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

Kurt Laird says many people on Prince Edward Island have calling him wanting to save Fiona-damaged trees that are meaningful to them, or provide privacy and shelter. Some tilting trees can be rescued, with the right technique.

Kurt Laird says many people want to save trees that are meaningful or provide privacy

A large spruce tree is leaning towards a blue one-story building.
This blue spruce in Marie McKenna's front yard will be pulled back to its original position this spring. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

The blue spruce in front of Marie McKenna's property in Milton Station has done a lot over the years. It was there when she bought the land in 2008 and gave plenty of shade and privacy to her business.

"It was compact in size and very dense in its growth habit," she said. "So it created a lot of privacy at this location coming up to the front door, as well as shelter for the birds."

But since post-tropical storm Fiona rolled through P.E.I. in September, the tree hasn't quite looked the same.

"It obviously was not able to stand the significant wind event which came around from the north, which we directly face, and it pounded on it for several hours," said McKenna. "So it loosened up the root system and just caused it to tilt further to the south."

A woman in a black coat and blue jeans stands on a walkway in front of a slightly crooked tree.
Marie McKenna says this blue spruce on her property provides protection from the wind and privacy for people walking up to the front entrance. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

After assessing the damage, McKenna opted to call in someone to chop down several trees on the property. But she decided to try to save the blue spruce out front.

Root of the problem

When arborist and landscape horticulturist Kurt Laird first got the call about McKenna's tree, he was being inundated with post-Fiona clean-up requests. The best time to straighten a tilting tree is immediately after it's damaged, but McKenna's tree would have to wait.

"Unfortunately we were so busy with storm damage control in the fall, we didn't get to many — or any," Laird says. "But winter time's not 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 leaning tree is pretty simple. Basically, it involves pulling it back into the right position with force.

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

A man in a hoodie reading 'Laird Tree Care' smiles at the camera.
Kurt Laird says he has a long list of clients who are hoping to have their trees straightened this spring. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

The smaller the tree, the more likely it can be saved, said Laird. Evergreens can't be saved if they've bent so much that their roots are exposed, but sometimes deciduous trees can. And fruit trees are usually a success.

"Here we've got a blue spruce and none of the roots are exposed," Laird said of McKenna's tree. "It just really is tilted over, so the fact that it didn't blow over shows it has a pretty nice, pretty good root system."

Once a leaning tree has been pulled back upright and staked into position, Laird's team will continue to check the support ropes over the next few months and years as it re-establishes itself. The price starts at about $250 and goes up from there.

Laird says money is usually not a big factor in the equation for a homeowner. 

"The person has an attachment to the tree, and they want to save it."

Branching out

An industry association is trying to get more people trained in the kind of tree-straightening work that Laird does. Jim Landry with Landscape New Brunswick & P.E.I. says it's an important skill to have.

"It's kind of a specialized thing because there's right ways and wrong ways to do it. You don't want to straighten a tree that's going to be constantly unstable and subject to blowing back over again," he said. "So there is a certain amount of expertise that goes into it."

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

Landry says it's not uncommon to have urban trees uprooted in storms, but unless they're leaning dramatically, there's no reason those trees shouldn't survive to their natural lifespan of more than 100 years.

"We understand the importance of trees in our landscape in terms of carbon, carbon capture, oxygen production — all of those things that trees do for us," he said. "So if at all possible, it's always a good idea to at least consider saving a tree."

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

The association does a lot of training for members during the off-season, including a course on tree straightening that Laird put on at the Farm Centre in Charlottetown this month. He hopes training more people will help take some of the load off his business.

"I think even people in the trade find it a bit of a daunting task, and there's a lot of follow-up, which 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 be able to save a tree."


Victoria Walton

Island Morning associate producer

Victoria Walton is the acting associate producer of Island Morning at CBC Prince Edward Island. She previously worked at The Coast and spent nearly a decade in Halifax before moving to the Island. She has a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College. You can reach her at