Question of the Week: August 31, 2017

“Neil, my fairly new lacebark elm has developed a serious lean. How should I straighten it up?”

There’s only one way to save this leaning lacebark elm, and it’s going to involve a bit of hard work.

When you plant a new tree it’s absolutely critical that you get it bolt upright at the outset. If it’s out of plumb initially, it will always be that way. That’s why it’s so critical that you stake it and attach guy wires to its trunk 60 to 65 percent of the way up the trunk. Those wires must be loose around the trunk, and they must be padded to prevent them from rubbing through the outer tissues. But while they’re loose around the trunk, they must be taut from the trunk to the stakes.

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This tree didn’t have such good fortune, and unless some type of correction is made this coming winter (while it’s dormant), it will not be salvageable. That’s pretty obvious in the case of this tree. For many other trees the angle will be much smaller – but almost as annoying.

Propping and pulling won’t do the job. Leaning trees must be dug and reset. That will essentially involve digging this tree up and replanting it right back into the same hole, but with its trunk exactly vertical. Yes, there will be a loss of roots in the process, and yes, transplant shock will require that you thin out some of the top growth. It will need to be staked and guyed just like it should have been in the first place. But if you do all of those things, this tree could be saved.

Of course, it will still be a lacebark elm, and you may have heard me mention that this species is notorious for developing “the leans.” Even mature specimens often start to tilt from prevailing southerly breezes, and by that time there isn’t much you can do about it. It’s a tree that just doesn’t support itself very well.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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