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This year I purchased a young "family" apple tree, with three varieties of apple grafted onto a single plant. It was planted in March and has flowered happily and is producing fruit. I staked it when it was planted and the main branch is loosely attached to the stake to minimise movement due to wind (which is low anyway due to a narrow garden with fences on both sides and the predominant wind direction being across the narrow dimension of the garden).

Family apple tree with a snapped branch that is still attached

I came out this morning to find that one of the branches bearing apples had snapped and was hanging down to the floor. The branch is bearing the most fruit of any on the tree - 9 fruits in total - and is approximately 8mm in diameter.

Snapped branch detail showing approximately half of the wood remaining attached

Snapped branch hanging down and touching the floor, showing 8 of the 9 fruits on the branch

My questions:

  • Can I save this branch, and if so how?
  • What should I do to avoid this in future? Do I need to brace the individual branches, thin the fruit (if so, how do I judge how many to keep) or something else?
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The tree looks like it has never been pruned before you bought it.

The branches are MUCH too long and spindly to support ANY weight of fruit. You should have removed all the fruit that set after the tree flowered, to let it put all its energy into growing wood, not apples. A tree as immature as that should not be allowed to produce any apples for at least 2 years, and will probably take 5 years to grow branches thick enough to support a full crop.

Really it should have been pruned hard in March when you planted it, in which case it wouldn't have produced much flower this year to cause any problems.

There is no way you can "save" the broken branch. Just cut it off neatly. Then take off all the remaining fruit NOW, before you break the other branch that is almost touching the ground.

If you decide to keep the tree with one "family member" missing, it needs hard pruning next winter, to start to create its final shape. The harder you prune apple trees, the faster the wood grows - which is what you want to happen, in the short term.

Alternatively, write this off to experience, throw the tree out, and maybe think about buying a replacement from a better quality supplier than where that one came from. If you don't have any experience training apple trees, try to buy one that is at least 2 years old, which will have had its first pruning to establish the basic "shape" of the tree before you buy it.

  • Thank you very much for your answer. All the fruit are now off the tree (and I have read up a bit on apple trees - better late than never!). I am fairly sure that I am being overly wishful in my thinking, but is there no benefit to trying to save the branch by taping it together (as if it were a very crude graft) and supporting it by taping the whole branch to a supporting cane along its length? Or does this risk more bad than good happening? – stefandz Jun 26 at 20:41
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    I think that break is too damaged to mend itself. There is very little intact wood for sap to flow from the below the break to above it. Most likely the broken branch will just die. If you want to try saving the apple variety that was on that branch, this is the right time of year to do "chip budding" - take a single bud from near the top of the broken branch and graft it into the tree lower down. See this youtube.com/watch?v=4Up52083srQ and this rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=400 for example. Do it as soon as possible, while the broken branch is still alive. – alephzero Jun 28 at 0:35
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    … Ideally you want to graft directly onto the original rootstock, below where the existing grafts are. You can graft several buds in case just one doesn't "take" - if you have too many "successes", just prune them. If you need a few days to think about it, cut off the top two or three feet off the broken branch and put it in a bucket of water as soon as possible. That will keep it alive in the short term. – alephzero Jun 28 at 0:54

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