Dear Martha: I planted a new tree and staked it, but it grew crooked. What happened?

A: Although it might seem like young trees need to be staked to protect them from the wind and help them grow correctly, this can actually do more harm than good. In fact, it is only by being exposed to the elements - without the aid of stakes - that most trees develop the mechanisms that they need to become healthy and strong.

"When a tree's trunk moves in the wind, that tells the tree it needs to grow more roots," says arborist Cathy Deutsch.

It also triggers the production of reaction wood, specialized cells that form below the bark to help the tree grow vertically.

By following a few guidelines, you can often eliminate the need for staking. Go to a reputable nursery and choose a shorter tree with healthy roots: They should not be soft, black or decayed; roots in burlap should feel solid and heavy.

Secure the tree by planting it at the proper depth - just cover the top of the root ball - and tamping down the soil well to eliminate air pockets (overdoing it, however, can cause compaction). Avoid adding water to the planting hole before the tree is placed. Give trees at least 1 inch of water per week thereafter.

There are some instances when staking is advisable. Conifers planted in late fall should generally be staked, as their shallow root systems won't anchor them sufficiently before winter sets in. Professionals will usually stake mature trees - especially ones with large, leafy crowns - that have been moved to a new site.

Make sure you are staking properly: Choose stakes that are no taller than two-thirds the height of the tree, and secure one on each side. (They should be far enough away that they do not shade the trunk.) Wrap a woven polypropylene line - not wire or rope, which can cut into the bark - around the trunk, and tie it to a stake; do the same on the other side with another line. Take care that the tension is neither too tight, which can girdle or snap the tree, nor too loose, which causes friction that can rub away the bark, making the tree susceptible to diseases and pests.

In general, a tree should be staked through its first winter. Remove stakes when wind, frost and heavy rains no longer pose a threat.

Dear Martha: How do you remove fingerprints from stainless steel appliances?

A: Plain old glass cleaner often does the trick. If this doesn't work, apply a little dish soap and warm water with a sponge or soft cloth, then dry with a clean cloth to guard against streaking.

There are also many stainless steel cleaners on the market. Most contain oils or waxes that dissolve fingerprints and leave a thin, oily film on the surface that disguises new prints. But because oil attracts dirt and dust, surfaces treated with these products can appear darker and dull over time. If you notice this, switch to glass cleaner or soap.

If marks remain after cleaning, they may be something other than fingerprints. Possibilities include stains left by water that dried on the surface, and rust, often caused by cleaning products that contain chlorine. Gently scrub these spots with baking soda. If staining is severe, try a commercial rust-fighting powder containing oxalic acid.

Some companies apply clear epoxy or other coatings to stainless steel so that fingerprints will be less noticeable. There also are coatings you can apply yourself, but they might peel or turn yellow. *

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: