P.E.I. landscaper braces for a busy spring righting trees Fiona left leaning

P.E.I. landscaper braces for a busy spring righting trees Fiona left leaning

The blue spruce outside Marie McKenna’s home at Milton Station has accomplished a lot over the years. It was there when she bought the land in 2008, giving her business plenty of shade and privacy.

“It was compact in size and very dense in its growth habit,” she said. “So it has created a lot of privacy in that spot that goes all the way to the front door while also providing a shelter for the birds.”

But since post-tropical storm Fiona rolled through PEI in September, the tree hasn’t looked quite the same.

“It was obviously unable to withstand the significant wind event coming in from the north that we are directly facing and pounded on it for several hours,” McKenna said. “So it loosened up the root system and just caused it to lean further south.”

A woman in a black coat and blue jeans is standing on a sidewalk in front of a slightly crooked tree.According to Marie McKenna, this blue spruce on her property provides shelter from the wind and privacy for people walking to the front entrance. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

After assessing the damage, McKenna decided to hire someone to fell several trees on the property. But she decided to try to save the blue spruce in front of the house.

root of the problem

When arborist and landscaper Kurt Laird first got the call about McKenna’s tree, he was inundated with post-Fiona cleanup requests. The best time to straighten a crooked tree is immediately after it has been damaged, but McKenna’s tree would have to wait.

“Unfortunately, we were so busy with storm damage control in the fall that we didn’t get to many—or none at all,” says Laird. “But the winter time isn’t great because the ground is frozen.”

As soon as the ground thaws this spring, Laird will get to work.

He says the science of straightening a crooked tree is pretty simple. Basically, it’s about forcibly pulling it back into position.

“We attach one point to the tree and another point to a solid anchor and use a come-along type device to pull it up slowly,” he said. “Then we cock it – or set it – to that position and then release the pressure.”

A man in a hoodie reading Kurt Laird says he has a long list of clients hoping to have their trees straightened this spring. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

The smaller the tree, the more likely it can be saved, Laird said. Evergreens cannot be saved once they have bent so much that their roots are exposed, but sometimes deciduous trees can. And fruit trees are usually a hit.

“Here we have a blue spruce and none of the roots are exposed,” Laird said of McKenna’s tree. “It just really fell over, so the fact that it didn’t blow over shows that it has a pretty nice, pretty good root system.”

Once a leaning tree has been re-erected and placed in position, Laird’s team will continue to check the support ropes over the coming months and years as it re-erects itself. The price starts at around $250 and increases from there.

Laird says money isn’t usually a big factor in the equation for a homeowner.

“The person has a bond with the tree and wants to save it.”


An industry association is trying to train more people on the type of tree straightening work that Laird does. Jim Landry of Landscape New Brunswick & PEI says it’s an important skill to have.

“It’s kind of a special thing because there are right ways and wrong ways. You don’t want to straighten a tree that’s constantly unstable and keeps getting blown down,” he said. “So there’s a certain amount of expertise involved.”

A man in a black jacket with a ball cap smiles in front of a tree.Jim Landry of Landscape New Brunswick & PEI says the organization hopes more landscapers will add tree straightening to their list of services. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

According to Landry, it’s not uncommon for urban trees to be uprooted in storms, but unless they tilt dramatically, there’s no reason these trees shouldn’t survive their natural lifespan of more than 100 years.

“We understand the importance of trees in our landscape in terms of carbon, carbon sequestration, oxygen production — all those things that trees do for us,” he said. “So if at all possible, it’s always a good idea to at least think about saving a tree.”

I think even people in the industry find it a bit of a daunting task.— Kurt Laird

The association conducts many off-season training sessions for members, including a tree-straightening class that Laird hosted this month at the Farm Center in Charlottetown. He hopes that training more employees will help take some of the pressure off his business.

“I think even people in the industry find it quite a daunting task and there’s a lot of follow-up that takes time, so that’s one of the deterrents,” he said.

“I do it because I find it interesting. And it’s nice to have that connection with the tree owner and the tree and to be able to save a tree.”