The Q&A Archives: Tree Planting

Question: I recently planted 3 multi-stemmed Princess Diana Serviceberry trees. They were each 5 feet tall so they had a substantial rootball. I took great care to dig the correct size hole, etc. and am watering regularly. Now that I look at the 3 trees 4-6 weeks later, it appears as though one of them is not quite as upright as I thought I planted it. It is the only one of the 3 that is showing visible signs of stress from being planted (leaves changing color). I am not too concerned about the health of the tree. I know it will come back strong next Spring. My concern is that it is not standing as upright as I would prefer. Maybe as a multi-stem tree I have little to worry about as it matures and spreads out in all directions. I am tempted to do some digging and try to adjust it. Or use a stake and rope to exert pressure to pull it more upright. Whether I need to be overly concerned about its position is obviously subjective. But would taking any action affect the health of the tree ? I think I would have to dig alot to get it to move. It would almost be like replanting it, which doesn't feel like a wise choice. Can the use of stakes and rope work to change the growth direction of a tree or does that just place stress upon it? Any thoughts would be really appreciated !!! The more time that passes, the less chance I think I have to do anything about it -- and maybe I should just leave it alone. Thanks, Charlie Olson

Answer: I wonder if there is an air pocket in the soil making the entire root mass sink in one direction? (This might account for the stress the leaves are showing.) If so you may be able to straighten the tree by saturating the soil and then stepping on the high side. With any luck you'll straighten out the rootmass and plug up any air pockets. You might also try probing the soil on the low side with a cedar or metal stake, as if you're tamping down the soil. If you find the soil has settled on top but not in the middle or bottom of the original planting hole, you can add more soil and work it under the rootmass with your stake. If it doesn't work, you're not out anything. It will probably adjust and grow more upwards as it matures (to the point where you won't notice).

On the other hand, if you'd like to make some minor corrections you can do so with stakes and ties. Place at least two but preferrably three stakes and tie loosely. Then tighten the one or two a little to begin pulling it back into place. Adjust the ties every month or so. You'll want to keep some tension on the tie(s), but no so much as to cut into the bark. The initial tying and adjusting will be somewhat easier if you flood the soil around the rootball the night before. You may be able to step on the high side and shift the entire rootmass toward the right direction. If so, great; if not, there's nothing lost.

Best wishes with your tree!

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