Bend your branches for more fruit! Branches growing more horizontally reduces apical dominance and produces 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 when they are growing quickly as they are now. Younger branches are much more flexible than older branches, bend them when they are 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 the more extension growth will be suppressed due to the loss of apical dominance. If you want that particular branch to grow to a greater length, keep it growing at a more upward angle until it reaches 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. If a branch is growing more slowly than you desire, particularly with horizontal espalier forms, bend it upward to increase extension growth.
Hold bent branches in place with some type of tie or spreader. Tie materials should be wide to prevent cutting into the bark of the branch. Bent branches held in place for 4 – 8 weeks during the growing season usually stay close to the bent angle once the released.
Tying material can be secured to lower branches, the 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 end. 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.
Commercial orchardists in BC started bending fruit tree branches with spreaders in large numbers in the 1960’s when the most common tree form was the Central Leader.
Espalier fruit trees are usually grown on trellises. These structures facilitate easy tying up or down branches of all lengths to manage branch growth and future fruit production. Some ancient espalier forms (Oblique Cordon, Belgian Fence, Oblique Palmette, Losange and Spiral) and recently developed commercial forms (Slender Spindle, UFO, Tall Spindle and Super Spindle) were designed to utilize branch bending or whole tree angels to improve crop production. These techniques can be used with any type of fruit tree.