Mending broken branches in fruit trees

Granny smith apple tree with broken branches

We occasionally make mistakes on our fruit trees (just so we can illustrate the theory of course!), like the apples above, or this broken branch of peaches…

Peach tree with broken branch

Branches also break for other reasons like equipment, animals, storms, disease…you name it, in fact!

Once the damage is done, the next question is “can it be repaired?”

If the break has gone all or most of the way through the wood (like the peach branch above), or 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 (because remember the first rule of pruning is “remove all dead and diseased wood”).

A broken limb on a fruit tree caused by a kangaroo

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.

Remove the fruit (f there is any), bring the two pieces back together and make sure you can get a really good union between the two sides. Then use whatever is at hand to hold the pieces very firmly together.

Split branch on fruit tree bound with grafting tape

In this case the split was on a fairly small branch, and I had some budding tape in my pocket, so that’s what I used!

For a bigger split, for example in the trunk of a tree, you’ll need a more heavy duty solution like these cable ties.

Broken tree trunk repaired with cable ties

You may also need to support the break with some rope or hayband (baling twine) while it repairs itself.

A broken limb supported with baling twine while it heals

Leave it in place for at least a few months, and check back next spring to see whether the repair worked. If not, remove the branch, but if it did, make sure you thin that limb extra hard next year, and supply extra support as well next season to make sure it doesn’t break again.

Taking enough fruit off the branches to prevent these breaks can be very difficult, as it feels awfully destructive to throw all that fruit on the ground.

But as you can see, it’s important to protect the structure of the tree, not just this season’s fruit. If you’re still not persuaded (or not sure how to do it), invest in our short course Fruit Tree Thinning— your fruit trees will thank you!

Why are my apples brown inside?

Have you ever gone to pick your beautiful apple crop and found this inside?

It’s internal browning, and it’s pretty gross. When it’s this advanced, it makes the apples completely unusable.

It’s not that uncommon to see it in apples that are picked too ripe or stored too long, and it’s a known potential problem when storing apples in long term cold storage, but it’s unusual (and unpleasant) to see it in apples that haven’t yet ripened, as we discovered in the Gravensteins this week.

We’d normally be just starting to pick the Gravvies at this time of year. Most of the fruit isn’t quite ripe yet (as expected) — they’re just starting to colour up, and the seeds are just starting to go brown (an indicator of apple ripeness).

But when picking started this week we discovered quite a lot of apples had fallen on the ground, and many of them had browned off inside.

The most likely culprit is the heat wave we’ve been experiencing in central Victoria. A lot of fruit can handle these temperatures OK (though they do need some extra care and attention), but it looks like Gravensteins are not one of them, possibly due to their European heritage and tendency to be a soft apple.

It’s the second year in a row this happened to this variety, which is making us question the wisdom of trying to grow apples bred hundreds of years ago in Europe in our very different climate here in Australia. As our summers seem to be increasing in heat intensity, this may become an ongoing problem and might eventually make the variety unviable in this growing area.

However if there’s one thing we’ve learned over recent years it’s that the climate is variable, so it’s also quite likely that there will also be seasons when the Gravenstein shines, possibly in conditions that don’t suit other varieties — and that’s the key to the biodiversity plan that has led us to grow a big collection of varieties on the farm!

For the moment at least, it will continue to hold it’s place in our crazy biodiverse mix! If you’d like to find out more about growing your own apples, we’ve bundled a lot of specific information into the short course called Appreciate Apples.

What are those brown marks on my apples?

We had a great question from one of our Grow Great Fruit members recently about what causes russet on apples, which describes both the yellow marks (as you can see on the side of this Cox’s Orange Pippin apple), and the rough brown marks around the stem end of the apple.

Russet is one of those curious conditions that occurs naturally – in fact several heritage apple varieties include it in their name, like Brownlees Russet, Egremont Russet and Old Somerset Russet. It’s also commonly seen on pear varieties such as Beurre Bosc.

These days, russet is not considered an attractive trait on apples (have you even seen a russeted apple in the supermarket?), and it’s just one of the reasons many of these beautiful old varieties have gone out of favour (which is one of the reasons we’ve planted a new heritage apple orchard to preserve many of these old varieties).

Russet can also be an injury caused by environmental conditions like frost, sunburn, or hail, or by spraying your apples at the wrong time – even using sulphur (which is an organic fungicide we use occasionally) at the wrong time can cause russeting on some apples (as can a lot of the chemicals used by chemical farmers).

This damage-type russet – think of it like scar tissue – usually happens in the three weeks after petal fall, when the trees are flowering, or when the environmental challenge happens. It is often not a problem in itself, but it can make the apples much more vulnerable to other diseases, like various fungal rots, cracking, or even sunburn.

Heritage varieties that were bred in the UK, such as the divine Cox’s Orange Pippin apples (above) or the much-loved Bramley (below), are really not suited to the harsh and hot conditions in Australia, and so it’s very common to see this type of damage on your apples.

Of course once you realise that, you can set about creating micro-climates that these trees will prefer, and you may find that much of the damage is preventable.

You can find out more about creating micro-climates in your garden in Permaculture in Action.