There are many things that can be done to help a tree off to a good start once you plant it. One thing that people are frequently unsure about is whether or not a tree should be staked. If you do decide to stake it, how should it be done? There are reasons a tree could be staked, and many opinions about the necessity of staking, so ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether you feel it should be done or not.
A newly planted tree is obviously not anchored into the ground around it. This is the single most valid reason for staking. A properly staked tree can withstand, to a reasonable degree, heavy winds and, in winter, a certain amount of weight created by ice. The purpose of staking is to create the support and stability the tree needs which will later be provided by a well established root system. It typically takes a tree about 3 years once planted to create a strong root system. This is why it is commonly suggested that a tree stay staked for the first 3 years after planting. Is it absolutely necessary? That would depend on where the tree is planted and how stable is it after planting. If the tree is in a location where it will not be subject to strong winds, then it may not need it. Essentially, no harm will come from the tree being staked if done properly, but it will go a long way toward making sure it grows strong and straight for the future.
If you decide to stake your tree, there are 2 basic methods used. The first is to stake to posts set around the tree. The second is to anchor the tree to stakes in the ground. Typically, the first method is used on smaller trees with a narrow trunk. It is critical, no matter which method is used that no wire or rope be placed directly onto the trunk of the tree! Whatever type of staking material you use, it must be run through a hose or you should use rubber to wrap around the tree trunk. Any type of rope, wire or cabling material will eventually cut into the tree trunk, damaging the vital circulation system that is located just under the bark of the tree. That being said, most tree staking kits come with the necessary hose or rubber that you need to use. If not, or you are creating your own, a section of water hose or a small length of tubing acquired at your local hardware store can be used to pad the trunk and prevent damage. If you are staking to the sides of the tree, you can use from one to three (recommended) posts set in the ground just outside the root ball of the tree. The spacing should be done in a way that, no matter which way the wind blows, the tree is supported. A length of rope, wire or cabling, each piece run through a section of tubing, or a rubber strap is looped around the trunk and then tied off to each post. This method works best for small caliper trees that need more support up on the trunk to ensure proper growth. For larger caliper trees, staking to the ground is usually preferred. The same method is used to loop the rope, wire or cabling material around the trunk, but this is then anchored down to 3 stakes set just outside the root ball of the tree. These stakes can be wood, metal, plastic, or even rebar. Whichever method is used, the cabling around the trunk needs to be checked periodically to ensure that it is still secure, but not so tight that it is cutting into the trunk.
Staking is a good thing to do; the method used is up to you and can be done at any time during the first few years after planting, taking care not to damage the new root system the tree is creating.