The Q&A Archives: Straightening A Newly Planted Tree

Question: I recently planted two Norway spruces but did not receive good instructions from the garden center and removed the burlap from the root ball before planting (should I have left the burlap on when planting?). I have noticed over the past couple of days that both trees appear to be leaning a little since the soil has settled. What is the easiest way to straighten the trees without hurting them? I don't want to dig into the root ball for fear of injuring the roots. I was thinking about putting a stake in the ground, attaching a heavy wire (through a piece of garden hose) and wrapping it around the base of the trunk, then attaching a turnbuckle, and gradually tightening it each day to straighten the trunk. Any other ideas?

Answer: In the "old days" the burlap was made of natural fiber which would rot under ground, so it was normally left on. These days, however, the "burlap" is often a lookalike but non-biodegradable synthetic, so it should be removed along with any string. If the trees were truly only recently planted, I would suggest simply pulling away the surrounding soil and resetting them. Be careful to gently firm the soil around the roots as you refill the hole. Water with about 5 gallons of water per tree to remove any air pockets and settle the soil further. If they have been planted long enough to have grown roots into the native soil, and if the tipping is minor, I would leave them alone. The tops will grow straight up (or into the wind if it is windy) and in a few years they will look straight. Newer research has shown that trees establish better without staking, so unless they are in a windy spot you shouldn't need to do it.

If the trees are buffeted by wind, building a wind break is better than staking and tying, because it would not only help keep them from tipping, but also help keep their needles from drying out. The turnbuckle (or any concentrated stress on the trunk) would run the risk of snapping it or damaging both the bark and cambium (the "growing tissue"). Good luck!

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