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How to Straighten a Tree (Of Any Age)

How to Straighten a Tree (Of Any Age)
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Trees are so much a part of yards and landscapes that you take them for granted until they are a problem. From pear trees to oak trees to weeping willows, trees fill your imagination and your yard.

They can also trouble you when things go awry. Trees are downed during storms or limbs break and cover your yard. These are common issues for tree owners.

You are searching the web because you have a new issue — a tree that needs to be straightened. No matter how the tree problem happened — whether through a storm or naturally over time — there are steps you can take to help you take action and straighten that tree.

You may need help from an arborist or other tree professional — and knowing when to do so or when to try to help the tree yourself is critical. The difference between these two options is crucial for you to know, and this site has answers to help!

Why Does a Tree Begin to Lean?

Planting a Tree

It is common for young trees to lean after they are planted as part of your landscape. There is a natural tendency for the ground to settle as you water, and it is especially common for strong winds and rain to cause it to lean before your tree gets firmly planted.

However, even trees that have been established for a long time can be impacted by intense storms and wind.

After long periods of rain, when the ground has soaked up water and is softer than usual, there is more of a chance for an intense hurricane or storm to cause a tree to lean. No matter the reason, you want to know if you can fix it and how.

This article will give you four different ways to approach this topic. You may have a tree leaning that is a young, newbie.

Problems become different for trees, just reaching a status with roots well anchored. Mature trees have various issues of their own.

Some trees have special problems that only cabling can fix. Tying these four different approaches to leaning trees in one article is both important and useful.

Problems Specific to Young Trees

A tree naturally grows toward the sun, which can correct some leaning over time. A tree can grow with a slant without any harm. A young tree can develop a lean for the following reasons:

  • Young trees lean because their roots have not yet extended out from the root ball to grip the surrounding soil.
  • Loose, porous soil doesn’t provide excellent support for a tree’s roots.
  • Soil that is too wet can make a tree unstable — correct drainage patterns around a tree to keep it from leaning.
  • Steady winds plus unstable or wet soil often results in leaning trees.
  • New trees can lean if not planted deep enough or if the soil is not tamped down after planting.

How to Straighten a Young Tree with Just a Little Lean

Tying a Tree to a Stake

By designating this as a young tree, you need to think of a tree less than one-year old that also has not been established with a root system yet. These trees have their unique issues, as you shall see.

With only a little leaning, you might not need to do anything, in fact. A small leaning tree can be pushed back upright and staked in place.

With young trees that have a few more issues, consider the following:

  1. Driving Stakes. Use a sledgehammer to drive wooden or metal stakes around the perimeter of the tree outside the root ball area if your site experiences wind predominantly from one direction, position stakes on the upwind side of the tree to anchor it against the wind. Drive stakes at a 45-degree angle toward the trunk of the tree.
  2. Straighten it. Soak the soil around your tree with a garden hose. Apply even pressure along the trunk as you push. If the root ball has shifted, a hand winch attached to the tree might be necessary to hoist the tree. Use slow, steady pressure so you won’t damage the trunk. Thoroughly tamp the soil around the base. That will pack the root ball into the ground.
  3. Secure it. Use ropes to tie the tree to the stakes. You may also use cables threaded through a form of pliable sleeves to protect the trunk. With tiny saplings, short lengths of nylon can be tied around the trunk and secured to the stakes. Strips of canvas or burlap work too. Some people thread ropes or cables through lengths of rubber garden hose to prevent it from rubbing.Finding the right position for ropes can take some effort to place. You want the trunk to be able to sway slightly.
  4. Allow the Tree Time to Anchor Itself. To make sure your tree becomes anchored, leave the stakes in place for a year until roots are embedded in the soil. Check the tree periodically. Adjust the tension of the ropes as needed to make sure the tree can flex.

A Note About Staking

Many people stake trees upright immediately after planting to ensure that they grow straight and tall until they’ve sent out grounding roots — perhaps the entire first year.

Arborists and tree professionals warn to be careful about leaving a stake like this in for too long, however, because young trees develop more durable wood if the trunks are allowed some flexibility.

You remove the stakes to allow the trunk to flex and grow more durable wood.

Handling an Uprooted Tree

Small Staked Tree

If a storm has uprooted your small tree, carefully assess whether it is salvageable. Remove soil from the roots and then gently straighten the tree.

Stake the tree to give it support.

How to Make a Medium-Size Tree Straight

Staking temporarily supports a tree until its root system is well established enough to support it alone. If you stake a tree, leave the equipment in place for a season.

Stakes should be made of wood or metal. Aim for your stakes to be about five feet long.

  • Hammer a stake into the ground in the opposite direction than the leaning tree. Hammer the stake about 18 inches away from the tree and 18 inches into the ground at a 15-degree angle away. Avoid damaging the roots.
  • Feed a ratchet strap through the middle of a piece of rubber hose.
  • Measure to be certain it is long enough to wrap around the trunk of the tree, protecting the bark.
  • Use wire fed through a rubber hose as an option. Don’t use wire as a strap. It might damage the bark and kill the tree.
  • Monitor the tree weekly. Tighten the strap when it becomes loose. Check on the tree after storms to ensure it is secure.
  • Remove the straps and stakes after one season. Loosen the straps and take them off when you see that the tree can stand straight without leaning.
  • You can start staking any time of year, but let the tree pass through a full growing season before you remove the strap.

How to Make Larger Trees Straight

Rope Around Tree Trunk
  • Measure the diameter of the tree around the thickest part of the tree trunk to help you know how big of a trench to dig.
  • Dig a trench around your tree to free the roots. Use a shovel to dig a trench around the trunk of the tree that is at least 10 inches for every one inch of the trunk’s diameter. Dig two feet deep.
  • If the tree is unusually large, you can hire a tree moving company for this work.
  • Large trees will not be corrected easily. Many people consider leaving their mature tree leaning to avoid damaging the roots and killing it.
  • Place a pad on the trunk, then wrap a rope around the pad. Wrap the rope around the mat. Tie and secure it.
  • You can use a foam pad or old blanket as a pad to protect the tree’s bark.
  • Pull the tree with a rope to straighten. Stop pulling when the tree is standing straight.

Caution

  • Use caution when bending a trunk to vertical. You may need to bend it in increments — over several weeks or months — to avoid trunk damage.
  • Keep an eye on tree ties. Loosen them as the tree grows. If the ties are too tight, they’ll damage the bark and trunk. The damage will weaken your mature tree.
  • Prune surrounding trees and vegetation, so the straightened tree isn’t crowded.
  • Remove stakes and ties eventually — after your tree is straight and stable.
  • Don’t pull up roots without loosening them first. Otherwise, you risk killing the tree.
  • Fill around the tree with dirt. Pack dirt back into the trench. Cover the roots to give them a good foundation. Remove the rope from the tree and trunk after you fill the hole.
  • It can take over a year for roots to re-establish themselves once you loosen them and shift the tree.
  • Wrap tree straightening straps around the tree. Hammer two to three wooden stake posts at least 18 inches into the ground. Wrap tree straightening straps around the trunk’s middle to keep the tree stable so that the roots can re-establish.

Cabling Options

Tree with Girdling

Cabling stabilizes a mature tree. Cabling is often employed by arborists or tree service professionals to save a tree. Girdling can result if the tree is not cabled correctly.

Cabling can be used to save a split tree trunk. Without cabling, a split trunk would eventually rip apart.

Cabling can also support a large branch that is growing at an awkward angle. The operation is a preventive measure that can do the following:

  1. Save a tree (a compromised trunk or branch can lead to a fungal infection).
  2. Preserve a tree’s appearance (a tree that has lost a major limb).
  3. If it is a large tree located near a home, cabling could save a home from property damage.

Cabling and Guying

Cabling involves drilling holes in a trunk or tree branches and inserting a cable. The cable is secured to keep it tight. The support will be done totally above the ground.

Cabling provides stability over the tree’s life. Wires will stay there permanently.

Guying is another technique to stabilize trees. It is a cabling method in which the cable is anchored to the ground (as in tree staking) or another tree.

General Health of Trees

Tree Health

With this much time and attention directed to your trees, you will want to give them optimum health conditions to make sure they have a long life.

Consider the following when choosing a new tree or taking care of your existing trees.

  • Choose new trees that are a fit for your region of the country and your growing season. An expert at an agricultural center, nursery, or arborist can tell you precisely what is best for your area.
  • Determine optimal places to plant. Don’t plant too close to your home or your fence line. Consider how big the tree will get and how expansive the root system will grow. You don’t want to damage your sidewalks because the root system of the tree you picked is more massive than you realized.
  • Pay attention to sun options that will make your tree thrive.
  • Consider watering options for your tree.
  • Research the most appropriate fertilizers to use so that your tree flourishes.
  • Determine what pests live in your area and might be a danger to the long-term health of your trees.
  • Examine herbicides and other treatments that might kill pests that could harm your tree.
  • Research what animals might benefit from your tree being planted. From squirrels to birds, your tree could provide animals a home.
  • Remind yourself of the benefits of planting trees based on how they remove carbon monoxide from the air and return oxygen. This one should make you smile!
  • Then enjoy your tree! Nurture it. Talk to it as you water it! Sit and picnic beside it. Take pictures and show them off to your friends and family. Take a branch cutting and grow a new tree from it! Congratulations on your tree!