In the Field: Willow Staking on the Meramec

An innovative way to combat bank erosion

In the Field: Willow Staking on the Meramec

Willow staking is an innovative technique that helps stabilize eroding riverbank by providing a natural plant root system. In March, OSC in partnership with Great Rivers Greenway and St. Louis County Parks will lead volunteers in the preparation and installation of willow stakes along a barren stretch of riverbank in Lower Meramec Park.

Volunteers will first harvest and cut the willows at George Winter Park. After the willows are cut, they will be stored, submerged partially in water, and then transported and installed at Lower Meramec Park. On Feburary 20th, OSC, GRG, and St. Louis County Parks staff went out into the field to demonstrate the process ahead of volunteer events in March.


First, identify healthy willows with trunks roughly between 1″ – 2″ thick. Then cut the willows at their base, close to the ground, on an angle with loppers or a hand saw. Prune all branches off of the stake, and once the stake is bare, cut it into 3ft pieces. These 3ft pieces will then need to be “sharpened” by making two cuts, one flat and one on an angle. Each stake should have a sharpened end (this end will be inserted into the riverbank). The cut ends are then submerged in water until it is time to transport them and install them along the riverbank.

Willows and Sycamores

Identifying ideal willows to be harvested

Pruning willow stake

Cutting the willows into 3ft stakes.







Sharpened Stake









To install the willow stakes, first drill a pilot hole into the bank 1-2ft deep using a piece of rebar and hammer. Once the hole is drilled, insert the sharpened end of the willow until 2/3 of the stake is underground. Tap the stake with a rubber or wooden mallet to ensure the stake is far enough into the bank.

Pushing the willow stake into the bank

Two willows installed on the river bank

Willows are ideal for planting in the floodplain to reduce the impact of flooding because they need few resources to survive, can withstand substantial water flow and are a “soil-binding species” meaning they have a root system that combats erosion effectively. They also provide food and enhanced habitat for wildlife. Willows, black willows specifically, are also wonderful for pollinators – they are the first trees to provide nectar for honey bees at the end of winter (Native Wildflowers Nursery 2018).

Stay tuned for more on this willow staking project! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for photos and live updates!

Special thanks to Great Rivers Greenway District, St. Louis County Parks, private funders, and Open Space Council members for their support!