Bend your branches for more fruit! Branches growing more horizontally will produce larger future harvests. If the branches on your tree are very upright, more than 60° from horizontal, they can be bent down to a more productive angle. Branches are most flexible during warm weather and when they are growing quickly as they are now. Younger branches are much more flexible than older branches, bend them when they one or two years old. Older branches do not bend easily, you may break some. A broken branch is better than an upright branch! When bending branches avoid stressing the junctions of branches with larger branches or the tree trunk. Right angle junctions are much stronger than sharp angled junctions. Caution: The wood of European plums and many pears is brittle when compared to apples, bend them with caution!
The closer to horizontal a branch is bent more extension growth will be suppressed so if you want that particular branch to grow to a greater length, keep it growing at a more upward angle until it is the desired length. Bending a branch below horizontal will stop all extension growth and is likely to stimulate new vertical shoots from the highest point on the shoot.
Hold bent branches in place with some type of tie or spreader. Tie material should be wide to prevent cutting into the bark of the branch. Bent branches held in place for 4 – 8 weeks of the growing season usually stay close to the bent angle once the released.
Tying material can be secured to lower branches, tree trunk a post or log on the ground or using some type of soil anchor. Spreaders are usually 1” X 1” sticks with a “V” cut in either length. Any rigid material including branches removed during pruning, plastic or metal can be used. Anything that will achieve the desired branch angel without damaging tree bark.
Spring is branch bending time! Fruit production potential of most fruit tree branches (apples, pears, quince, cherries, plums, apricots, peach, nectarine) is much greater if they are growing at an angle (at or below 30 degrees from vertical) than if they are growing vertically. During pruning, keep angled branches and remove vertical branches for larger future crops of fruit. If it is not possible to select for angled branches when pruning, you can increase future crops by bending upright branches. The goal is to bend without breaking them or splitting the crotch where they are attached to the rest of the tree. Small and big branches will all benefit from bending. Even branches that are already growing at an upright angle will produce more fruit in the future if they are bent to a lower angle close to 60 degrees from vertical.
Branches bend more easily when it is warm and the trees are growing, as they are now. You can also use spreaders to hold the branch in place. Branches can be tied to a trellis if there is one, to lower branches, the tree trunk or a board or weight on the ground. A bent branch tied in place should stay in that shape (or almost) if the tie is removed after 8 weeks during the growing season. For more information see this article.