Quick and easily adjustable system for training new growth that is too vertical

A new growth training tool that is quick, easily adjustable (for weight and location), inexpensive, works with side-shoots (where toothpicks and clothes pins will not), leaves no damage to the limb, and works with relatively new green growth.

This year and last, I’ve had a number of trees entering their 3rd leaf and have struggled to train the new growth (esp. side shoots) when a tree sends out 20 new sprouts that start to reach for the sky. I wanted to come up with an inexpensive system for training green growth that would be quick and easy to install, with good adjustability for position and weight. Below is what I came up with. Over the last few weeks, it’s worked even better than I had hoped, allowing me to train around 25 green growths per tree with about 10 mins of install time.

Someone has probably already taken this approach, though I haven’t run into it yet. So, I thought I would share. It’s more oriented towards backyard growers, as I’m guessing commercial growers won’t fuss with their trees like this.

How’s it made?

The system is made of a piece of building (electrical) wire and large washers:

I happened to have a box of 1-1/2" x 3/8" fender washers lying around. These turned out to be a great size, as most adjustments took just 1-2 washers, and a few 3-5. The 3/8" hole diameter means they slide off and on the hook easily. Seems most cost effective to buy at a electrical or plumbing supply house, where I was able to find them at about $13-$17 per 100 (HD has them for about 3x that cost, and may be thinner/lighter washers).

For the wire, I cut insulated 14-gauge building wire to a length of ~5" pieces:

I tried some pieces little longer, and it didn’t seem to add much. Shorter, and the S-hook seemed really short, though I would think the shorter, the less swinging in the wind. I also tested 10-gauge (way overkill) and 12-gauge (not needed), so went with 14-gauge for ease of working with. You can probably use a different type of wire, but I have a lot of NM (Romex) scraps lying around, given I’m re-building the house. If buying new, a spool of 14-gauge THHN/THWN would work (and I’d probably choose a bright color, so you can see if you drop them). I did not use the uninsulated copper (ground) conductor, not knowing if the tree would have any response (perhaps not).

Then I bent the ends of the wire using some round stock to form the size of the bend:

I used 1/4" diameter round stock to form the plant end and 1/2" stock to form the washer end of the S-hook:

My templates were shanks of some twist drills, because they were sitting in front of me on the bench, and I already had gloves to protect my hands (I wouldn’t use bits without gloves), but you could use anything round… pencils, markers, etc). It took me less than 30 minutes to make 75 of these.

Here is a tree with around 25 adjustments hanging on it:

So far, I’ve used 200 washers to train about 100ish growths on 4 trees, and probably need another 100-200 washers for other trees that have new growth reaching for the sky.

Lessons Learned
It takes a little practice to figure where to place the weight, as green growth can get pretty floppy the further out you go. Also, I sometimes have to reverse the orientation of the way I’ve hooked the branch, such that the hook will not fall off if it swings in the wind. The first day I tried this, I was having gusts of around 20MPH, and a few slid further out the growth, which pulled them too low… but most were OK. With some slight adjustments, they have been pretty stable. Lastly, sometimes I have to crush the underside tissue of the limb (a lighter version of what’s outlined in the ‘Bending the Twig’ section of the Boyer Nurseries article “All you’ll ever want to know about training & pruning fruit trees!”), to get the growth to bend in the right location or to ‘twist’ the right direction. Luckily, I haven’t broken any growth yet.


I don’t like weights, and I think you may be in an excessive hurry to train your trees at the expense of much quicker establishment. Apple trees (most varieties, at least) grow faster and bear real crops much sooner if you prune them very conservatively when they are young and worry about permanent structure once they begin to bear real crops.

Some branch spreading if fine and even important, but more vertical growth is more vigorous, so it often pays, to wait a bit before forcing branches to the 70 degree angle you may want when they come into bearing. Temporary branches can be sued to tape your permanent scaffolds to when it is time to spread them- or use string to tie branches down to the base of the trunk making sure to remove it once the spreading has taken affect.

Or use these… V-spreader demonstration | V-Spreader ~ Shaping Your Trees, the best branch spreaders I’ve found. Weights create a bow shape, I like the better control of a spreader. They are also less likely to cause branch breaks as wind will increase the pressure of weights.

I think beginners are best served to stick to the system I learned from an expert who taught pruning crews for years in huge commercial orchards in Washington State and continues to do so in Australia for a range of species (Bas van Ende).

In his system you remove nothing before first good crops besides branches with "excessive’ diameter and touching or damaged wood. By his measure, all your selected scaffolds would be considered of excessive diameter in ratio to the trunk. Check the article I wrote about pruning by numbers in the guides section if you are at all interested in the how and why of what I’m trying to tell you (and other forum members who read your post). I spend about 7 months of the year pruning mostly apple trees (because they take more time than stone fruit, for one thing) in the many orchards I manage and training young trees in my bearing age fruit tree nursery. For me, time is money, for the home grower, time is about waiting for real harvest. Less is better.

And don’t forget that the weight of fruit will eventually spread your branches for you… if it doesn’t break them.


I am sure Alan knows what he is talking about… but will offer an experience that I had the past few years that seems to indicate that early training to more horizontal position of scaffold branches works well.

I think it was 3 years ago… I bought a Novamac apple on B9. It was a nice long whip… 5 footer… but unfortunately had been broken in shipment.

I pruned off the broken top 2 ft just above a nice bud. It then bloomed… and I removed the blossoms bedore fruit set. It then sent out 5 nice branches from the top foot of that 3 ft tall lopped off whip.

They all grew 3 ft or more that first year…

I strapped 4 of those branches down to a make shift espellar… and left one going up for central leader. Below is what it looked like near the end of summer that first year.

With those 4 scaffold branches strapped down (flat horizontal)… and some late summer pruning… it developed several fruit spurs that first year.

The next spring had 20+ blossom clusters that bloomed and set fruit.

That was the fastest I have ever seen a apple tree start bearing fruit.

By the end of that season those 4 scaffold branches were so loaded with fruit spurs… that i had to prune several off. One scaffold branch had 30+ fruit spurs on it. They were spaced about 1 inch apart. I thinned them out to just the best ones pointing up… and got the fruit spur spacing more like 1 every 3 inches.

Those 4 scaffold branches were around 4 ft long each this spring and had feuit spurs every 2-3 inches along the scaffold.

Absolutely beautiful in bloom this spring covered in blossoms… set a bunch of nice apples.

In this case I forced the scaffold branches flat horizontal in year 1… and this apple tree came into bearing way sooner than any I have ever had.

I have been so impressed at how that worked…

I have several new persimmons, pears, apples this spring that are develiping scaffold branches… and i have forced those new scaffolds down to near horizontal…

Below shows what i used…

I strapped those onto the young tree (with parafilm) just below my new developing scaffold branches. Then used those guide sticks to slowly adjust the crotch angle on those scaffolds. They were going up at a very steep angle… and i eventually got them all down to near 90 degreees (flat out horizontal).

A few samples of the results above.

I am happy with the results… will it help ? It sure helped my little Novamac. Will see how this affects these persimons, pears and other apples



ive just used twine tied to a tent stake wrapped around a piece of hose slipped over the branch to train mine. after a season of growth you can take it off and the branch stays there.

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I like the spreader method. I have lots of pruned peach branches that I cut to length and split the ends as spreaders.

When I plant a young tree I remove the central leader and select 4-ish branches opposing each other. Then I set spreaders. If the “mate” is larger/stiffer than the one opposite, attach the spreader lower on the weaker branch and higher on the stiff branch. This balances the two.

If you have a branch that has no opposite partner, you have two options; install spreader on a branch near being opposite. Or install a spreader in the middle of another spreader forming a “T”, then on to your branch.

you can’t steer all the side branches, time to prune off those upright shoots

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You are talking about a very dwarfing rootstock that is expected to begin bearing by their 2nd year by commercial growers. My main knowledge and experience lies with free standing rootstocks, usually M7 to 111 in relative vigor. Depending on the variety, soil and management 111 takes from 3-7 years to begin to bear any fruit. The pruning requirements are much different and the more vigorous a tree is the harder it is to train, but the easier it is to keep alive. .

Here, many of my customers are growing trees above the deer browse line and that is what I sell from my nursery and almost all the orchards I install- even for people with deer fencing. Often I have to baffle the trees from squirrels and coons so branches cannot begin below about 5’.

Almost none of my customers control their vermin with lead.

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