By Jackie Rhoades
Most gardeners want the trees in their yard to grow straight and tall, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. Storms, wind, snow and rain can all cause a great deal of damage to the trees in your yard. Young trees are particularly susceptible. You wake up one morning after a storm and there it is - a leaning tree. Can you straighten a tree that has fallen in a storm? Can you stop trees from leaning in the first place? In most cases, the answer is yes, you can make a tree straight if it’s young enough and you know what you’re doing.
To Stake or Not to Stake a Leaning Tree
Many arborists now believe that a tree grows best without staking, but there are circumstances where staking or guying is necessary to stop trees from leaning.
Newly purchased saplings that have a very small root ball are not readily able to support the growth of the tree, thin stemmed trees that bend under their own weight, and saplings planted on an extremely windy site are all good candidates for staking to make a tree straight.
How to Make a Tree Straight
The purpose of staking is to temporarily support a tree until its root system is well established enough to support it alone. If you decide to stake a tree, leave the equipment in place for only one growing season. Stakes should be made of sturdy wood or metal and should be about 5 ft. long. Most young trees will need only one stake and guy rope. Larger trees or those in windy conditions will need more.
To make a tree straight, drive the stake into the ground at the edge of the planting hole so that the stake is upwind of the tree. Attach a rope or wire as a guy to the stake, but never attach it around the trunk of a tree. The bark of a young tree is fragile and these will chafe or slice the bark. Attach the trunk of the tree to the guy wire with something flexible, like cloth or rubber from a bicycle tire. Gradually tighten the wire to hold or pull the leaning tree upright.
How to Straighten a Tree After Uprooting
There are a few rules that must be followed in order to straighten a tree that has been uprooted. One third to one half of the root system must still be firmly planted in the ground. The exposed roots must be undamaged and relatively undisturbed.
Remove as much soil as possible from under the exposed roots and gently right the tree. The roots must be replanted below grade level. Pack the soil firmly around the roots and attach two or three guy wires to the tree anchoring them about twelve feet from the trunk.
If your mature tree is lying flat on the ground with the roots still firmly planted, the situation is hopeless. You cannot fix this type of leaning tree and the tree should be removed.
It isn’t easy to straighten a tree or stop trees from leaning, but with a little knowledge and a lot of hard work, it can be done.