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Notch Dormant Buds So They Bear Fruit

How to easily speed up a tree that is slow to bear fruit

One great thing about fruit trees is that they are so completely adaptable. If they aren't producing as much fruit as we would like, we can trick them into performing better, and they never seem to mind.

In fact, they seem to do even better once we know what they can tolerate and push them to do more. This month we are going to do just that, get a fruit tree that may not be bearing fruit fast enough for our tastes, and speed up the process.

What's interesting is that any branch, regardless of its position on the tree, can be made more fruitful by notching - an age-old technique that was developed in Europe for intensive, espalier fruit culture.

The technique works by interrupting the flow of carbohydrates to a dormant bud on a fruit tree, and by doing so, we can help it develop into either a fruiting bud, or a leafy branch.

The entire process takes only a minute or two and then it's up to the tree to get to work. So whether you want more fruit, or perhaps need a leafy branch on a specific part of the tree for an espalier or other purpose, the choice is up to you. Pretty cool I'd say!

Notching To Get A Fruit Bud

Some trees are slow, or even reluctant sometimes, to start producing fruit. In fact sweet cherries are notorious for having long, bare branches, that produce no fruit.

That's OK, because we can give them a nudge in the right direction. We do this by selectively notching branches near buds.

Here's How It's Done

1. This can be done during the late winter, through early summer.

2. Choose a one year old branch because eventually these buds along the trunk and branches will die if they aren�t stimulated. So it�s best to do your notching on wood no older than one to two years.

3. Use a coarse 3/8 inch (1.9 cm) rat-tail file.

4. Stroke around half the diameter of the one year old branch about a 1/8 inch (3 mm) below a dormant bud.

5. Go deep enough so you can just see the white of the wood through the green underbark.

6. That's it.

Why It Works

By doing this, we are making a dormant bud develop into a fruiting bud because by under-notching, we are interrupting the downward flow of carbohydrates. The extra food (carbohydrates) then collects around the bud and stimulates it to become a flower bud.

Choose a one year old branch

Use a coarse rat-tail file:

Under-notch about
1/8 inch (3 mm)
below the dorman bud:

Go deep enough to just see the white of the wood, and stroke around half the diameter of the branch:

Notching To Get A Leafy Bud or New Branch

Do the exact same steps as above, except this time, put the notch just above a dormant bud. By doing this, we will induce a new branch to develop which is a nice thing to know about if you need or want a branch in a specific place on your tree or espalier.

Why It Works

By over-notching, we are blocking the downward flow of growth-regulating compounds that keep the side buds dormant. If less of these compounds reach the bud, it can break dormancy and grow into a shoot, and then a branch.

What's neat is that on the new branch that then develops in the next year or so, you can then under-notch buds on that new branch to make it more fruitful.

So the entire process encourages more growth, and then eventually more fruit.

Over-notch just above
a dormant bud to develop a leaf bud or new branch:

Example of an
espaliered fruit tree:


Notching to help intensify fruit production on trees is nothing new. It has been going on for centuries in Europe.

The great thing about using these older techniques is that we know they work, so there is no risk on our part to get it right.

Even better, is that today we are under no pressure to do these things. Unlike some gardeners a long time ago who had to make these techniques work because they had royalty and other high placed persons to keep happy, we can do them simply for the fun of it - and I encourage you to do so!

The writer is a member of the National Garden Writers Association, a nationally published writer, and a certified organic grower. She regularly speaks and writes about all gardening related topics, with an emphasis on making gardening a successful and enjoyable process for anyone who wants to learn. Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine concentrates of giving detailed gardening tips and gardening advice to all levels of gardeners.

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