Using Branch Spreaders
Spreading scaffold branches of young fruit trees can help bring about earlier fruit production and improve tree form. The technique involves bending upright growing branches down to a nearly horizontal position and holding them there. Vigorous growing lateral branches can usually be positioned during the first growing season. Soft, young branches can be held in place using clothes pins, while branches 2-3 years of age can be bent into an appropriate position and held there with properly cut lengths of wood.
To position young branches with clothespins, place the head of the pin against the branch and push it down into position. Place the arms of the pin against the tree's trunk, with one arm on each side of the trunk. Position the clothespins tightly enough against the trunk that they will not easily be blown out of the tree. Several times throughout the year check to make sure the clothespins are not cutting into or girdling the trunk or branch.
For older branches a spreader can be made using wood pieces 3/4-1" square and cut to the desired length. Pound a nail into each end, then cut off the head of both nails using a wire clippers or hatch saw. Leave a sharply angled point on the head of each nail. The pointed nail in each end is used to hold the spreader in place by poking it gently into the bark of the trunk and branch. A similar type of branch spreader can be made out of tongue depressors by cutting a V-shaped notch out of each end of the depressor. One notch is used to hold the branch into position, while the opposite end is levered against the trunk. Inspect trees frequently and replace spreaders which have been dislodged or that are beginning to cut into the branch or trunk.
Another method of branch spreading involves pulling the branches down and holding them in place with a weight. Again it is very important when using this method to avoid cutting into the branches' bark or girdling the branch. Use a wide piece of burlap or upholstery material as a sling to pull the branch down. Attach a string or rope to the sling and weight the branch in place with a brick or bag of sand.
Branch spreaders may be removed after two or three years. Repositioning branches older than 3 years may take more than one growing season to accomplish. Spreaders of increasing length can be used over a period of several years until the desired angle is obtained.
Branches spread to a 45 degree angle or greater with the trunk will be stronger, and produce less vegetative growth and more fruit. Next week- Pruning the new fruit tree in years 2,3 and beyond.