Factors such as wind, light, soil, and more can cause your tree to start leaning instead of growing in a straight way as most gardeners prefer. In the guide below, you can learn how to fix a leaning tree as well as what causes trees to lean in the first place so that you can be proactive and prevent this from happening.
Why do trees lean?
Before you begin to fix the problem, it is important to educate yourself about the reasons why trees can begin to lean. Not only is a leaning tree aesthetically unpleasing, but it can also be dangerous, especially a large leaning tree.
There are five main reasons why trees can lean, and we will explore each of them below. Wind is essential for a tree to grow strong and tall, but even low winds can cause stress that can cause saplings and even larger trees to grow in the direction that the wind is blowing.
A tree that is leaning due to the wind will exhibit a leaning trunk, but it will have its branches still growing in a traditional pattern. If the winds are high, then the tree can tip, become unstable, and the roots may end up getting exposed out of the ground. When the leaning angle is more than 15 degrees, the tree will need to be either straightened or cut down.
Another reason why trees lean has to do with the soil that they’re planted in. If the soil changes, such as it being eroded by wind or water, the roots of the tree can get exposed. Since the roots are what keeps the tree anchored into the soil, exposed roots can cause instability, which can lead to the tree leaning in one direction or another.
It is important to take action immediately once you notice that the roots have become exposed since if the erosion becomes too much for the tree to handle, straightening it may no longer be possible. In this situation, the safest option for both you and the tree is to remove it.
Improper planting can also cause the tree to lean, such as planting it too shallow or not tamping down the soil properly immediately after planting. Timing is essential too, and young trees should be planted in the early spring. The worst time to plant a tree is in mid-summer.
When planting a tree, you’ll also need to make sure that it has enough light since, as is the case with almost any plant, trees will grow toward the light. This means that if you plant them in an area where there are other plants, and the competition for light is fierce, the tree can grow at an angle to avoid the shade that other plants or buildings produce.
This process doesn’t pose a danger to the tree or the people since, in this situation, the way that the tree leans will be less obvious. The tree will grow denser on the side opposite to the light so that it can lean toward the side with more light. It doesn’t affect the stability of the tree, but it can create an unaesthetic look.
Lastly, diseases can cause your tree to lean as well. This is the worst-case scenario since if a tree doesn’t look good and it suddenly develops a lean, this can be an indication that the roots, trunk, or branches have become unstable. If a disease is to blame, once the tree starts to lean, it is too late to save it. Cutting it down is the best thing you can do.
How to straighten a small tree
Leaning is a very common problem with young trees since once planted, their trunk can start to lean one way or another if it experiences strong wind or heavy rain soon after it has been planted. In most cases, the leaning is mild, and the tree will correct it with time, but in more serious cases, the owner will need to straighten the tree using a stake.
Staking a small tree is very easy, and you’ll need to start by taking a stake and pounding into the soil in the opposite direction that the tree is leaning toward. The stake should be hammered about 18 inches away from the ground and at least 18 inches into the ground so that it can keep its upright position even under the weight of the tree.
The deeper the stake is, the better reinforcement it will provide. The stake should also be about ¾ the height of the tree and 2-4 inches in diameter. You should drive the stake into the ground parallel to the trunk of the tree.
The best time to plant the stake is after a rain when the ground is wet. You can also make your job easier by softening the ground with some water and using a pickaxe to get the hole started.
Next, you should straighten the small tree using your hands. If you find straightening it difficult, you can moisten the soil surrounding the trunk. Push the tree upright by applying even pressure along its trunk. If needed, you can ask for help from a friend or family member.
Now you should get a cable, rope, or strap and wrap it with a protective sleeve. The sleeve can be an old rubber hose. Feed the cable or rope through the hose. The hose is necessary to protect the trunk.
You can now begin to tie the tree to the stake using the rope or cable threaded through the hose. For small saplings, the rope will need to be placed closer to the ground, wherever it seems more stable. For larger trees, the rope can be placed a little higher. Finding the right position can take some time.
What you need to remember is that the rope needs to be low enough to let the tree’s canopy to sway naturally and high enough so that the trunk can still sway slightly. As a general rule, the position that works best is near the first lateral branch that stretches out from the trunk.
The rope should keep the tree in an upright position, but it shouldn’t be too tight since the trunk should still be allowed some movement. Allowing the tree to sway a bit in the wind is essential since otherwise, it won’t be able to grow strong roots.
Once you’ve secured the tree to the stake, you should check on it at least once a week and inspect the state of the rope and the stake. If it becomes loose, you should retighten it. The rope will need to stay on for one full growing season.
Before you remove it, you should first loosen it a bit to make sure that the tree can stand straight on its own. If the tree has no problem staying upright, you can take the rope off completely.
How to straighten a large tree
Straightening a large tree is not something that you can do on your own, so before you start, you will need to make sure that you have people to help you out. The process is similar to straightening a young tree, but it will require a lot of energy, so keep this in mind. If it isn’t something that you can handle, you might need to hire a professional.
You should start by digging up holes for the stakes. You will need 2-3 wooden stakes planted at least 18 inches into the ground. They also need to be thick enough to handle the weight of the tree. Ideally, the stakes should have a circumference that’s similar to that of the tree’s trunk.
Now it’s time to straighten the tree. Make sure to place a pad on the trunk to protect it and tie a rope around it. Use the rope to pull the tree opposite of the direction it leans to. You will need to pull gently and slowly. Pull until the tree stands upright. The bigger the tree, the more difficult this step is, and the more help you will need to straighten it.
Next, wrap the rope around the middle of the trunk, and make sure to use the same protective pad so that the rope doesn’t damage the trunk. You will need to use a rope that is big and firm enough to handle the weight of the tree. You can also buy special tree straps that are designed specifically for this purpose from most home improvement centers.
Secure the rope to the stakes to hold the tree in the correct upright position. You will need to keep the tree secured to the stakes for at least one year since it can take a lot of time for the roots to re-establish once you have loosened them.
Monitor the trees you have staked. Loosen the ties if they are too tight and tighten them if they are too loose. The tree should still be able to sway in the wind a little, while still maintaining its correct upright position.
After the year has passed, you can remove the straps, but you should first loosen them to make sure that the tree can stand on its own. Keep in mind that not all large trees can be straightened successfully. Sometimes the roots can’t re-establish, which can cause the tree to die.