Ok, maybe it isn’t free, but with nothing more than a few tools and a little work, you can collect and plant a bunch of trees without putting a dent in your bank account.

Live staking is a tree propagation method that involves cutting a stem from certain species of trees and shrubs and driving them into the ground, where they will begin to grow. That almost sounds too good to be true. Watch as Ryan Davis, Senior Forests Projects Manager for the Alliance demonstrates.



In order for live staking to work, you need to find one of a few wet-loving pioneer species.

Here are a few live staking compatible species to be on the lookout for.


How to do it:

  1. First, sanitize your pruning tools, to reduce disease in both your cutting and the host plant. Isopropyl alcohol (70% solution is recommended) works very well and is readily available. Wiping the cutting edge of your tools with isopropyl alcohol between each individual you are harvesting from would be the best practice, and at the very least, you should sanitize between sites and harvesting sessions.
  2. Cut stakes that are ½ – 1½ inches in diameter and 2 – 3 feet long and remove small side branches to maximize the auxin production within the stake.
  3. Make a flat cut across the top and an angled cut on the bottom. This will help you push the stake into the ground and will help you tell which side should go up.
  4. Place the stakes in your bucket with a bit of water to keep the angled cut wet. The sooner you plant your live stakes, the better. They can last a few weeks as long as you keep them as wet and cool as possible.
  5. Locate a wet area to plant the live stakes. Streambanks are excellent places to plant live stakes. Wet spots and the first 10-15 feet from a stream are also perfect places for live stakes and possibly areas where conventional tree planting isn’t feasible or as effective.
  6. Planting live stakes is simple: push the stake into wet soil as deep as possible (preferably about ⅔ of the stake length), perpendicular to the soil surface. If you want to establish a thicket or strong bank protection, plant in a staggered 2-foot grid.


After planting, live stakes will spend most of their energy on root development. You may only see a few leaves during the first growing season, but you will likely have some new lateral branches by mid-summer. Species vary in how likely they are to survive, but willows, shrub dogwoods, and elderberry seem to do best; you can expect upwards of 80% stake survival if they are properly planted.

If you want to learn more about live staking, Ryan goes into great detail in his blog post, LIVE STAKING: A TRUSTY TECHNIQUE FOR PLANTING TREES AND SHRUBS ON THE CHEAP.

You can also catch Ryan and more information about live staking in his Tree Talk episode on the subject.


Join us at one of our upcoming live staking events!

Live Staking 101 Webinar: Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Live Staking Demonstration: Thursday, February 15, 2024

If you liked this blog post and want to stay updated with more tips, tricks, and information about things you can do to help improve water quality, please consider signing up for our monthly newsletter, The Confluence.