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When most trees get over ten feet tall, they seem to be trying to grow every way but up. Staking would be impractical because of scale, and pruning often helps but does not force the tree to grow up. What is the best way to keep them growing straight?

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What you describe is not my experience... What kind of trees are you talking about? In what situation (wide open backyard, forest edge, crowded 2000 sqft urban backyard, etc)? Most trees I see do grow fairly straight up unless (a) they've had trauma while young and unstaked, (b) they've been shaded in a way that makes them grow toward the light, or (c) they are a variety that is spreading instead of upright. –  bstpierre Nov 4 '11 at 12:23

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Trees change shape as they grow. The silhouette of a young tree is quite different than a mature tree. The shape is also influenced by the species or cultivar, exposure to sun and how crowded it is.

If you want an arrow straight tree the easiest way is to plant a cultivar that grows that way like Gingko biloba "Princeton Sentry". If the tree is already planted you could plant fast growing upright trees around it which will encourage it to grow straight up. Gradually thin these throwaways as the years go by.

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