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Live Staking 101

Nichole Banks, Natural Resource Tech

Throughout the county, streambank erosion has become a large concern for many homeowners. With Butler County rapidly developing and extreme rain events becoming more common, our streams are trying to accommodate for an increase in water level and disturbance. Streambanks that are left bare without vegetation are susceptible to erosion where soils can be washed away during high water flows. Streambank erosion can lead to loss of land, deeply channelized streams, loss of habitat, and sediment pollution. One very inexpensive and natural way to help mitigate stream bank erosion is through ‘live staking’.


What is live staking? Live staking is when a cutting is taken from certain wet loving trees and shrubs and is then planted into the wet soils of streambanks. These woody plants will root quickly and begin growth within the first few weeks to the first few months of the growing season, holding in the soil as well as absorbing water. Depending on your goal, there are anywhere from large trees to small shrubs that can be used in this manner. This practice is typically very inexpensive and does not require permits since you are simply re-vegetating a site.

Like stake cutting
Photo Credit: PennState Extension

How do I get live stakes? The first step is to assess your site. Note the height of the bank and if it’s sunny or shaded; this will help determine which plants are the best fit. Next is to retrieve dormant cuttings from specific wet loving woody plants. You can do this yourself if you have some of these plants on your property, purchase in bulk from nurseries that specialize in live staking plants, or purchase streambank stabilization kits from the Butler SWCD 2023 Tree & Shrub Sale. Make sure to choose the correct plants for your site, making sure to account for the plant’s needs like sun or shade.

The best time to retrieve the cutting yourself is during the dormant season, from late fall to early spring before the buds break. Installation should happen during this time period as well. Be sure to not install or harvest during high water events for your safety as well as live staking best practices. Also, don’t retrieve the cuttings too far ahead of planting; they need to stay moist, so the more time between harvesting and planting the more likely they will dry out. Be sure to not take too much from the source tree and ensure the plants are healthy. The cutting should be anywhere from 2-3 feet long, cut flat at the top, and at a 45 degree angle where the roots will emerge. Sealing the flat top with beeswax can help keep moisture in. Make sure to store these partially submerged in water in a cool, shaded place until ready to plant.


How do I live stake my streambank? Live stakes must be planted in saturated soils; too far up on the streambank and they won’t have enough water to root. There are other options for creating a buffer zone higher up on the streambank where it’s drier, but live stakes do require wet soil. Make sure your banks aren’t too rocky or too silty for safe and effective live staking.


When planting, make sure to recut the rooting end of the stake before sticking it into the soil, and have a plan for where the plants will help the most, make sure to account for the full size of what you’re planting! A good idea is to plant in a zig-zag pattern 1 to 3 feet apart.

zig zag pattern planting image
Photo Credit: Hamilton County SWCD

The cutting should be at a 90 degree angle with the soil it’s being planted into. If the soil is too compacted, a piece of rebar can be used to start a hole the plant can be placed into. It should be planted about a foot deep; a rubber mallet can be used to push it into the ground, but be careful not to damage the stake. Between 75 - 80% of the live stake should be in the ground, with buds present above and below the soil.


Once the growing season starts, you should see new growth emerge either from the stake itself, or around where the stake was planted, depending on the species.


live stake planting angle
Photo Credit: Hamilton County SWCD

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