How To Mend A Broken Branch
Faithful reader, Karen, writes, "The recent snow split one of the main branches of my crepe myrtle. Do I need to cut off that branch or can I repair it somehow? Cutting it will ruin the tree's symmetry."
Grumpy's 110% Guaranteed Correct Response: Whether you can mend the broken branch or not depends on the severity of the damage and the trouble you're willing to go to.
The first thing to determine is if the branch is still connected to the tree. If it is completely detached, your decision has been made. Throw it away and console yourself with an adult beverage.
However -- if both parts of a split branch still share a decent-size strip of bark (an inch wide or more), then the branch can probably be mended. Your aim will be to gently pull together the two parts, realign the bark to the way it was, then hold the branch in place long enough for the bark to grow together and heal. This can take a couple of years.
How do you do that? That depends on the thickness and weight of the split branch. If the branch is not that heavy, you may be able to get away with pulling the sides together, wrapping the branch tightly with duct tape, and then winding some wire or twist-ties around the tape. You can further stabilize the branch by running a wire from the split branch to the trunk higher up. This takes weight off of the damaged branch.
If the branch is too heavy for the tape-and-wire treatment, you'll have to bolt it together. Pull the split sides together, drill several holes through them, insert metal bolts in the holes, and tighten the nuts on the ends until the split branch holds together firmly. Eventually, bark will grow over the bolts and you won't see them any more.
Don't feel like saving the branch? Cut it off. Yes, the tree will lose some symmetry, but new branches always reach for the light, so the gap should fill in before too long.
Last Call for Crepe Murder 2016!
You still have time to be a winner in Grumpy's Crepe Murder 2016 Contest. Use the long President's Day weekend to photograph neighborhood butchery at its worst -- crepe myrtles being reduced to ugly stumps for no reason -- and email the photo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Last day to enter is February 16. Winners will receive signed copies of The New Southern Living Garden Book plus the gratification that comes with shaming the guilty.