Want early fruit? Do the girdle

I came across this little article from the Iowa State Horticultural Society for 1880 (i love reading this type of stuff…)

Sangamon Co I believe is in Illinois.

I have a lot of apple seedlings that may be donors for this treatment…



I have often thought how pleasant it would be to me to visit my old agricultural and horticultural friends in this State, and look over their homes and farms and households, could I spare the time and means. I have recently indulged in two such visits, one to friend Drury’s fine farm in this .county, and one to friend Spaulding’s model and premium nursery farm, at Riverton, in Sangamon county, and I enjoyed it.

The judgment with which Mr. Spaulding has selected and prepared his grounds, as well as the well known care and skill and success, with which everything on the place is managed indoors and out, most plainly shows that they are one “right family in the right place,” and I hope there are multitudes more of them in our beautiful State.

Several hundred acres of the best woodland soil natural to trees has been selected, and the central parts of it thoroughly underdrained, even where quite dry and sloping, and covered with the finest and most perfectly healthy and well grown fruit trees and nursery stock I have ever seen. The fruit trees at this time are a sight good for sore eyes. The first item is some 14,000 bearing apple trees with scarce a blemished or defective tree among them, and so loaded with such fine fruit, even those not three inches through, that they remind one of the gardens of Ilesperides, except that no hideous dragon lay at the gate to guard them; but every one who came was welcome to his basket full, and the teams and men were hauling them to the watering mouths in the city as fast as possible.

What magic had produced this beautiful sight? That was precisely what I went up to learn, to see and to know. Good drained soil, girdling, lime, salt and an army corps of 500 young turkeys, perpetually on the march in their different battalions, and the warbling light armed troops skipping and singing among the branches there tell the whole story; they were at once canse, and guard of all, though all these, the united head, heart and brain of the family selected, created and controlled, the proprietor’s brain by common consent, ever being the leading element.

It was the girdling in which I was most interested, for sixty years ago on my father’s farm in Massachusetts, I girdled fruit trees in the same way, and I have done it occasionally to truant trees and vines ever since. So when I read in Downing’s most admirable book that girdling endangered the life and health of the tree I knew that there great Homer napped for a moment, and only repeated what others had told him, a mere hereditary dogma, for in sixty years I never knew a branch or a tree killed or injured by it. My recent way of doing it is to take a wide-set saw and saw a circle carefully clean down to the wood all round the trunk of the tree. Mr. Spaulding takes out from a quarter to a half an inch in June with a knife, which takes longer, and I think is no better, if as good.

I have pear trees and apple trees now so girdled a year ago, now on my place loaded with fruit, which never bore a peck before, though some of them were ten or twelve inches through. But friend Spaulding has literally thousands of young trees not ten feet high, with all the branches bending •down with the finest fruit I have ever seen, for among his 14,000 trees he girdled 3,000 last year. His experiment is a thorough demonstration beyond all doubt, for in some cases whole rows are girdled, and whole rows skipped, in other cases only every other tree in each row is taken of the same sort of apple planted at the same time; in every case the young girdled trees are loaded with the finest fruit, while the ungirdled ones in the same row or adjoining rows have none on them.

But will not trees so treated bear themselves to death? Certainly they will if not sustained; when they have worked up into good fruit all the fruit food there is in the soil, be it more or less, they of course can do no more, unless new fruit food is supplied. Hence a young orchard should never be set v. here an old one has been. But the man who sets the trees may as well use up that amount of fruit food which is in the soil while he is alive ruid can eat the fruit perhaps, as to set out the tree and leave it to his grandchildren to eat the fruit. 1 now have a girdled Lawrence and one Winter Nelis pear full of fruit, which I have no reason to think would have borne a dozen pears in ten years if they had not been girdled, and oneGreen Pippin apple a foot through full of fruit that has not before borne a peck in ten years of equally sound fruit. Besides an apple tree thirty or forty years old away up in the air, seldom bears any fruit worth gathering, and it costs twice as much at least to gather it as it does from low young trees, and if our apple trees can be made to bear four times the fruit in ten years what is the use in spreading it over forty years? Why not take it as quick as we can get it, and reinvigorate the soil or set out a new orchard and cut down the old one.

At all events I have come home in the full belief that this process, new in some sense but really older than I am, is destined to work a revolution in fruit-growing, particularly in the West, and I shall let my saw run without fear like a fiddler’s bow to the new tune of the times, around my trees next spring, in so far as they are not girdled this summer, or now at once, which will help them some next year, but not so much as it would had it been done in June. I think this practice will practically double the profit of our orchards to the present generation, so that we can well afford to set out a new crop for those who are to come after us. At all events try it friends for yourselves, as carefully and cautiously as you please; but do not leave its benefits and your trees too, wholly to your grandchildren.

Mr. Spaulding’s explicit, truthful and candid presentation of his work and plans and purposes in regard to girdling, importing superior foreign varieties, hybridizing, etc., as published in the Prairie Farmer of January 17,. 1880, is profusely illustrated, and crowned with the most triumphant and undoubted success on his premises this year, as any one may see wrho will go there and look upon the trees and fruit with his own eyes as 1 have done. He has on hand a car load of lime and a car load of salt and proposes to get a quantity of copperas to keep up the tone and vigor of his apple and pear trees under this wholly unprecedented strain of fruit production; but as his apples are not only more abundant, but much larger, fairer, higher colored, better flavored and sell more readily than common apples of the same sort, he can very well afford to feed them as he does his workmen on the best the land affords. Why cannot others afford to do the same, and make their trees twice as profitable to them as they ever were before. I should have said, that to demonstrate fully that there is no danger of hurting the tree, by girdling in June, he has girdled some at all widths, taking out all round the tree strips of bark from one quarter of an inch to twelve inches wide, and new bark readily formed and not a single tree among the thousands is injured, only the sap is temporarily checked, compelling the setting and retention of the fruit-buds and fruit.—/. B. Turner, in Prairie Farmer.[/quote]


I think managing full vigor trees is becoming a lost art. Several years ago I read the Chinese don’t have dwarfing rootstocks and regularly girdle their apple trees.

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I have a seedling pear pushing 5 years now and i plan on trying this early summer.


Is there a picture tutorial somewhere on proper girdling technique? Is there a proper time of year to do so?

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Here is a PDF from the U of Georgia: http://www.ent.uga.edu/peach/peachhbk/cultural/girdling.pdf

If anyone tries this please post your results.

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This seems to be a good option for excessively vigorous trees. My Sweet Treat Pluerry is like the Hydra in Greek mythology. I would summer prune a vigorous branch and 5 more would take its place. Now it is happening again where 4-5 shoots are emerging from the terminus of where I winter pruned. In its 3rd leaf the trunk is about 4" and the limbs don’t look like I can tie them down now. So this may be one tree where pruning is not enough to ‘size control’. I notice there are special tools for this purpose that are not that expensive. Think I’m gonna try it. I have the same question as @amadioranch and that is, when is it best done?

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Bump for this thread since that June date is coming up.

I’m looking to try something like bridge graft in Bud9 scions to the base of a M7-rooted and slow-to-bear (for my impatient style) Enterprise tree. But if I don’t find any scions girdling is in its future.

I would love to hear more on this subject. the link above says it has been removed. anyone try this?

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This link is up to date http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0053-N/ANR-0053-N.pdf. It forces trees into production faster. I learned with cicada 17 year cicada's woke up hungry they girdled branches for me and many trees produced the following year and branches snapped off, fireblight Late season Fireblight was rampant for awhile etc…


Sounds like he was applying salt to the orchard in large amounts. Would this be NaCl or some other salt? Anyone know the rationale?

Reference to a large flock of turkeys is interesting too.


I would suspect that the turkeys are for insect pest control similar to how chickens control in the orchard.

Salt ???


My guess would be sea salt or other natural salt sources. They tend to contain about 20% water soluble minerals (other than sodium and chloride). And have been used as mineral supplements with great success. As long as they are applied appropriately. Taking into account the soil type, chemistry, plant type, etc…

Salt has also been used as weed control.

I did a little reading about girdling and read that it eventually kills the tree. So I reread the original post that started this thread … "Besides an apple tree thirty or forty years old away up in the air, seldom bears any fruit worth gathering, and it costs twice as much at least to gather it as it does from low young trees, and if our apple trees can be made to bear four times the fruit in ten years what is the use in spreading it over forty years? Why not take it as quick as we can get it, and reinvigorate the soil or set out a new orchard and cut down the old one.

Does the technique of girdling apply to a small home orchard, or only to a commercial operation with a lot of land that can afford to have sections with trees that haven’t started producing yet.

I don’t the tree is killed by girdling except by accident if done by someone with experience that doesn’t do it too frequently . If you don’t prune a full size apple or sweet cherry tree extremely well it gets too big to effectively harvest. It’s costly to prune these trees as well so in the old days they simply abandoned an orchard after 40 years to reduce labor costs in many cases.

For a home orchard you are better off planting trees on a dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock and then you don’t need to girdle the tree. There is a risk each time you girdle the tree that it will weaken the tree severely or kill it. So I think it’s best to avoid the practice and use it only as a last resort when other methods to increase fruiting have failed.

For commercial orchards most plantings now are on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks. The preferred system for new plantings is tall spindle. In this system, dwarf trees are planted 3-4 feet apart and the height is kept at about 10 feet. This gives you a small tree that is easy to harvest and prune.

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Well, this is all theoretical at this point for me. I don’t think I have any dwarf, and I do know I have some semi-dwarf, but there are a some that I don’t know. I probably should have planted all dwarf so I could get the 3-4 foot spacing, which would be especially useful in my limited space. I will keep that in mind if I remove trees. But the point of this thread was about using girdling to stimulate fruiting, so I should leave it at that.

Distressing the tree below branches encourages fruiting. You don’t have to completely girdle the tree to accomplish that: you can notch below specific branches.

Or you can beat the tree with a chain, crushing some of the cambium and accomplishing the same thing, sorta. I gather it used to be done a lot. I haven’t tried it, although I have tried notching and girdling, and they can work. Even a thin cord cutting off circulation in a specific branch will make a difference.


I unintentionally partly girdled the trunk of a semi-dwarf cherry tree, in the process of removing diseased areas during late winter. Compared to previous years, the tree set a huge amount of fruit. Unfortunately, there is no pollinator nearby so it all dropped.

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Point of interest. In this video about apple grafting top work, girdling is not mentioned but at the 19 minute mark there can be seen prominent scars from multiple spiral girdling cuts in the tree trunks. https://youtu.be/tOm8Ou4TmsE?t=1143

that guy is hilarious

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