January 12, 2011

Tipping Over

Seriously tilting in January
I'm worried about where this tree is headed.  It has always leaned a little, nodding toward the patio wall.  But after all the wind we had in the Christmas blizzard, I noticed a distinctly more angled lean.  It looks like it might be tipping over.

This is an Oxydendrum arboreum, or Sourwood, also called a Sorrel tree.  I wrote about its wonderful attributes here last year, including elegance, bee intoxicating flowers, and vermilion fall color.  It's a tree that wants to lean a bit, and old Sorrel trees have wonderfully crooked trunks.

Sourwood has a shallow, finely fibrous root system, not very big.  That is one of the reasons it is not completely hardy here in zone 5 at first.  After it establishes it is fully hardy, but getting it started is a challenge.  It just doesn't have much grab in the roots.  Advice on this tree says to not disturb its base, it does not like to have any digging around the roots.

So, with its small feet, do you think the winds uprooted it a little?  Did frost heaves shove the shallow root ball up?  Is it trying to walk itself over to the patio for a sit down in this harsh weather?

You can see the bend in the slender trunk looking at it from the other side in summer.  Compared to this photo, the winter shot above shows a seriously tilting tree now.
A little crooked last summer

There is nothing I can do right now.  The ground is frozen, so I can't stake it or pull it upright.  And righting a tilted tree is not as simple as yanking it back, the roots are already disrupted on one side.
Leaning a little in November, still hanging on to its flowers

I had staked it for the first couple years, since it had this little bit of lean, but decided to let it develop its own shape and form and to let the trunk strengthen on its own.  Trees generally don't require staking.  How many times have you seen neglected urban trees, imprisoned in cables and wires and tied to a stake that has been left for years?  Sometimes the cabling even cuts into the growing bark.  Staking is rarely a good thing.

Now I'm questioning why I left this little Sourwood whipping around on its own.  It's still a small tree and it has such a fine root system, maybe I should have kept it staked.

It's snowing and blowing again this morning; a fierce nor'easter is howling as I type.  All I can hope is that this tree's wispy tangle of roots will grab onto something and hold on before it completely tips over.


  1. Your poor little wind blown tree! If its any indication, I have a flowering almond (standard) that a few winters back, when it was just a baby tree, developed a serious tilt. It made it through winter okay and in spring I was able to stake it back into position.
    I have never heard of a weed torch. There would be a mean pleasure in incinerating annoying varieties of invasive weeds. I just worry that I might set myself on fire, despite your words of caution.
    By the way, you have me checked my google word searches. Yesterday, I saw that someone typed "lm montgomery and 2010 damnation". It is an odd mix of references. Should I be worried that "damnation" brought someone to my blog?

  2. Trees are surprisingly tough, and I know the current advice is not to stake, but what a blow we have going on out there - hopefully your tree makes it!

  3. I hope your tree makes it through the winter. It'll be one tough tree when it does. I'm new to your blog, having dropped by after visiting Obsessive Neurotic Gardener. Looks great!

  4. You can still straighten it by training it again with stakes. But it needs more root growth to anchor it against your prevailing wind.It just needs some time.

  5. Jennifer, ha, I can't believe someone typed that into google and got to your blog. Huh? Very unsettling!

    Cyndy, this winter has already been a nasty one for my young trees. Spring can't come too soon!

    Shirley, welcome, and I'm glad you found me! I am headed over to check yours now.

    Donna, I do think I am going to stake it again when the ground thaws. I am worried, though, about the root growth after three years... it should be more stable.

  6. I had two little serviceberries that did the same thing. An arborist advised me to replace them because they were having other problems as well. When I pulled them out, they had very little root system thanks to a hideous horde of hungry voles. Damn those voles!!!

  7. Your little tree is definitely trying to go to its corner for some relief from this wicked winter.

  8. TS, now I am worried about vole damage to the roots of my little tree! I do have voles in the vicinity (though haven't noticed them in this area), and the tree is not really thriving after 3 years..... aaargh.

    Lisa, Doesn't it look like it wants to go over to the patio and sit down? The weather has been so awful!

  9. I hope your Sourwood tree comes out all right -- it's such a nice specimen.

    Our dwarf apple trees developed a permanet lean after being blown during Hurricane Floyd. The dwarf rootstock is known for not being very stable, rather like a young Sourwood.

  10. Sweetbay, thanks, I hope so too. It's good to know your apples survived even with a lean... so there's hope!


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