How To Make A Tree Straight And Stop Trees From Leaning

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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 feet (1.5 m.) 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 straighten 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 12 feet (3.5 m.) 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.

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Read more about General Tree Care

How to Save a Leaning Arborvitae

Arborvitae that have been planted in hedge rows are often slender with only one or two leaders, the primary branches extending upward from the trunk. If an arborvitae begins to lean, follow these tips for assessing, correcting and saving it.

Step 1 - Determine Why It's Leaning

Arborvitae can lean for many reasons, including bending from winter snow weight, a leader that has veered off from the main trunk, or the top has bent from wind pressure from growing too close to a fence.

If it bore a heavy snow weight just in the past winter, disregard its lean. Arborvitae are known for their flexibility under snow and it will straighten up later in the spring by itself.

If the problem is a veering leader branch, try attaching the tree by cotton rope to a stake or other solid support. It may be early enough to alter the course of the leader's growth. Leave it staked for six to nine months, beginning in early spring, to see if it begins to grow more upward.

A tree's top bent by wind pressure may not be repairable, short of removing the fence. The top could be returned to a vertical position by tying it off, but as soon as you release the support, the wind will push it out of alignment again. Consult an arborist who has experience with arborvitae or other evergreens.

Step 2 - For How Long has it been Leaning?

If the arborvitae developed this lean as a sapling and it is now eight years old, it is not worthwhile trying to correct it. Live with its idiosyncrasy, or, if it is in danger of toppling, remove it.

If the arborvitae was very young when you purchased it and has just begun to lean at three feet in height, support it for the next nine to 12 months. Tie it to a tall metal stake with soft cotton rope to pull it upright.

If a young tree less than seven years old is leaning due to storm damage at less than 10 degrees and roots are still mostly in the soil, pull it upright with rope tied to two stakes on either side to exert balanced pressure on the trunk. Cover any exposed roots with mulch or soil to protect them.

A mature tree whose roots have been exposed and is leaning at more than 45 degrees must be taken down.

Step 3 - Replace Arborvitae That are Leaning Incorrigibly

Contact the garden center where you purchased the arborvitae if leaning becomes a problem in the first year. They can advise you on corrective measures or if it should be replaced.

If you are buying mature arborvitae as a privacy plant, inspect them from all angles for leaning. Do not purchase if they appear too crooked or tilted.

Buy arborvitae for hedge rows when young from a reputable garden products retailer. Watch them carefully as they mature to correct leaning when it first develops. Examine mature arborvitae closely before purchasing.

Stake Them

Assuming the tree is small and young, you may be able to straighten it by staking it to the ground. This is best done with wood or metal stakes, exceeding no longer than five feet in length.

Simply drive the stakes into the ground alongside the tree, at which point you can secure the tree to the stakes using either rope or wire.

Tighten the wire or rope so it pulls the tree straight and leave it in place for one full season. At the end of the season, your tree should be straight, or at least straighter than before.

How do you straighten a crooked tree?

It’s definitely tragic when your newly planted tree finds itself falling over. Sadly, a tree can’t always be saved if it’s been uprooted. The tree must still have at least half of its root system in the ground. The roots that are exposed cannot be too damaged.

The uprooted portion of the roots of the tree will need to be placed back at ground level. Remove as much soil from around the uprooted portion of the tree as you can. Then gently lift and straighten the tree back out. Pack the soil back in and use wires and stakes to anchor the tree in place while it recovers and regrows its root system.

If you have a mature tree that has completely fallen over and is laying on the ground, it simply won’t survive. It would be best, and safest, to have the tree removed and plant a new one in its place.

Staking is often unnecessary. Occasionally, newly planted trees may require staking when:

  • They have unusually small root systems that can’t physically support the larger, above-ground growth (stem and leaves).
  • The stem bends excessively when not supported.
  • The planting site is very windy and trees will be uprooted if they are not supported.
  • There’s a good chance that vandals will uproot or damage unprotected trees.

Install the staking or guying attachments at planting time or straightening time and leave them in place for one growing season.

If done properly, staking provides stability until the tree can support itself. However, if staking is done poorly or for too long, it can do far more harm than good.


  • Materials vary depending on the situation and size of the tree.
  • For small to average-sized trees (up to 10-12 feet in height), wooden stakes are sufficient.
    • They should be at least 2 inches by 2 inches by 5 feet long.
  • For larger or heavier trees, or trees in particularly windy situations, metal fence stakes may be necessary.
    • The stakes are reusable, particularly the metal stakes.
  • Stakes that are too tall for the tree may damage the branches in the canopy from rubbing.

Guying is usually used for stabilizing transplanted trees with larger diameters, 4 inches or larger.

Guying anchors are usually shorter and stronger, since they are driven deep into the ground and exposed only a few inches above the soil surface.

Stout wooden stakes (at least 3 inches by 3 inches by 24 inches), duck-billed soil anchors, or reinforcing rods (minimum of 5/8 inches in diameter) are most often used.

When planting a tree purchased from a nursery, always remove any materials used to straighten or stabilize the stem, such as poles or bamboo sticks. They can damage or girdle a tree if left on too long.

Whether attaching the tree to stakes or guying anchors, the rope, wires or metal cable should never come into contact with tree stems or branches. Any material contacting the stem should have a broad and smooth surface.

Suitable materials to wrap around the tree stem and attach to the stake ropes, wires or cables include:

  • Wide canvas strapping
  • Strips of old carpeting
  • Bicycle inner tubes
  • Burlap

Do not insert ropes or wires through sections of garden hose and wrap around the tree stem. It doesn’t work for very long, and abrasion and compression of the stem will soon occur.

Steel cables can be used to guy larger trees. The cable should be threaded through a webbing to protect the tree from girdling and abrasion. Close the wire with cable clamps and connect it to a guying stake.

Alternative stem attachments

There are a few alternatives that can be attached directly from the tree to the stake.

  • Arbortie staking and guying material is a durable mesh polyester.
    • ¾” wide and can be cut to a desired length.
  • A polyethylene chain lock tree tie can be wrapped around the tree stem and locked, while the other end is wrapped around the stake and locked.
  • The Tree Mate O tree support system for staking slides onto the metal post while the other end encircles the tree stem.
    • Rubber bands connect the stem and the Tree Mate O, allowing for tension and movement in the wind.

Staking a tree

Placing the stakes and anchors

As a rule of thumb, use as few as possible. For many smaller trees, one stake is sufficient to keep the tree vertical and stable.

  • Place the stake upwind from the direction of prevailing spring or summer winds.
    • If one stake is not sufficient, place two stakes that run parallel to the prevailing winds.
  • Drive the stake into the outer edge of the planting hole, safely away from the root system but still within the mulched planting area.
  • For guying straightened, wind thrown trees, use three stakes or anchors, equally spaced around the tree with one placed upwind from the prevailing winds.
    • Never place guying anchors outside of the mulched planting bed because this can become a safety hazard to people walking by or playing near the trees.

Placing the stem attachment

Removing the stakes and anchors

Remove the attachments in the fall for spring-planted trees and for trees planted the previous fall.

After removing the attachments, check the tree for stability.

If the tree’s root system still moves in the soil when the stem is moved or if the stem still bends excessively, loosely reattach the connections to the stakes. Leave the stakes or anchors on for one more season.

The guying method can be used on larger transplanted or balled and burlapped multi-stemmed trees. Treat each stem as an individual tree.

For example, if your multi-stemmed tree has three stems, each of the three trees would get its own staking system as described.

  • Two anchors should be placed against the prevailing wind in a parallel line with each other.
  • The anchors should be driven into the ground so only a few inches are left above ground.
  • Angle wooden stakes away from the tree, so the attachments don’t slip off.

A guying system is recommended for large evergreens that are ten feet or taller in windy sites. The large aboveground portion of the tree can be a wind sail in windy sites leading to the tree leaning or tipping over.

The guying attachments should be placed approximately ⅔ up the stem. Follow previous directions for guying and what materials to utilize.

Tripod support system

The tripod support system can be used instead of traditional staking for transplanted conifers less than ten feet tall. It is primarily used in windy sites.

Staking a conifer can be difficult in some sites because the stakes and attachments require more space than a deciduous tree. The tripod support system provides an outer support with no attachments to the tree, so it removes the potential problem of girdling stems.

Evenly space three stakes around the tree and drive them into the ground. Weave the stakes through the branches and attach them to each other near the top of the tripod.

Leave this support system in place for a full growing season.

Wind thrown trees

Occasionally, wind thrown trees can be straightened and saved. The success of this technique depends on several key factors, however:

  • It must be a true wind throw. That is, the roots must be pushing up through the heaved soil.
    • If the tree is leaning or horizontal and there is no evidence that the roots are pushing up and heaving the soil, then the tree stem probably broke off below ground and is essentially lost.
  • Straightening a wind thrown tree is most successful when the trees are relatively small: Up to 15-20 feet in height and a stem diameter of six inches or less.
    • Larger trees may be straightened, but it takes a skilled tree care company with special equipment to perform the operation.
  • The roots must still be alive.
    • If they have dried out or if it’s several days after the windstorm, the chances of success are greatly reduced.
  • The soil must be moist.
    • Straightening trees in dry soil conditions, especially in clay soil, is generally not a very successful operation.
  • The tree should be in good health.
    • If the tree was diseased, infested with insect pests or otherwise stressed, the chances of survival are not very good.
  • Shallow-rooted species (e.g. maples) may be straightened with more success than deep-rooted species (e.g. walnut).

Straightening a wind thrown tree

  • Straighten the tree soon after the windstorm has subsided, at least within a couple of days.
    • If you can’t straighten it immediately, keep the root system moist with irrigation and a mulch such as loose straw or burlap.
  • Excavate under the heaved-up root system to the depth of the lifted mass of roots and soil. This allows the root and soil mass to settle back to a normal depth once the tree has been straightened.
    • Never pull or winch a tree into an upright position without first excavating under the heaved-up roots.
    • Without the excavated area for the root and soil mass to settle in, it will be pulled up and out of the ground, which will result in more broken roots on the opposite side.
  • Install a triangular guying system, water thoroughly, back fill with loose soil to fill any open areas around the roots, water again and mulch the entire rooting area.
    • Make sure that you include the guying anchors within the mulched area.

Splinting trees

Splinting is used primarily for excurrent trees, which are trees with one main stem or leader. A splint can be used when the leader is broken or lost, or for controlling the height of a tree. Broken leaders can result from vandalism, pest damage and environmental damage.

Splinting can also be used when the top of the leader is leaning or flopping over from wind or the weight of new wood.

Height control is typically used for fruit trees, such as apples, so the fruit is at an accessible height. You can modify the leader when the tree gets taller than you desire. If height control is the goal, then the main leader is cut back and a branch is splinted up to become the new leader.

Trees should be splinted at the beginning of the growing season. In Minnesota, the recommended time for splinting is in the spring, from April to May.

The new wood is flexible during this time, so the branches can be moved around with smaller chances of breakage.

Remove the splinting material when the branch is hardened off this may take at least a month. The new, hardened off leader will be able to support itself when the connection material and support stake is removed.

The splint has to be made of a rigid material that will remain straight with the added weight and forces of a branch being attached to it. The splint can be a piece of bamboo, stake or other material.

The splint will ideally be on the tree for around a month, so there is little fear of girdling. This means attachments with broad surfaces aren’t necessary like they are for staking and guying. You can use zip ties, rubber plant tie bands and thick plastic twist ties to attach the new leader to the splint.

  1. Find the broken or leaning leader. Regularly check younger trees on windy sites or after storms.
  2. Prune off the broken leader to reduce chances of disease and insect damage. If the main leader is only leaning over, then skip this step.
  3. Connect the rigid splint to the main stem.
    1. For example, attach a plastic stake to the stem with multiple plastic twist ties.
    2. Place the stake low enough so the entire stem stays straight once the new leader is attached and when it’s windy.
  4. Connect the flopping or leaning leader to the splint. The leader will need to be pulled toward the splint for attachment.
    1. For a lost leader, select one of the highest lateral branches and attach it vertically to the splint this will become the new leader. Try to find the most upright branch with no included bark.
  5. If there are other long lateral branches, prune them back so they will not compete to be the main leader.
  6. Remove the splint when the leader is able to support itself.

Gary R. Johnson, Extension forestry specialist and associate professor of urban and community forestry and Tracy Few, researcher, University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources

Tree leaning over

We have a dogwood tree that is starting to lean over and I'm afraid that in time it will uproot and fall over. Is it possible that our severe droughts have caused the taproot to die and there is no hope for it? Or is there a chance that there's something I can do for it to save it and help it stand back up straight again?

I'd probably have an arborist come out and take a look at it, particularly if it's in a position where it's going to fall on something important if it does tip over. They can probably figure out what's wrong with it and tell you whether there's a way to save the tree or not.

Your tree looks pretty big, which makes it a challenge. It can be done, but, it will take time.

If you call a professional tree company they will probably recommend cables. They put metal or metal & concrete anchors in the ground, then eye bolts in the tree and run the cable between the two.

If you want to try to straighten it out as a family project you will need at least a couple husky folks. And supplies.

You will need to steel cable it and secure the cables to anchors in the ground. It would take a couple pages of explaining, I hope you know someone who is familiar with all kinds of materials. I will give you a brief overview based on the ones I have done in the past.

As an anchor you can use heavy rebar bent into a tight U shape and driven into the ground at an angle. The angle should be opposite the way the tree leans. You will need the two anchors about 45-60 degrees apart, opposite the lean of the tree pounded in at about 75 degrees. Buy a piece of rebar that is 6' and bend it so each side is about 3', doesn't have to be perfect. In rocky soils it can be difficult to get it into the ground. Make sure not more than 2-3" shows above ground level.

Drill a small pilot hole in the tree and insert 2 good size eye bolts put them at different heights, 8" apart in height and 45 degrees from each other on the trunk. Makes sure the cable can run straight from the eye bolt to the anchor without touching the bark.

Measure the distance from the tree to the anchor, buy 2 pieces of steel cable that are 3" longer than that distance, measure carefully, measure the distance by using a rope or some material that won't stretch, then measure that with a tape measure. Buy 8 sets of clamps for that size cable.

Go to a good local hardware store, a small place, not the big box stores. They will be able to set you up with the right sized materials. Rebar can be bought at the big box store.

Put the cable on the tree eye bolts and make sure it is clamped on securely. Do not use more than about 6 inches of over lap, make that end 'neat', no loose ends.

Push the tree back towards its upright position. Do not push too hard Do not use a pick up truck, use two people with 2x4's. Use some padding on the ends of the 2x4's at the tree. Push until the tree begins to 'resist', in other words push until it becomes difficult. If you push too hard it will crack the roots. Hold it there or brace it in place.

Have two people at the anchors, the first clamp goes on closest to the anchors. Have the clamps on the cable loosely and pull the cable tight. It helps to have someone pull the end of the cable, tight as possible, with a vise grip to do the best job. The second clamp goes on the end of the cable, to keep it neat.

Over time you will have to repeat this process, it can take 3-4 years.

I will add a schetch, but, this site does not support high resolution and it may not come out clearly, I will give it a try anyway>

People thinks trees are supposed to grow straight up to the sky. However, you can see many trees leaning towards the ground. Why does this happen? One of the possible reasons is loose soil when you plant or especially transplant a tree. If the soil is too loose, the weight of a tree can cause it to tilt. Other reasons can cause it to tilt are drainage problems, strong winds, a weak trunk, weak root systems, and so on. Some leaning trees can fix themselves, but in most cases you have to help them stand up straight.

When a tree starts leaning, the risk of falling over to a house and a property starts going up as well. Unfortunately, there are not many ways to fix older leaning trees which have been growing the same posture for more than 5 years. However, you can correct young and smaller leaning trees and trees which have been recently transplanted.

If the leaning tree is young and small, you can use stakes to straighten it up. You will need stakes, and either rope or wire. Put the stakes into the ground by the tree, and make the rope or wire tight, so it can pull the tree straight. You have to leave that pulling system for one full season. You will see the tree become straighter, or straighter than before at least at the end of the season.

Another way to straighten a tree is uprooting and transplanting the tree in a new spot. Actually, this is the most effective solution, but there is a risk to stress out the tree, so it may cause the death of the tree. You have to put the old soil that the tree was in as much as possible on a new location.

Royal Tree LLC provides a transplanting tree service as well. If you have any inquiries, please give Royal Tree LLC a call at (720) 626-3352. We can go anywhere i n Denver, Golden, Westminster, Lakewood, Aurora, Centennial, Littleton, Parker, Greenwood Village and Boulder to help with your trees.

Watch the video: #353 DANGEROUS TREES! Severe Lean, Good info to share

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