Willow Staking: The Where, Why, and How

A group of volunteers willow stakes by the South Saskatchewan River Saskatoon Meewasin

Meewasin undertakes an incredible variety of conservation activities throughout the course of the year. Some of them like targeted conservation grazing make a lot of sense. Bringing sheep in to mimic the important role bison used to play on the Prairies is logical.

Other activities like prescribed fires seem kind of counter-intuitive. The reality is that fire is a big part of the regeneration of the natural Prairie landscape. When used under heavily controlled circumstances, it can be quite useful.

But one practice Meewasin gets a lot of questions about is willow staking. A lot of people don’t believe that it works. The truth that the process of willow staking is incredibly effective and makes a huge difference in the environment.

What is willow staking?

A group of volunteers willow stakes by the South Saskatchewan River Saskatoon MeewasinGenerally known as “live staking,” the practice essentially entails taking live sections of a tree without twigs or leaves, making them into stakes, and quite literally pounding them into the ground with a mallet. Yes, that is exactly what Meewasin is doing.

It must be done in an area where soil is both moist and soft. If the ground is hard, you have to drill pilot holes first or you will damage the stakes. Areas on the banks of bodies of water or in flood plains are usually the best for this. Willow in particular needs a lot of water to survive.

Storage of the live stakes is also quite important to the process. Again, these are live sections of trees cut into stakes. As such, they must be stored in a damp environment to keep them viable. And even then, you still have to get them in the ground within a couple of weeks of cutting.

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There are a select group of vegetation types that work well with this practice. A key one in the Meewasin Valley is willow. It quite honestly thrives through live staking, fully rejuvenating an area within a few years, if not less. Dogwood also does well.

You’ll find Meewasin willow staking on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in different part of the Valley with some frequency. We do staking in other parts of the Meewasin Valley but the river banks have proven to be quite successful.

Why practice willow staking?

Willows staked by the South Saskatchewan River Saskatoon Meewasin

Greening up the Meewasin Valley is a key conservation effort. In addition to making the region that much more beautiful and enjoyable, willow provides food, shelter, and more to an incredible variety of wildlife in the Valley. That includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, moose, deer, rabbits, beaver, and more.

Planting willow also helps maintain the integrity of the river banks. The more vegetation that’s lost from the banks, the less stable they are. Re-planting willows through live staking helps mitigate these issues, lessening the long-term impacts of erosion.

Because willow thrives in these environments and propagates so quickly, it makes sense to use live staking in these situations. That being said, it’s not going to work everywhere. While willow staking might not be the right practice for your backyard, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something else that might thrive through live staking or live trimmings.

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