Hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather can take down even massive trees, but sometimes, the damage isn’t as severe. Instead of toppling over completely, trees can be left leaning to one side, while its roots remain in the ground. Leaning can also be the result of planting a tree in soil that’s unstable or too moist.
Fortunately, a tree favoring one side over the other isn’t necessarily a lost cause. Here’s what to know about straightening a leaning tree.
Can all leaning trees be straightened?
First, consider the age and size of your tree. Young trees with thin trunks are the best candidates for straightening, while older, thicker trees tend to be more of a challenge.
If you have an older tree that’s only leaning slightly, it may be able to continue living and growing without being perfectly straight—as long as none of its roots are showing, or are about to poke through to the surface. When in doubt, ask an arborist.
Similarly, the larger a tree is—both in terms of height and trunk girth—the more difficult it will be to move safely. Rather than risking an accident, consider calling in a professional.
If the tree is leaning because it’s damaged or diseased, it probably can’t be salvaged.
How to straighten a leaning tree
You can straighten a leaning tree through a process called “staking,” which is done to provide the tree with support while its roots get reestablished underground after being disturbed.
Start by feeling the soil around the tree. If it’s hard and dry, add some water to make moving the tree easier. Now, gather your supplies:
- 2—4 wooden or metal stakes, at least 2-feet long
- A mallet (or similarly large hammering tool)
- 2—4 canvas straps (special ones for staking trees, hammock straps, or comparable canvas straps)
- Thick work gloves
Then get to work:
- Surround the tree with the stakes placed roughly 1-2 feet away from the trunk (the goal is to avoid the root ball), and use the mallet to drive them into the ground towards the trunk at 45-degree angles.
- Ensure the stakes reach a depth of at least 18 inches.
- Push the tree trunk, repositioning it so it’s upright. Wearing work gloves can help you get a better grip, and prevent splinters. It may take two or more people to move larger trees.
- Once the tree is in place, firmly press down on the soil around the trunk, or anywhere else it was loose.
- Place each strap around the trunk of the tree and fasten it to the corresponding stake. Make sure each strap is secure, but has enough give to allow the tree to sway (slightly) in the wind.
Like training wheels, stakes aren’t forever: It’s best to take them down after one growing season.