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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shoestring Acacia Leaning - What Should I Do?

 Q. I hope you can view the pictures that are attached. As you can see, one of my shoestring acacia is growing out on an angle and my fear is it will get to heavy and topple. Is there any way to save this tree by putting a support under the trunk or topping it by cutting it back? It was planted 7 years ago with two others and this is the only one that is doing this. It is about twenty feet high or so.

A. Thanks for the pictures. Actually your tree looks nice in your setting.

There are two things I am noticing from your pictures. First to answer your question, make sure the tree is getting water at distances equal to at least half the canopy area under the tree. You can do this by adding emitters or a water source in scattered areas under the canopy.

If the only water sources are close to the trunk, the roots may stay too close to the trunk and begin falling over when it gets top heavy. By putting water further from the trunk it encourages a larger area of support for the tree and its growing canopy. These emitters under the canopy can be used to support other plants as well so that it is not just watering the soil for weeds to grow.

Plant roots in container are circling. Bad, bad, bad.
Borrowed from
Lawns around trees also help to support tree root growth that keeps trees from toppling over. Roots do not grow “in search of water” but will grow only where there is water in the desert. Rainfall does not count in a true desert like ours in the Mojave.

If the tree or shrub was purchased in a container and the roots began circling in the container (the plant was overgrown in the container), they may continue to circle once planted and never create a strong foothold in our desert soil. The roots circle and circle and never spread out like they should.

When the top gets big, these trees with circling roots tend to lean or blow over in a strong wind. They can become a liability as they get older. Unfortunately these plants can never be rescued and must be removed to prevent loss of property or cause safety concerns.

Never buy plants in containers where the roots have grown in circles inside. They can never be established as healthy trees that are safe for public or private use.

What to do? Determine if the plant is a liability or not. If it is, remove it. To determine if it should be removed, put enough weight on the trunk to see if you can get the trunk to move enough to get it to move back and forth. While moving it back and forth, look at the soil beneath it and see if the soil is moving or if the trunk is securely anchored into the soil. If the soil moves around the tree, you will have to remove it. It is a liability.

If not, you have time to try to re-establish the roots farther from the trunk and give it more stability. This tree is too close to that wall and will probably damage the wall in future years.


  1. I have a tall (40-50') shoestring acacia tree that is too close to the house. The problem is that the leaves accumulate on my flat roof and clog the scuppers. This has caused interior floooding on occasion as the water overwhelms the vents and skylights. My question is, can this tree be topped, or does it need to be removed. Thank you, Lorraine

    1. Yes, you can take the top out of this tree. It then becomes a question whether you want that type of look or not. If not then of course removal would be your only option. If you decide to move ahead and take the top out of the tree you will need to find a spot or spots to cut where the form of the tree continues upward. Otherwise it will look like a crew cut hair cut or flattop. You would do this by identifying the branch or branches which are giving you height above where the leaves collect. Trace this branch or branches down to a lower side branch. You would make this cut about 1/2 inch above the side branch. You would do this and all of the locations contributing to this height. Professionals would call this "drop crotching". By doing it in this fashion, you will retain as much of the form of the tree as you possibly can. If you cut all at one level (topping) it would look like a flattop.

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