Advice on trunk scoring to fight excess vigor

Hi all, have lurked this year reading more than posting but now need some advice. I grow on a relatively narrow and deep city lot, and 6 years ago I had a very large(90ft), dead Maple tree taken down. Always needing wood chips and to save money I bargained with the removal service to leave the stump and to chip and leave the entire tree here not considering the amount. It was a wood chip mountain 10 high and 30 long, and I was recovering from back surgery so I gave away all I could and still had far too much. Seriously, one day I realized the pile wasn’t just damp steaming compost, it was smoking wood chips beginning to char deep inside that required a hose and quick intervention. Over 2 years I spread and moved all I could, covered it with Moon and Stars watermelons that did well and helped hide it for a season, then flattened it and began to plant the long term residents. My 3 problem trees are 2 Dwarf Red Havens, and what was supposed to be another variety of Dwarf Peach had been mis-marked and turned out to be an unknown full size Nectarine. The 3 trees had been in pots for a year where I shaped them up and then planted in ground in shallow depressions in the wood chips, in the clay loam underneath. What I failed to consider was the flood of nutrients as the mulch decomposed faster than expected, turning into black gold and the insane vigor it gave the fruit trees. After more surgeries, and a few seasons of hard Summer pruning I’ve kept the Dwarf Peaches at 6 feet tall, good spread, nice scaffolds and open centers, but still way too vigorous. The Nectarine however is a green monster, and in it’s 4th year looks like a 25 yr old tree with a 7 inch trunk, 4 inch scaffolds to match and spread of nearly 20 feet. In year 2 is when it began the serious growth spurt, and 1 hard Summer pruning was not enough, in year 3 I had to cut 10 feet of big vertical growth off the top and got it back down to 7 feet. I hoped that fruiting would calm it down a bit, but late freezes the last 2 years killed most blooms so all 3 responded with even more heavy, very dense vegetative growth.After the back surgeries I have limited physical ability, so several rounds of heavy Summer pruning are difficult to impossible, but I hate to lose 3 healthy fruit trees with open centers and well placed strong scaffolds just because I can’t prune heavy and often. Can anyone advise me on trunk scoring to check this vigor? In my mind I pictured C shaped cuts on each side of the trunk, spaced maybe a foot apart, but have found info about spiral cuts being effective. Any advice on what’s worked for others, what method to use, depth of cut, and the best height to score them? Also I’m unsure of the best time of year to score, I’m sure that matters, I’d hate to do bark damage now in early Summer that invited pests and disease if dormant season is advised. I intended to begin the first Summer pruning in June, but if trunk scoring now sounds like a good practice to calm these trees down I’d rather do that. GF is always a good read, and since joining I’ve learned much and changed my practices to benefit from it, especially having the appropriate tree size for your space and needs. I’ve learned from Clark that sometimes you just have to let Pears be Pears, and from Tippy and Richard that if you want 7 ft trees it’s very possible, and that sometimes a serious pruning is just what’s needed. Right now the trees have very little fruit load to worry about losing, just a few on each that will likely drop anyway. I’m lucky that the trees are healthy, no borers or obvious disease, and hate to complain here about vigorous trees, but I have to find a way to better control the growth. Thanks!

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BTW, my apologies for not including photos, I realize how helpful that would be but phone issues right now are the problem.

now you know why i put 3in. of wood chips around all my plants every spring and sometimes more in the late summer. not only does it keep out weeds but feeds the plants and holds water there. I’m learning i don’t have to fertilize. just keep laying the chips down. :wink: you have a problem most wish they had!


I know, it’s usually a good problem, right? I’ve always used mulch but I just didn’t realize where the “too much” line began,lol. I’ve never fertilized these trees and I knew I’d take some heat after complaining about vigor, but after posting this I did a garden walk to take another serious look, and just this year the 2 Dwarf Red Haven have already tripled their spread and crown size, and the mis-marked standard Nectarine obscures most of my house from the street and this is just the end of May. In the same group is a Moorpark Apricot, and you’d think that one would be the problem, but it’s well behaved and easy to keep at 7 feet tall and open. I’ve made sure to keep some growth on the big Nectarine low and close so I’d have little dead wood, so as a last resort I could try and stub the scaffolds back but with this much vigor I would have the same situation by the end of Summer so I hope I hear some encouragement about scoring the trunk. Instead of “All hat and no cattle” here, it’s “All leaves and no Peaches”! After each back surgery it’s just gotten more difficult to work on the trees, and hard to admit to myself that a job that would have taken me at most a half day in years past, is now difficult and would take a month to prune hard and clean up the mess.

you have any friends/ family that garden? maybe the promise of some fruit come late summer could motivate them to give you a hand pruning?. :wink:

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@JoeReal started a thread last year about bark inversion to control vigor. I don’t personally have any experience with this technique but it may be something that you want to explore.

Perhaps give it a try on some of the branches if the trunk is too large.

Has anyone tried this with peach or nectarine?

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While I would never recommend it because it would be so hard to determine the right amount of bark to remove, I have a few trees I have knocked bark off of with my tractor and finishing mower. The results have been interesting and it does make me think one could control growth in this manner if only he/she could properly determine how much bark to remove.

I have been surprised at how much bark removal a tree will accept with almost no effect (at least none in the first 2-3 years). I have a pluot that I was just sure I had killed- I scrapped off a strip about 3 inches wide that honestly went about 3/4th of the way around the tree. In other words, only a small strip of bark remained in tact on the 4 year old tree. It absolutely DID reduce the vigor of the tree. It had been extremely vigorous and was one I was constantly having to prune back for size. After the damage it doesn’t require nearly as much pruning, but it is still very healthy and produces fruit of about the same quality and quantity.

I’m embarrassed to admit how many trees I’ve scraped like this, but it is interesting how it can reduce vigor- though for the second time I want to be clear that I’m not advocating you go out and randomly remove strips of bark or bank your trees with a mower! haha. I’m just confirming that what you are talking about can and does work, I just don’t know how to determine the right about of scoring.


Family is quite some distance away, and no gardeners that grow fruit. I’ve got a few requests out for a bit of help with the job so will see how that goes. Fruit is slim this year except for Cherries and Berries, they’d see through that deal right away, lol.

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Thanks Dan, will check out JoeReal’s thread. When I searched the topic in a general online question, I found surprisingly little about it. I searched Skillcults Youtube yesterday, may reach out to him before I begin to cut blindly.

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Thanks Cityman! Glad to hear I’m not the only one to wound my own trees, haha! Actually that’s what made me curious about trunk scoring, I put a large cut on a 2nd year HoneyCrisp tree with a weedeater that was taking it’s time blooming and expected to lose it over that Winter, but come Spring the tree was covered with blooms while a matching tree 10 feet away, same soil conditions, had just a few blooms. The victim tree bloomed heavily again this year with a healed scar that took off about 60% of the bark just above the graft. So I agree with you that the injuries do affect the condition and performance. I’ve had good success with notching buds to stimulate growth and shape trees, so the trunk scoring makes sense to me but I’ve learned enough to ask you all if I doubt my reasoning!

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