Live stakes are vegetative cuttings, usually from willow trees, that are used to stabilize bare slopes or hills. A sloped yard along rivers and lakes tends to erode from weathering and water erosion. This erosion significantly impacts the stability of nearby structural foundations, as well as causing topsoil loss. Live stakes are an ingenious strategy to hold a slope intact naturally.
Planting along side streambanks is the most common use for live stakes, although you can use them for other hilly areas on a property. However, any area with successful live stakes must be moist. Similar to propagating tree cuttings for normal landscaping use, live stakes must contact moist soil at all times to encourage root growth. Dry cuttings succumb to growth stunting and fail to stabilize the slope.
Use live stakes in conjunction with geotexile fabrics that commonly hold the slope temporarily in place. Space the stakes between 12 and 36 inches apart for the best soil stabilization. Because they are usually implemented in moist to wet conditions, such as wetland restoration projects, you should not need to water them. Keep an eye on them, however, to ensure they receive the moisture necessary for root growth.
The main idea of live stake use is root spread. As stakes grow roots, they form intricate, fibrous mats in both horizontal and vertical directions. Soil trapped within the root formation remains in place, even under erosion conditions. With stabilized soil, other plants fill in the spaces between the stakes. Dense, established ground cover is the best way to keep a slope intact, but it cannot populate the area unless the hill stays in a permanent position.
Live stakes cannot be used on dry embankments unless you water the area consistently. Because wet conditions may hinder native plant species among the stakes, it is best to keep live stake use confined to waterways and lakes. You do not want to populate a dry, chaparral region with willows that prefer damp soil. Other plants accustomed to dry conditions, such as succulents, should control erosion on these arid hillsides.
Choose late fall to stake your slope. Cool weather coupled with potential rains helps the stakes form roots quickly. Insert about 80 percent of the stake into the ground for proper root growth. This strategy also contributes to moisture retention along the entire stake.
Selecting a river, lake or other wetland area for live staking allows your cuttings to grow vigorously for rapid hill stabilization. Care for the stakes afterward to form a natural, vegetative space that holds well during heavy rains.