Crooked trees in the forest are less of a big deal than a tree growing crooked in your yard. Trees typically grow straight and start to lean when a problem arises. So why exactly do some trees start to grow crooked?
Some trees grow crooked because of persistent high winds, poor root development, and soil erosion beneath their roots. Additionally, some varieties of trees naturally grow crooked. Generally, crooked trees are caused by harsh and persistent elements.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss more in-depth why trees grow crooked, discuss steps to prevent this, and answer some critical questions about leaning trees. So if you want to learn more about crooked trees and to prevent them, read on.
The Reason Trees Lean and Grow Crooked
First, it’s essential to take a more in-depth look at the reason trees start to lean or grow crooked in the first place. Crookedness in trees can easily occur, no matter the variety of trees or the season. Additionally, trees left to lean will eventually grow crooked, and once they mature, it’s nearly impossible to correct.
So what are the most common reasons trees lean?
If the lean in your tree is minor, it’s likely caused by phototropism. The term phototropism is where a plant leans toward or away from a light source. The plant needs more light if the tree is leaning toward the sunlight. In contrast, if the plant leans away, it’s getting too much light.
So your tree might adjust its sunlight needs, thus appearing to grow more crooked. Leaning will be especially obvious if the tree is young and not yet established. If you notice extreme leaning, the tree may need to be moved somewhere with better light. Replanting isn’t a great option if the tree is too established.
Young Underdeveloped Roots
Another reason trees grow crooked is poor root development. Roots are an essential part of a tree’s system in terms of nutrients, but they are also essential to keeping the tree grounded. The roots keep a tree in place so it can grow straight up and withstand high winds.
However, when a tree is newly planted, its roots haven’t had time to fully take hold and keep it in a perfectly upright position. Roots take time to become strong, so many people choose to stake new plants until they grow larger.
Soil creep is another likely suspect in leaning or crooked tree growth. It’s natural for soil creep/erosion, especially in dry climates. Unfortunately, this lack of stable soil can result in your tree’s roots having less to cling to, thus steadying the plant.
Trees experiencing soil creep often lean significantly and begin to grow at whatever angle they’re left at. You can usually tell if the leaning is caused by soil creep due to exposed roots and less earth surrounding the base of the plant.
Poor Soil Quality
Along with soil creep, the quality of your tree’s soil can significantly affect its ability to grow straight. Trees require healthy, compact soil to grow and anchor their roots; unfortunately, a tree will easily begin to lean without good soil.
So what exactly makes soil quality poor?
- Soil that is too moist. Overwatered or soggy soil will weaken a tree’s roots and give the roots less solid surfaces to grip onto to keep themselves upright during harsh stormy weather.
- Soil that isn’t compact. As previously stated, soil creep is a real problem, and easy-to-move earth isn’t great for a tree. For example, sandy dirt is more likely to erode quickly and expose your tree’s roots.
- Rocky or debris-filled soil. If the ground is too hard and your tree isn’t planted deep enough into the dirt, it can result in a crooked tree, especially if the roots struggle to grow into the earth.
As you can see, soil quality is essential. Along with the soil, your tree’s roots can attach too; ensuring the soil is rich in nutrients is also a big help in maintaining a healthy and straight-growing tree.
Intense and Persistent Weather
Another common problem that causes trees to grow crooked is harsh weather. Typically wind will be the most likely cause of a crooked tree; this is because areas that experience high winds have trees constantly battered by extreme force. Over time this force results in the tree growing crooked since it’s being pushed over so forcefully regularly.
Other harsh weather, like heavy snowfall, can also affect a tree’s ability to grow straight. Too much snow on a young tree can cause it to lean and start growing crooked once its dormancy period has passed.
Lastly, improper planting of a tree can easily result in crooked growth. Growing a new tree in your yard can be difficult since the first year or so of its growth is so important. During the first 1-2 years of a tree’s growth, they are most likely to grow crooked.
So what is considered bad or improper planting when it comes to a new tree?
- Planting a tree in a location without adequate sunlight.
- Placing in soil with poor drainage or that will erode easily.
- Not providing adequate support while the tree grows.
- Leaving the new sapling to the elements.
Newly planted trees can be delicate and require extra care and support like stakes to ensure straight growth. Trees do most of their growing during the summer months; therefore, this is the most important time to correct improper growth.
How To Prevent Trees From Growing Crooked
Now that you understand the causes of crookedness in trees, it’s essential to understand how to prevent your plant from leaning in the first place. A tree that has begun to lean is saveable if you act quickly. The older the tree is, the more difficult fixing its crooked growth will be.
How to prevent trees from growing crooked:
- Plant the tree somewhere that is protected from the elements. Options include behind a shed or near other trees. However, it should be in a place where the sapling will still get plenty of light.
- Put the tree somewhere with plenty of sunlight. If your tree is getting enough sun, it’s less likely to lean over to try and get more. Typically the south side of your yard will get the most sunlight during the day.
- Stake the tree. Often a simple stake will be enough to support your new tree as it grows and prevent it from becoming crooked. You can adjust the stake as needed, adding or removing support as the tree grows.
- Use good quality soil. Soil that won’t erode easily or become waterlogged is best for supporting your tree’s roots. Additionally, over-watered dirt can result in root rot if left to pool on the plant’s roots, eventually killing your tree.
Ultimately, staking is the most effective method for preventing crooked growth, provided you act quickly. However, sometimes a young tree that is leaning must be replanted somewhere better. Replating can help, provided the roots aren’t damaged in the process and you get the tree back in the ground promptly.
Do Trees Straighten Themselves?
Crooked trees, especially in forests, are pretty standard. But, unfortunately, owning a crooked tree in your yard can be quite an eyesore, especially if the tree is large and becomes a risk to you or your home. So what should you do? Will the tree straighten on its own?
Trees do not typically straighten themselves. This is because trees don’t care that they are growing in a crooked trajectory; they simply aim to get enough light to feed themselves. However, you can fix a crooked tree by staking the plant and providing support for it to grow with.
Large trees that have grown crooked are less likely to be helped. If the crooked growth is extreme and the tree is large, fixing its growth trajectory is usually impossible. The tree can be encouraged to grow up from where it’s learning, but the already crooked portion cannot be fixed.
Will a Leaning Tree Fall?
A leaning tree will fall if it leans far enough over and disrupts its roots. Severely damaged roots can cause a tree to fall over, which is especially dangerous if the tree is large and in a heavily populated area.
That being said, not every crooked/leaning tree will fall over. If the tree falls, it depends entirely on how strong its roots are and their hold on the earth. Unfortunately, even the strongest roots can be torn up by extreme winds.
The best way to help a leaning tree is to provide support and hope the tree can start growing in a straighter path. Trees that grow upwards are generally more tolerant to high winds and other extreme weather issues.
There are many reasons that trees grow crooked. The most common reasons are soil erosion, high winds, and improper root development. Fortunately, these issues are easily remedied if the tree is young through proper care like staking, providing good soil, and protecting the tree from harsh elements.
A young tree is more susceptible to crooked growth than a large, more established one. So it’s essential to keep an eye on your new tree as it grows and adjust its trajectory as needed.