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?
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!
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.
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.
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.