How Do You Straighten a Leaning Tree?

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated May 25, 2022
A leaning tree in a garden with two wooden chairs
Photo: Jon Lovette / Stone / Getty Images

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa might be a wonder to look at, but when it comes to the trees in your yard, having a leaning tower of your own might take away from your lawn. In some cases, you can straighten a leaning tree DIY-style, but in other situations, you might need the help of an arborist and tree straightening service. Here’s what you need to know to make the best decision about your tree.

Leaning Tree Causes

Knowing why your tree is leaning can help you prevent it from happening again. Here are a few reasons why you might have a leaning tree:

  • You have a newly planted sapling that hasn’t established a robust root system yet.

  • You live in a wet, stormy climate where the weather makes the soil too soft.

  • Strong winds, rain, snow, and ice continuously pull at the branches of your tree.

  • The soil conditions on your property are too porous to secure the root system—think sandy soil.

  • Conversely, the soil conditions are too compact for the roots to anchor into the soil—think clay soil.

  • The sapling wasn’t planted deep enough.

  • The soil wasn’t tamped down when the tree was planted.

  • The tree was planted at an angle.

  • The crown of your tree is imbalanced.

  • The roots were damaged via digging, trenching, tilling, drought, fertilizers, pesticides, or other environmental factors.

  • Your tree is infected or diseased. 

How to Tell If You Can Straighten a Tree

It’s important to assess the state of your tree before attempting to DIY the straightening process. Salvaging a leaning tree depends on a couple of factors:

  • Root exposure: If the roots on your tree are completely uplifted, you’ll likely be unable to save the tree.

  • Root condition: If 30% of your tree’s root system is damaged, your tree will start to show signs of stress and might struggle to survive. 

  • Tree health: When a tree falls due to an infestation or disease, it likely needs to be removed entirely, so make sure you know the signs of a healthy tree.

  • Tree age: You can straighten a young sapling with relative ease compared to a mature tree. 

  • Tree size: Likewise, a small tree is far easier to straighten without a professional than a large tree, which may require more power to pull it upright. 

How to Straighten a Leaning Tree

Difficulty: 4/5 Only DIY if you know what you’re doing.

Time to complete: One to three hours

What you’ll need:

  • Sledgehammer

  • Tree straps or a cable with a rubber hose

  • Three 5–8-foot stakes (metal or wood)

Cost to DIY: Approximately $250

1. Inspect the Tree

Before you can straighten your tree, it’s a good idea to evaluate the tree’s condition. Generally speaking, you can DIY straightening a sapling or smaller tree, but if your tree is mature and on the larger side, you might need a professional to use machinery to pull the tree back in place. 

2. Install Your Stakes

Start with hammering a stake opposite of the leaning tree, being sure to hammer it into the ground about 18 inches away,18 inches deep, and at a 15-degree angle directed away from the tree. 

Do not hammer into roots. If you feel resistance, try moving the stake slightly further away. Install the other stakes in a triangular shape on the outside of the tree, also opposite the direction the tree is leaning. The deeper you drive your stakes, the better the reinforcement. Just be sure to avoid driving them in too deeply to remove them once your tree is straight!

3. Straighten the Tree

If you’ve got a bigger tree on your hands, then it’s time to phone a friend for this one. You’ll want to push the tree back into alignment by pressing on the trunk. If your tree doesn’t straighten fully, that’s okay. You might need to routinely adjust the tightness of your straps and slowly straighten the tree.

4. Tying the Tree

Once your tree is relatively straight, place the tree strap or hose and cable around the tree and then secure it around the stake. Repeat with the other stakes, tightening securely. As your strap loosens, tighten the straps. 

Note: You’ll want to check the tightness of the stakes every week and after storms to make sure that it’s still taut.

How to Straighten an Uprooted Tree

An uprooted young pine tree in a garden
Photo: JRP Studio / Adobe Stock

Difficulty: 4/5 Only DIY if you know what you’re doing.

Time to complete: One to three hours

What you’ll need:

  • Shovel

  • Sledgehammer

  • Cable with a rubber hose or tree support straps

  • Three 5–8-foot stakes (metal or wood)

Cost to DIY: Approximately $250

1. Inspect the Tree

First thing’s first: your tree must have no less than one-half of its root system intact for you to replant it. The uprooted roots also cannot be majorly damaged, or else the tree might not survive the replanting. 

If the tree meets these requirements, follow the next steps; if your tree does not meet these requirements, you’ll need to contact a tree service to either remove the tree or fix it.

2. Remove the Soil 

Before replanting an uprooted tree, you’ll need to dig out the soil underneath the roots to allow for tree realignment. Be sure to take out as much as you can to give the roots space for when you straighten the tree, or you’ll risk damaging the roots.

3. Adjust Into Place

Slowly adjust the tree into a straight position, being mindful of how the roots appear as you pull the tree back into place. Make sure all roots are below the ground—you don’t want any poking up into the air when it’s time to add the soil!

4. Tamp Down Time

Speaking of soil, once you’ve straightened the tree, firmly tamp down the soil. You want it to be compact so that your tree won’t move out of place again.

5. Stake It

Lastly, stake your tree by driving two to three stakes into the ground. Your stake should be at least five feet long and approximately 15 to 18 inches away from the tree trunk, with around 18 inches of the stakes hammered into the ground.

What If Your Tree Is Too Big or Uprooted?

In some cases, you won’t be able to straighten a leaning tree by yourself. Two possible scenarios include large mature, leaning trees and uprooted trees. If your tree is large or uprooted, you’ll need special equipment and knowledge of how to replant the tree’s roots. 

To save your tree, the root ball will need to be intact. If it is, and you can tether the tree via a cable, then you can likely straighten the tree. This isn’t a do-it-yourself job, though. It will likely involve specific tools and techniques that require an expert’s touch.

Hiring a Tree Service Company

A certified arborist near you is your best bet for examining your tree and determining whether or not they can straighten your tree. An arborist’s goal is to save trees rather than remove them, and they’re generally eager to share their knowledge about how to keep trees healthy. If there’s no hope for your tree, they’ll break the news to you, too.

Get at least three estimates before you decide how to proceed. Many local tree services have arborists on staff, so they can offer advice for saving trees, as well as their safe removal.

How to Prevent a Tree From Leaning

Proper tree management is the best way to prevent your yard from looking like a vertical game of Pick-Up-Sticks. If the pro successfully straightens the tree, it will require extensive time to recover and become stable again—sometimes three to five years—so it’s important to do the job safely and regularly inspect your tree.

You can prevent your trees from leaning by:

  • Checking the tension on the cables of your newly staked tree

  • Applying a tree growth regulator

  • Covering the root ball with extra mulch leading up to winter

  • Following best practices for planting a tree

  • Pruning your trees 

  • Enhancing your soil

  • Avoiding synthetic fertilizers

When Is the Tree Beyond Saving?

If you’ve tried staking your tree and, come time to remove the straps, it does not hold its weight, then it may be time to call in a pro to assess the situation. Trees that you cannot straighten after a fall, mature and completely uprooted trees, or those whose roots are significantly damaged may require removal, as they present a safety hazard if left standing.

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