How to Straighten a Leaning Tree

Image: thread twine through rubber hose and wrap the hose around a tree that you are staking.
David Beaulieu

"How do I straighten a leaning tree?" Many homeowners have been troubled by this question. They have brought a tree home from the garden center expecting to enjoy a strong, straight plant in the landscape for years to come, only to be disappointed. Their plant starts to tilt to one side soon after being put in the ground. For example, writes one reader:

"I planted a tree about six years ago. I planted it when it was just a small twig, and now it stands at about 6 feet tall.

"It is doing very well except for the fact that it leans over to one side to such an extent that I have to brace the tree up so that the wind does not blow it down. Will the tree ever straighten up, so I do not have to brace it?"

To answer this question here, for the general gardening public, several thoughts will be offered below (although #4 was the best answer for the reader who actually asked the question).

How to Stake a Tree Properly

Here are a few tips and issues to keep in mind when it comes to straightening leaning trees:

  1. When you brace the tree, are you using an accepted method of staking
  2. The Iowa State University Extension discusses the proper way to stake a tree. This resource also brings up the issue of staking often being an unnecessary step in tree care, to begin with. Make sure you are bracing a tree for the right reasons, not just because your neighbors say that you should. Also remember the saying, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it!"
  3. A related question is, Are you giving your crooked tree enough of a “brace period," if you will, before removing the support? Some folks are too impatient in staking trees. They want to remove the support before it has had a chance to fully do the job it was meant to do. Be patient and keep the brace in place for one year.
  4. Consider the ground under your tree. Is it stable ground, soil that tree roots can get a toehold in? If not, this could be the reason for your tree's not growing straight. In this case, consider transplanting your tree to another location. In the long term, this solution may end up being much more helpful to your tree than bracing it.
  1. Special straps are available at hardware stores for staking trees. Supporting wires are fed through holes in these straps, and it is only the straps, themselves that come into contact with the trunk of the tree that you are straightening out. A wire allowed to come into contact with a tree would damage its bark. Whenever you tie anything rigid around a tree, you have to be concerned about causing injury through girdling.

How to Save Money on the Project

Here is a follow-up tip for the frugal. What if you do not wish to pay out money for these special straps? Well, there is a workaround. Thread your staking wire (or cord or twine) through a short length of old rubber or plastic hose. You may have such pieces of hose left over after installing the pump for a garden fountain.

The idea here is to ensure that it is the hose that will come into contact with the tree's trunk, not the wire, etc. Since the hose material is softer, there will be less friction. So there will be less chance that the tree bark will be damaged.

Are you having trouble getting twine through the length of hose that you have chosen? Just singe one end of the twine in flame for a moment. This will remove the little threads on the twine that are keeping it from gliding through the hose.