We all know what tree branches are, but what are scaffold branches and why are they important?
What are scaffold branches?
Trees have an underground root system, a trunk, primary branches, secondary branches, and so on. Both above and below ground, the fractal splitting of growth creates ever-smaller and more delicate parts. Twigs emerge from lateral branches and lateral branches grow out of primary scaffold branches. Scaffold branches are the heaviest limbs which create the structure of a tree’s canopy, or silhouette.
Scaffold branches and pruning
Pruning and tree training are the best way to ensure your trees are healthy, safe, and productive. Before putting your tree saw to work, you need to know about scaffold branches.
Mature scaffold branches are rarely pruned or removed, unless they are severely damaged or diseased, as they provide the overall structure of a tree’s shape. Young trees, however, must be trained into forms that allow for proper sun exposure and air flow while maintaining branches that are less likely to break once burdened with lateral branches, twigs, leaves, and heavy fruit crops.
The angle at which branches attach to one another, known as the angle of attachment or the branch axil, determines the strength of that connection. Angles of attachment that are too narrow become areas of weakness later on. These V-shaped crotches also provide overwintering sites for American plum borers, prune limb borers, and many other pests. Branch axils of 30° or more generally result in sturdy attachments that can withstand strong winds and heavy fruit or nut crops. Downward hanging branches are highly prone to breakage. The best branch axils are 45° to 60° angles.
Selecting scaffold branches
When training young trees, you want scaffold branches that are appropriate to the species, spaced properly, and at good angles. You should avoid having more than two scaffold branches at the same distance from the ground. Scaffold branches should be at least 8” to 16” apart, vertically. Also, select scaffold branches that are positioned radially around the trunk so that they are not growing directly above or below each other.
As you train your tree, remember to avoid cutting the branch collar and do not use sealants. Sealants often trap moisture against the wound and create the perfect environment for rot. Your tree knows how to heal itself and will form callus tissue over and around the wound.
Take a look at the scaffold branches on your trees. Are they strong and healthy or do you need to do some re-training this dormant season?
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