Notching: A Cool Pruning Trick


Notching is a simple, old school trick that stimulates a branch to grow. Use it while training young, deciduous fruit trees to fill any empty spaces that would ideally, be fruitfully filled with a branch.

  • Choose a lovely fat bud in the locale of the wished for branch.
  • Using something sharp take a decent slice out of the bark, above the bud – as in the photo above. This slice will put a stop to the flow of life juice, the hormones will gather (not something we usually celebrate) and a new branch will appear in summer.

I have had great success with this, winning more than loosing. The loosing comes from older trees who, it would seem, aren’t interested in branching out. But don’t let this stop you trying.

If cutting into your tree feels scary, dig deep and find your courage. Notching works! Trust me. You cant go wrong, the worst that happens is your tree heals over the cut and ends up with a wee scar. I’ve seen some rough notch-ers in my time – using a rasp to rub into the bark (ouch), a hacksaw, a knife – I use sharp seceteurs.

Line the blade up on the bottom of the notch. Press it in firmly to push through the bark, rocking it back and forth to penetrate far enough. Make it long enough to be about a third to halfway around the trunk. For what I hope are obvious reasons, don’t go the whole way. Repeat this, at the top of the slice, joining the cuts at each corner. Flick the chunk out.

Notching is best done about a month before buds open, which for apples and pears is right about now.

notch is now branch

And here, in this autumn photo, is the branch that sprang from the notch above. See how the notch has healed and the bud – galvanised into action by the gathering of hormones – has become a branch.

Come spring I’ll tie it horizontal, and hey presto – a bonafide fruit producing branch fills the gap. Such a good trick to have up your pruning sleeve.


  1. Hiya,
    Thanks heaps for posting this tip. Good to have your talk on pruning reinforced.

    • Hi David, thats why I posted it – I felt I glossed over it too fast on the 1st. Under the bud stimulates action too but fruiting spurs rather than branches – a big difference! best Kath

  2. Does the cut heal and allow sap flow through that half of the tree again?

  3. Ruth Harrison says

    Hi Kath – would this work on a feijoa?

  4. Saskia Gibbs says

    Can this possibly work on a grapevine?

  5. Nice one Kath….I’m going to try this on my Monty’s surprise 🙂

  6. Hi Kath
    I want to notch my nectarine: when is the best time to do so?

  7. This is so fantastic. I transplanted about 10 established fruit trees from a subdivided property that was being built on. They were all dug out late summer so I had low expectations. I planted along a fence line in the hopes of espeiliering them. Chopped them right back and they have all survived, by rights none should. I was wondering about “training” branches and this is exactly what I need to know. Delighted to give this a go. Nothing to lose as I wasn’t really expecting them to be alive now 😂

    • Love it when that happens! Fruit trees are actually pretty tough. Enjoy!

      • Ease, what is EM?

        • Hey Denny, EM is effective microorganisms. Find all my recommended products and people on my Goods and Gurus page:
          EM garden concentrate The magic liquid jamming with beneficial micro organisms – just what your garden needs! Mix with liquid seaweed or liquid comfrey or molasses or hydrolysed fish for a primo monthly garden spray. Its not cheap, but you only use 1ml per litre and can easily expand it out to 20 times to make it go further. The Hortex sprayer they sell, clips to the end of your hose and makes regular sprays super easy. – a wondrous biological brew.

  8. On the main truck of a young nectarine two branches have died. No obvious shoots in the vicinity. Do you reckon to give this a go somehow? Even where the branches died?

    • Its not a great sign the whole dying thing Pip, but go for it I say… nothing to loose and everything to gain. Get some EM or some such over the tree in a semi regular way this growing season – I know for sure you will have a witchy brew on the go 🙂

  9. Can you notch in several places on the tree at the same time? My espaliered pear got out of control when we were away for three years. Can I do two levels or both sides of the tree at once (obviously not going all the way round in one place..) to make it faster or do I need to go back to one level per year?

    • Just take it easy with the notching ok, go for a couple of sites a year. Just by pruning it back you’ll stimulate shoots as well – though these come in more surprising places than nothing brings. A good talking to helps alot 🙂

  10. Hi Kath,
    Will this work on a young lemon tree? The trunk is nice and straight but one side has barely any branches so it looks lopsided.

    • Hi Ellie – great question…. nope. You need a deciduous tree, with buds along the trunk – citrus don’t behave this way. I’ll be sure to amend the text – this is for deciduous trees.

  11. How about blueberries? I prune the oldest canes on my rabbiteye varieties to a bud about 20cm above the ground. But would it be better to notch low down on a cane to get new growth? Rabbiteye generally keep their leaves so aren’t deciduous although Northern Highbush do lose their leaves in winter.

    • Interesting idea Allan – give it a go… love to hear how you get on, I have never tried myself.

      • Thanks I will try it on a couple of canes. I wanted to ask you about a black currant pest but there was no place after the great currant pruning blog post to do that. What is the best way to combat the borer worms that are from eggs that get laid by this weirdly striped coloured moth/waspy looking thing on the fresh new spring growth? The commercial growers have access to a pheromone similar in action to the codling moth one home gardners can buy but it is not available to the general public.

        • Hey Alan – borer of any type is tricky given that they are safely concealed. There is no one hit wonder treatment here.
          Keeping currants growing strongly is your first port of call – though not with artificial, pest enticing products. Go for homemade compost and a generous woody mulch.
          Good pruning helps alot – the older vines become havens so keep the new growth cycling through, alongside pruning out any sickly canes as they arise.
          Check for eggs at the base of the currant in spring and squash them.
          Send a fine wire up the hole and stab the larvae (satisfying!) or inject kerosene in the hole then immediately plug it with blutak.
          Neem granules, from naturally neem are well worth a shot if populations go large. Work into the soil at the base of the plant on a regular basis.
          At the heart of it though, is wise soil management that keeps a steady supply of complex sugars throughout our plants – especially woody shrubs that dont need ‘rich’ food in the first place. Alongside a diverse, spray free environment – mulch around the shrubs but then let the natural groundcover go where practical for a stronger below fungal network and overall garden system.