PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
May 23, 2017

Spend any time caring for fruit trees and eventually you’ll see it happen: the need for tree repair. One day, a tree is standing proud with a large crop of fruit, and the next day, a large branch has cracked under the weight, disturbing the shape of the tree and eliminating a large section of prime fruit-producing branches.

This frustrates and disappoints any orchardist, but there’s a bright spot—just because a branch is broken doesn’t mean that it will die. In fact, if the branch has simply cracked and did not detach from the tree, you might be able to save it.

Does it sound far-fetched? Perhaps, but with the right tools and supplies, you might can make it happen. I offer no guarantee that the following techniques will work for your own tree repair, but having enjoyed good luck with saving large fruit tree branches.

What You’ll Need For The Repair

Because broken branches can’t support their own weight, you’ll first need a tall stake or post to prop up the branch. I use metal stakes, which are easy to maneuver into place and install in the ground.

You’ll also need various supplies to tie the branch to the stake and support the damaged area where the branch connects to the tree. I like to use black electrical tape and large zip ties. Lastly, you’ll need something to cushion the area where the branch rests against the stake, so that the bark won’t be damaged by rubbing back and forth against the stake.

How To Fix The Branch

Before you begin the tree repair, remove the fruit from the broken branch (making the branch considerably lighter) and lift the branch back to its original height, which should seal the damaged area so well that you can hardly detect the crack. Once you’ve established the height needed to close the wound, install your stake or post so that it reaches up slightly above that height. If the stake or post isn’t tall enough, the branch will rest in place, but the wound won’t be completely closed. If you have trouble getting the stake into the right position, you can also attach an extension to the stake to raise its height.

For this purpose, I like to find an ash tree—though many types of trees will do—and cut off a forked branch approximately 1/2 inch thick. After stripping off the leaves and branches, except for the fork, place the broken fruit tree branch into the fork of the ash branch and tie the ash branch firmly to the stake. Not only does this raise the height of the stake, it also provides a softer cushion for the fruit tree branch.

Once the stake is in place, you can lightly tie the fruit tree branch to the stake to ensure that it doesn’t slip off. Then, wrap electrical tape around the area where the branch cracked, just to provide a little extra support and help seal the crack. You can also use a tree wound sealer to help repair the crack and prevent disease from infecting the tree. In any case, be sure that any zip ties, tape or rope used is not so tight as to restrict the tree and interfere with growth, which can eventually harm the tree.

In theory, if you give your tree enough time, this tree repair method will strengthen the damaged area on its own, growing new wood until the branch can support itself once again. I don’t yet have enough long-term experience with this repair method to give advice on how long this might take, but as I write this, I have two apple trees in the yard with stakes holding up damaged branches, and one has been in place for a few years without any signs of setbacks, producing abundant apples each fall. With a little effort and some luck, you can achieve the same result.


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