by Eric Wiebe, EMGV
Are out of control tree and shrub branches getting you down? For fruit and nut trees in particular, branch spacing and angle are important for both fruit and branch health. Proper spacing allows for good air circulation and optimal light gain for the leaves. Branches that grow at too steep an angle are also at risk of snapping off under a heavy load of fruit. While branch angle modification is probably most common on edible fruit trees, these techniques can also be used on ornamental trees and shrubs to improve their aesthetics and plant health.
If you have a branch that you want to preserve but it is growing at too steep (vertical) an angle, the two most common methods for getting it more horizontal is either spacers or weights hung off of the branch. Over the course of a season, as the branch continues to grow, it conforms to this new angle of growth and the spacer or weight can be removed. In many ways, weights are the most versatile method of pulling branches down. This blog post will show you how to make your own weights to use at home.
With very young branches, sometimes something as little as a clothespin provides enough weight to pull them down. However, as the branches get thicker in girth or more vertical, more weight is needed. For these cases, additional weight can be added directly to the clothespin in the form of hanging weights made from cement.
Making these weights only take a few supplies (Figure 1):
- Powdered concrete patch mix
- Disposable sample cups (2-3 oz)
- Large paper clips or other stiff wire
- A container for mixing
- A stirring stick (like a paint stirrer)
- Clothespins (for hanging the weights)
Fig. 1: Supplies needed for the project. All photos: Eric Wiebe
Set out as many cups as you want weights. Keep in mind that the cement hardens quickly, so you may want to start with a dozen or fewer. Now bend your wire/paperclips into a shape like seen in Figure 2. Note that one end will sink into the cement and anchor it while the other end will fit into the clothespin.
Now you’re ready to mix up the cement. Follow instructions on the cement package. You may want to use disposable gloves, as the cement can be an irritant and will stick to your skin. Add water in very small quantities, as it is easy to get the mix too liquid. You will want something the consistency of a cake batter (Figure 3, proper cement consistency).
Pour or scoop the cement into the individual plastic cups. Note that you will probably want differing weights, so fill your cups to different levels. Immediately work the wire hangers about ½” under the surface of the cement (Figure 4).
Make sure all the wire hangers are straight and let the cement harden for the time recommended on the package. Once the cement is hardened, you can cut the cups off the cement and your weights are complete! You can use an old egg carton to hold your weights in (Figure 5).
Try out your weights out on some branches. Your wire hanger should sit comfortably between the two pin halves near the spring. By adjusting the weight amount, the location of the weight on the branch, or both, you can get varying degrees of pull down on the branch. Don’t overdo it, as you don’t want to break the branch off.