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Training Tree Branches Can Be a Fruitful Endeavor

ASSOCIATED PRESS

How much fruit a tree will bear is, in part, based on how the branches grow. And you can help with the bounty.

Branches pointed skyward generally are most vigorous, with long new shoots growing especially from their topmost buds.

At the other extreme are branches oriented horizontally. These generally are weaker and tend to produce fruit buds rather than vigorous shoots.

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Bending and tying branches are good ways to balance shoot growth and fruiting, especially in apple and pear trees. Both types of growth are needed: the fruit for us to eat, and the leafy shoots to nurture the fruit.

Young apple and pear trees commonly put too much energy into shoots. Coax such trees into bearing by tying down the branches. Once fruiting begins, the weight of the fruit will keep them down.

Sometimes, a branch laden with fruit is pulled down to the point where it becomes weak. In this case, pull off the fruit and pull the branch upright and tie it.

Spreading branches lets them bask in sunlight so the interior portion doesn’t become too shaded to produce fruit or leaves. Wide-spreading branches also are most strongly attached to the trunk.

On very young trees still forming their main branches along the trunk, start spreading the new shoots when they are just a few inches long.

Bend them carefully so they don’t break. If they are small enough, hold them in place by snapping a spring-type clothespin on the trunk, with the tail of the clothespin holding down the shoot. Or press one end of a toothpick into the shoot and the other into the trunk just enough to keep the toothpick in place.

Spread older branches with a piece of notched wood or with a string tied around the branch and then to the ground or to the tree trunk. Or hang a weight on the branch--a plastic sandwich bag filled with sand and draped over the branch, for example.

After a few weeks, remove the anchors. The branches should stay in place.

As you reorient tree branches, remember that you want to achieve balance between shoot growth and fruiting.

Too much bending will weaken branches. Branches at about a 60-degree angle to the trunk generally have a good balance of fruiting and shoot growth.

Finally, remember that your care and effort now will be repaid with fruit next year. Most fruit trees develop their fruit buds the season before they actually ripen fruit.


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