting, two feet on center for an average planting and three feet on center for a sparse planting (2002).


Site conditions are important to consider when using live stakes. Use long stakes at least 1/2 inch in diameter when plating in riprap/rocks as longer, thicker stakes will survive heating and drying better than smaller diameter cuttings (Water and Land Resources Division 2001). Use longer stakes, leaving one foot sticking above the ground, if the stake will be shaded by surrounding vegetation so that they don’t get too much shade, drop their leaves and die (i.e. willow) (Water and Land Resources Division 2001).


(Department of State Lands 2003)


The site should also be assessed for possible browsing by wildlife or other possible damage to the stakes. For example, beavers will cut and utilize a wide variety of shrubs and trees, especially poplars which are a popular species to use for staking (Grillmayer). Protective fencing should be installed to deter the beaver from cutting off the stakes. Also, if stakes are in a public place, prevent damage from the public (and also for public safety) by designating the stakes in some way (i.e. flagging) or by fencing them off.



Often times it is not always possible to install live stakes right after they are harvested. Sound Native Plants recommends keeping the stakes in cool, moist, and shaded conditions and thoroughly wetting them daily (2002). They recommend storing them for no longer than two weeks. Stakes may be stored outdoors during cold temperatures as normal freezing should not harm them (WSU Cooperative Extension). If the stakes have begun to form roots in storage, it is important for the plants to stay at a cool temperature just above freezing until installation, but not drop below freezing or the roots will die (WSU Cooperative Extension). Live stakes are highly perishable (Sound Native Plants 2002) so the sooner that the stakes can be planted the better. It is better to wait and harvest the stakes right before site installation than to harvest stakes and store them for a period of time prior to site installation. When transporting the stakes between sites to storage, remember to handle them with care and cover them to avoid desiccation (Grillmayer).


Additional Care:

Stakes do not require too much additional care, which is another reason they are so efficient to use. They should be monitored though for water needs during summer drought as most stakes will need some irrigation for the first year or two (Sound Native Plants 2002). Also, cut back any encroaching vegetation as the stakes are establishing to reduce competition (WSU Cooperative Extension).





Department of State Lands. “Riparian Restoration: Bioengineering”. Oregon State. Aug. 2003.


Grillmayer, Rick. “Soil Bioengineering” Nottawasga Valley Conservation Authority. Government of Canada. (no date recorded).


Hartmann, Hudson T., D. E. Kester, F. T. Davies Jr., R. L. Geneve “Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices”. Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 2002.


Sound Native Plants. “About Live Stakes and Cuttings”. Information Sheets. 2002.


Tennessee Valley Authority “Using Stabilization Techniques To Control Erosion and Protect Property”. (no date recorded)


Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) “Roadside and Site Development” (no date recorded).


Water and Land Resources Division. “Live Stake Cutting and Planting Tips”. Natural Resources and Parks, King County. Updated Aug. 2001.


WSU Cooperative Extension, “Hardwood Cuttings and Live Stakes”. Gardening in Western Washington, Native Plants. Washington State University (no date recorded).





Collecting, storing, and installing live stakes

Jen Boardman  

What is a live stake?


Live stakes are long cuttings taken from hardwood species that are driven into the ground to take root.  Two species typically used are red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), as well as many willow species (Salix spp.).  These  pioneer species are effective because they grow fast, and root easily.  Other species such as salmonberry (Rubus spectablis), and snowberry (Symphorycarpos albus) have shown some success as live stakes.   



What are they used for?


Commonly used in wetland and riparian restoration projects, live stakes are used to reduce erosion of stream banks and hill slopes, improve habitat, and augment existing vegetation.

Their rapidly developing root systems help to stabilize the soil.  They may be used alone or combined with other materials to increase the effectiveness of erosion control. In areas that have been taken over by invasive weed species, live stakes can improve habitat by shading out the invasive species.  Live stakes may also be installed as a means increasing the visual appeal of a project by augmenting existing vegetation.  More information on the use of live stakes as a means of erosion control can be found in the USDA’s Stream Corridor Restoration Handbook (



How to collect live stakes:


Steps to collecting live stakes:

1.      Live stakes should be collected and installed when the plants are dormant, from late fall to early spring.

2.      Cut 3 to 5 foot long sections at least ½ inch in diameter. 

3.      Make a flat cut on the top, and a diagonal cut on the bottom. The diagonal cut on the bottom makes it easier to drive into the ground, it also aids in telling which end is up. 

  1. To prevent the stakes from respiring and drying out, remove any leaves and small branches after cutting. 
  2. Some sources recommend dipping the top 2 to 3 inches of the stake in latex paint immediately after they are cut.  They paint can be used to mark which end is up, differentiate species, prevent drying and cracking, and to make the stakes visible in the field after planting.  

How to store live stakes:


From the time stakes are cut to when they go in the ground they must be kept moist, as they will dry out easily.  For best results it is recommended that live stakes be planted within 24 hours of cutting.  If necessary they may be stored before planting in a cool dark place if they are kept moist.  They may even be set outside in plastic bags.  They will be safe from freezing as long as they have not begun to root.  If this is the case they should be kept just above freezing to keep the roots from dying.


How to install live stakes:


Stakes should be installed in wetlands or riparian corridors where there will be available soil moisture throughout the growing season.  They should be planted in the dormant season, from November to February, before bud-break. Stakes may be planted at other times but the success rate will greatly decrease.

Steps to install live stakes:

  1. Using a length of rebar or another sharp device, create a hole in the soil to insert the stake into.  This step may not be necessary in some soils. 
  2. Drive the stakes into the pre-made hole.  If necessary a rubber mallet may be used to help drive the stake into the ground.  They should be planted at least one foot deep, with at least 2 to 3 nodes in the ground.  Because rooting is key to the success of live stakes, deeper is better.  Only a small portion of the stake needs to be left above

  1. ground to sprout (3 to 6 inches).  Leave a longer section above ground if the stake may be shaded out by other vegetation.
  2. When used to control invasive species, stakes should be densely planted.  A spacing of 18 to 24 inches will create a dense shade that will reduce the vigor of invasive species.  The dense planting will reduce maintenance, and may be thinned out once the invasive are under control.



  1. King County Natural Resource and Parks Division.  Live Stake Cutting and Planting Tips.

  • Washington State University, Cooperative extension. Hardwood Cuttings and Live Stakes

  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Biological Erosion Control Methods

  • USDA. Stream Corridor Restoration Handbook