In our long career growing and picking fruit, we’ve frequently come across broken branches in our fruit trees.
The broken branch in this Granny Smith apple tree (above) is a case in point. Here’s another one in an apricot tree…
This should never happen. Managing the fruit load on your fruit trees (mainly with thinning) should only ever leave as much fruit as the branch can safely hold without breaking.
Clearly, how much fruit is allowed to grow on any particular branch is not something you can just leave up to the tree. Fruit trees will regularly set more fruit than their branches can carry. This is even more true if they’ve been allowed to fall into a “biennial bearing” pattern, where they have a heavy crop one year followed by a very light crop the year after.
Branches can break for other reasons of course. Our farm borders a Regional Park with a large kangaroo population, so one of the common causes at our place is clumsy kangaroos.
Misadventure with equipment, other animals, storms, or disease can also cause breaks.
Can broken branches be repaired?
Once the damage is done, the next question is “can it be repaired?” We’re often asked whether broken branches should just be removed completely.
Well, it depends.
If the break has gone all or most of the way through the wood (like the apricot branch at the top) then the answer is yes. Similarly, if the break has been caused by disease and the branch no longer has any healthy wood inside, then the best thing to do is make a neat pruning cut to remove the broken branch.
Remember, the first rule of pruning is “remove all dead and diseased wood”.
However if there’s still enough healthy and green wood on both sides of the split that can be brought back together, it’s worth trying a repair.
How to do the repair
- Remove any fruit that’s on the branch.
- Bring the two pieces back together, and make sure you can get a really good union between the two sides.
- Tie or tape the pieces very firmly together.
It doesn’t really matter what you use to tie the two sides together. In the example above the split was on a fairly small branch. Some budding tape was handy in the pocket, so that’s what was used!
For a bigger split, for example in the trunk of a tree, you’ll need a more heavy duty solution. Cable ties are great for this purpose because you can pull the two sides very tightly together.
You may also need to support the break with some rope or hayband (baling twine) while it repairs itself.
Leave the bindings in place to heal for at least a few months. Check back next spring to see whether the repair worked. If not, then it probably makes sense to remove the branch.
If your repair was successful thin the fruit on that limb extra hard next spring. The last thing you want to do to a new repair is put it under too much load.
Remove whatever you used to bind the break before it gets too tight. Keep an eye on the limb and supply extra support if necessary next season to make sure it doesn’t break again.
Prevention is better than cure
Taking enough fruit off the branches to prevent these breaks in the first place can be very difficult. It feels awfully destructive to throw all that fruit on the ground. But it really is one of the best ways to protect the structure of your tree.
Even though summer is usually when the damage shows up, spring is the time to prevent it by thinning. If you’re not sure about how to gauge how much fruit to remove, please check out our short course Fruit Tree Thinning.