Tying up a tree that has fallen over

Back in March of 2016, a deluge of rain and high winds knocked over a number of trees in Northern Colorado. I received a number of calls from concerned homeowners and looked at a number of vertically challenged trees. I could see that at least a few cases were salvageable with some patience, care and know-how. Some cases were irredeemable. Visible rot in the trunk or root system, for example, would disqualify the tree from being salvageable.

Fortunately I snapped some photos of the process of rescuing this apple tree so I could share with you how we went about fixing it. I think it took a couple hours all said and done. The tree, by the way, is currently in good health and all is going well. It should recover just fine. This first photo was actually taken after the tree started coming up; it was lying fully on the ground when I arrived.

Following is a description of how I guyed up the tree in this situation, and the thought process I went through. This does not mean you will be able to safely secure a tree by following this as if they were directions. These are not directions. Please do not attempt yourself. Consult a professional. If you are a professional please refer to ANSI standards not some blog on the internet.

Essentially, what we do is this: Install a picket, which will be our “anchor” to attach the guy line, opposite the direction the tree fell. The guy line is your rope or cable that will hold the tree up under tension. The picket should preferably be a steel pipe or angle Iron driven into the ground at a fifteen degree angle, leaning back away from the tree. I used a roughly 30″ pipe here and left about 7″ above the ground. It’s not an exact science here so just ask yourself “will this hold the tree up?” and if the answer isn’t “Absolutely!” you need to rethink the plan. You can actually have a second picket behind the first, and tie them together to double the holding resistance or more. US Army Technical Manual 5-725 describes this in detail, which is worth looking at if we’re attempting this on a large tree that would be a significant hazard if something were to fail.
Anyway, this picket should be set back far enough that your guy line is set at 20 degrees from the ground to where the guy line will be secured in the tree. This will put your guy line roughly at a right angle from the 15 degree picket. If, to get to 20 degrees, the picket needs to be set in the street or the neighbor’s yard, we can probably not rescue the tree. I would not attempt to anchor to a fence post, the house, or your project car, but you could anchor to another tree provided it is structurally sound and sufficiently large.

Once the picket is set I tie in my guy line and push it down as far as it will go. I prefer to use Cobra tree cable as a guy line because it is adjustable, does not stretch and is non-abrasive on the tree. However, I use arborist rope while ratcheting the tree upright. I secure one end of a come-along just above my guy line on the picket. If I were to ratchet the tree up with arborist rope, and then try to set the guy line, I would not be able to get it on the bottom of the picket. The next step is to tie your arborist rope into the tree. It should normally be half to 2/3 the way up the tree, and again, making sure your line runs a roughly 20 degree angle from the ground. On this apple I tied in lower because the stems were thicker and I didn’t think it would be a problem. By using a large diameter arborist rope you reduce damage to the cambium of your tree, and will be assured nothing is going to break on you. The pink 1″ rope I’m using here can hold about 12,000lbs!

On a single stem tree, this is very straight-forward. On a tree that breaks into many branches what you need to do is figure out a good way to distribute the forces applied equally. If it has two main stems, I tie a line between the two stems and leave slack in it. I then tie my temporary guy line (the arborist rope) to the center of that first line. Use a knot that can slide freely, and as you apply tension the forces should become evenly divided between the two stems. See above image, where I tied two stems together, but one stem is tied in two places.

Once that’s all set up I can start ratcheting the tree upright. A 2,000lb come-along had no problem pulling this tree up. I watched the limbs and trunk to make sure they weren’t excessively flexing under the load, watched the ground to make sure the root ball was going back down where it should, and checked that the tree was not starting to fall to one side or the other. If this last scenario happens, additional guy lines can be installed, and on large, potentially hazardous trees guy lines should be installed in four directions.

Once the tree was perfectly upright, I brought it over another 5 degrees or so too far in the direction of the picket. This would make it a little easier to get my permanent guy line installed and snugged up, and then when I release the ratchet everything tightens up and the tree settles out perfectly vertical. As I said above, I used the Cobra system as my permanent guy line. I again used the principal of distributing forces by installing a cable between the two trunks to spread the load. The last thing you want to do is tear the tree in half!

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