Gardening Staking plants Trees

How to Fix a Broken Branch

You can often “reinstall” a broken branch. All photos: Denis Giroux

Question: We have a crabapple with a branch that has almost been torn off by the weight of the snow. Can we fix the branch or will we have to remove it?

Denis Giroux

Answer: It’s often possible to save a branch that has partially torn off a tree or even entirely broken free by grafting it back into place, much like you can graft an amputated finger back onto a human hand… although in the case of a tree, no microsurgery is required!

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First, maneuver the branch into the right position.

First you have to get the branch temporarily into the right position. Another pair of hands would be very helpful at this point. You can also prop the branch up with one or more stakes or tie it temporarily into place with wire or cord. You’ll want it perfectly aligned with its original position.

Grafting the branch back onto the trunk can be as simple as screwing it back into place with two or three galvanized screws, but that will only work if the branch is quite small. In your case, the branch is far too heavy and screws are not going to suffice. You’ll need to use a threaded rod (available in any hardware store) instead.

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Use a threaded rod, washers and nuts to solidly hold the branch in place.

Pierce a hole through the base of the branch and right through the trunk with an electric drill and insert the rod. Place a washer and a nut on each end and tighten firmly to hold the branch tightly against the trunk.

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More than one rod may be necessary to hold the branch in place.

To finish, remove any shoring, rope or wiring (certainly, don’t leave anything wrapped around the trunk for too long, otherwise it will choke the tree!). You can also cut off any excess length of threaded rod if you want.


It isn’t necessary or even useful to paint the wound with any kind of product. Just let nature take its course. Fresh cells and bark will slowly cover the wound and eventually it will be scarcely visible.

Grafting a tree branch back into place doesn’t have a 100% success rate, but if in the spring healthy foliage sprouts on the broken branch, there is a good chance that it will recover perfectly and go on to live for many years.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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