If you’re lucky enough to hail from a state or a neighborhood with plenty of trees, you know how pleasant they are to observe and be around! And it can be off-putting to notice a poor tree, leaning in your yard.
What happened to it? Was it a storm or is this a natural phenomenon that happens over time?
Luckily, I’m here to help you out! Together, we’ll understand what makes this tree problem take place and provide actionable tips to help you straighten it too.
Here’s a quick PSA before we dig in:
You may need help from an arborist or some other tree professional. Knowing when to do so or when to try to help the tree yourself is critical.
Why Does a Tree Begin to Lean?
Let’s get this question out of the way first, shall we?
It’s common for trees, especially young ones, to start leaning a while after being planted, and that’s because, when watering them, the ground below tends to settle and become softer than usual.
As such, and since the young tree has yet to firmly plant itself, any strong wind or heavy rain can easily topple the tree forward. It’s not uncommon for the same to happen to mature trees too, given that the wind or storm is intense enough.
No matter the reason though, you want to know if you can fix it and how.
Why Do Young Trees Lean?
Here’s an interesting fact for ya: A tree naturally grows toward the sun, which can correct some leaning over time! Plus, a slanted tree will keep growing without any trouble.
That said, a young tree can develop a lean for the following reasons:
- Their yet-to-be-mature roots haven’t extended from the root ball to grip the surrounding soil.
- It wasn’t planted deep enough or the soil wasn’t tamped down after planting.
- You used loose, porous soil that doesn’t provide excellent support for a young tree’s roots.
- The soil around the tree is too wet, making it unstable.
- Your area is prone to steady winds—which, mixed with wet soil can make the tree lean.
How to Straighten a Young Tree with Just a Little Lean: 4 Simple Solutions
Good news, yard owners; a small leaning tree can easily be pushed back upright and then staked in place. Try one or a mix of the solutions below to do this:
1. Support the Tree with Stakes
Use a sledgehammer to drive wooden or metal stakes around the perimeter of the tree outside the root ball area. Drive stakes at a 45-degree angle toward the trunk of the tree.
Pro tip: If your site experiences wind predominantly from one direction, position stakes on the upwind side of the tree to anchor it against the wind. Stakes should ideally be made of wood or metal too, and be about 5 feet long.
I’ve also found that many people stake trees upright immediately after planting to ensure that they grow straight and tall until they’ve sent out grounding roots—sometimes for the entire first year.
Arborists and tree professionals warn against this, though. That’s because leaving a stake in for too long prevents young trees from developing more durable wood.
If you stake a tree, leave the equipment in place for a season. This way, the trunks have some flexibility to easily mature into strong wood.
2. Use Your Strength to Straighten the Tree
Time to put those upper body muscles to work!
Start by soaking the soil around your tree with a garden hose. This step softens up the ground and makes it easier to shift the tree.
Proceed to 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.
Make sure to use slow, steady pressure so you won’t damage the trunk. Once straightened, thoroughly tamp the soil around the base. This will pack the root ball firmly into the ground.
3. Help Secure the Tree with Rope
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 when staking it. Strips of canvas or burlap work too. Some people thread ropes or cables through lengths of rubber garden hose to prevent it from rubbing.
So, finding the right position for ropes can take some effort. The golden rule is: you want the trunk to be able to sway slightly.
4. Allow the Tree Time to Anchor Itself
You’ve done what you can – now, it’s time to be patient.
The tree will gradually anchor itself to the ground, so long as you leave the stakes in place for a year until roots are embedded in the soil.
Check the tree periodically too. And only adjust the tension of the ropes as needed to make sure the tree can flex.
How to Handle a Young Uprooted Tree
If a storm has uprooted your small tree, carefully assess whether it’s salvageable. Remove soil from the roots and then gently straighten the tree. After, stake the tree to give it support.
How to Straighten a Mid-Size Leaning Tree: 5 Easy Steps
A slightly bigger tree than a young sapling may need some extra effort on your part. Nothing too unmanageable! See for yourself:
- Hammer a stake into the ground in the opposite direction than the leaning tree.
- You should hammer the stake about 18″ away from the tree and 18″ into the ground at a 15-degree angle.
PSA: Whatever you do – avoid damaging the roots!
- Then, feed a ratchet strap through the middle of a piece of rubber hose.
- Measure to be certain it’s 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 ever use wire as a strap! It might damage the bark and kill the tree.
Easy enough, right? Remember the following tips as well and your tree will be back to a more natural position in no time:
- Monitor the tree weekly: Tighten the strap when it becomes loose. If it applies, check on the tree after storms as well to ensure it’s 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.
- Let the tree pass through a full growing season: While you can stake the tree at any time in the year, don’t remove it until an entire season has passed first.
How to Straighten a Large Leaning Tree: A 5-Step Guide
Large trees can be a more formidable opponent to work with and straighten—though not impossible. My guide below should help you figure it out:
1. 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.
The golden rule is: Digat least 10 inches for every one inch of the trunk’s diameter
2. Once you have your measurements, get to work on that trench. Make sure to dig two feet deep as well.
Hint: If the tree is unusually large, you can hire a tree-moving company for this work.
3. Place a pad on the trunk, then wrap a rope around the pad. Wrap the rope around the mat. Tie and secure it.
4. You can use a foam pad or old blanket as padding to protect the tree’s bark.
5. Pull the rope to straighten the tree. Stop pulling when the tree is standing straight.
Remember; large trees won’t be corrected easily. Many people consider leaving their mature trees leaning to avoid damaging the roots and killing them.
Others simply don’t have the strength and instead let the professionals handle it—which would be my advice too.
What to Know When Straightening Trees: Extra Cautionary Tips
I know what you’re thinking: There’s still more I need to keep in mind, Lisa?
Sadly, yes. My steps above do make it sound easy, but straightening a tree can quickly go wrong if you’re not careful.
So, note down the following and pray for the best!
- You may need to bend your tree in increments. Over several weeks or months, for instance, 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 and that’ll weaken your mature tree.
- Prune surrounding trees and vegetation. This way, the straight tree isn’t crowded.
- Don’t pull up roots without loosening them first. Otherwise, you risk killing the tree.
- Fill the space around the tree with dirt. Pack dirt back into the trench. Cover the roots to give them a good foundation, too. Only remove the rope from the tree and trunk after you fill the hole.
- Be patient. 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 and the trunk’s middle. Thiskeeps the tree stable so that the roots can re-establish.
What About Tree Cabling? Here’s What to Know
Cabling stabilizes a mature tree. Cabling is often employed by arborists or tree service professionals to save a tree.
Additionally, cabling can be used to save a split tree trunk that’d eventually rip apart. Cabling can also support a large branch that’s growing at an awkward angle.
So far, cabling sounds amazing! What’s the catch?
If you don’t cable a tree correctly, this might result in girdling—or in less fancier terms, the death of your beloved tree.
So, when is cabling necessary?
- To save a tree: a compromised trunk or branch can lead to a fungal infection.
- Preserve a tree’s appearance: if it’s lost a major limb, for instance.
- Save a home from property damage: in case the tree in question is near the house and poses a threat
How Does Cabling Work?
Cabling involves drilling holes in a trunk or tree branches and inserting a cable. The cable is then secured to keep it tight. The support will be done totally above the ground.
It’s safe to say that cabling provides stability over the tree’s life. The wires will stay there permanently.
Guying vs Cabling
Guying and cabling are both methods that help stabilize an unsupported tree. Arborists decide which is better based on the severity of the tree’s situation and which support system would suit it best.
But what’s the main difference between both?
It’s all about mechanism and application. What you use to ‘cable’ a tree isn’t the same as what’s used to ‘guy-wire’ one.
In layman’s terms, cabling is to support the tree internally by installing cables in the tree’s weak points, while guying is to straighten it with the help of an external anchor; often a steel cable.
Either method allows the tree to properly grow with some help—with professionals opting for the guying method with large trees and newly transplanted ones.
The questions never end with trees – so you may have a few more. Let’s see them:
How do you prune a crooked tree?
Easy. Prune more off the side that’s leaning towards the ground and less on the other. This helps balance the weight a little and may even encourage growth on the more upright side.
Doing this might also help your tree become upright on its own, given some time.
How do you straighten a leaning palm tree?
It’s hard for a palm tree to be crooked in the first place as they’re designed to withstand strong weather – but, alas, it still happens. What to do, then?
Staking and guying are the two most suitable solutions to fix a leaning palm tree. You can also try making soil adjustments, making sure it properly drains and supports the tree.
Today you’ve learned how to straighten a tree like a pro – congrats! Now you get to enjoy your tree safely, without worrying about it toppling over.
With a few rakes and some rope, your tree will be as good as straight come the new season.
Then you and your family can resume having picnics and taking pictures of your impressive, and now fully straight, tree.
Want to help Mother Nature and plant more trees? Let me teach you how to take a branch cutting and grow a new tree from it next!
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.