What is the proper way to hang a swing from a tree branch without harming the tree or the rider?
Philip Kenney, Littleton, MA
Use a secure mounting system to hang a swing. This eye hook and carabiner prevent injury to the tree and to the rider.
Photo/Illustration: Allison Starcher
Steve Silk, Fine Gardening contributing editor, replies: Hanging a garden swing is a task best done with extra care. After all, it’s no fun to hit the ground hard when your swing sails off its tether. The key to hanging a swing safely lies in ensuring that it’s on a strong, secure mount.
The first and perhaps hardest task in hanging a swing is finding a good tree with an appropriate branch. Look for a strong tree, like an oak or an ash, with a branch 6 or more inches in diameter. Try to hang the swing fairly close to the trunk of the tree, but not so close that you might collide with it while swinging. Likewise, do not hang the swing too far out on a branch; this can cause the branch to sag and possibly break. Try to find a branch that you can easily reach with a ladder; 12 to 15 feet high is perfect. A little lower is fine too.
To hang the swing, I prefer to use a rope rather than a chain, which can pinch your fingers. I suggest using a stout polypropylene rope that, while not as attractive as natural-fiber rope, will stand up to the elements better and is more resistant to rot.
Though you could just toss two ropes over a branch and hang your swing, the friction caused by the rope while swinging may injure the bark and the cambium layer of the tree, ultimately weakening the branch and thus endangering the swing’s riders. My preferred technique is to screw two eye hooks (at least 3⁄8-inch in diameter with 2- to 3-inch-long threaded ends) into the underside of the branch. To ensure that your swing swings straight, position the eye hooks slightly farther apart than the width of the seat. For a 24-inch-wide seat, for example, place the eye hooks about 30 inches apart on the branch. Screw them in as deeply as possible, then take a pair of carabiners, a clip used by rock climbers, and clip one into each eye hook. Suspend the rope from each carabiner by tying a loop in one end of the rope and threading the carabiner through the loop.
Hang the swing from the two ropes at whatever you deem to be a good height from the ground. If it’s for small children, consider spreading a deep layer of mulch under the swinging area to soften the impact of any falls.