Can I Repair My Broken Shrub and Tree Branches?

Can I Repair My Broken Shrub and Tree Branches?

It’s been a brutal winter and now that the snow is finally thawing many area homeowners are finding that their shrubs and trees have broken branches, split trunks or cracked limbs. “Can I bind these back together and let them heal?” they want to know. Unfortunately the answer is no. Stems of plants don’t knit together like human bones do, and wrapping such broken branches with duct tape, cord, or other bindings ultimately isn’t successful and can further damage the plant. It’s better to make a clean cut and remove those broken stems.

Here are some other questions we’ve gotten from customers this week:

Q. Can I root the large Rhododendron branch that fell off one of my plants?

A. No, large branches don’t really root successfully. You can try rooting cuttings that are about 6″ tall, but not a large, mature limb. You might cut off one or two foot long pieces that have flower buds and bring them inside to force them into bloom. Be sure to change the water every two or three days while waiting for the buds to open.

Q. If I stick the pieces of my broken shrubs into the ground will they grow?

A. It depends on which shrubs you’re talking about. Willows and Forsythia will root successfully with this method, but most other plants will not.

Q. Now that the snow is gone I see that the bark at the base of my dogwood tree has been chewed off. Will this tree live?

A. If the bark has been removed around more than half of the circumference of the tree it’s likely that the tree will die. This is called “girdling” and in the winter either mice or voles are usually responsible. The tree is likely to break dormancy as usual, but then slowly decline as summer goes on. By all means wait and see what happens, but we think you may ultimately have to replace this plant.

When the heavy snow bends branches, many of them are damaged and these injuries aren't discovered until April or even later in the spring.
When the heavy snow bends branches, many of them are damaged and these injuries aren’t discovered until April or even later in the spring. Unfortunately, branches don’t heal together again like human bones do. 

Yes, we know that many people will end up with asymmetrical plants this spring. Some of these will fill out over time, some will gain character that makes them even more interesting and appealing as they mature, and others might need to be replaced. When in doubt, we’re happy to advise Cape Cod homeowners about pruning to improve the appearance of storm-damaged plants. Bring a photo of your damaged plant into the garden center so we can assist you.

And repeat after me: “Duct tape is not a gardening product.” 


  1. Anne on April 3, 2015 at 11:12 am

    When should I prune my woody shrubs? Hydrangeas, Lilac, Viburnums, St. John’s Wort , Butterfly Bush, Roses. Many have some snapped branches from the snow.

    • CLFornari on April 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Any broken branches should be cut off now. Butterfly bush, roses and St. John’s Wort get pruned in April, blue hydrangeas in May once you see what’s living and what’s dead, and Lilacs and Viburnums right after they finish flowering.

  2. Anne on April 18, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Thanks so much CL for the details.

  3. Patricia Beatty on May 8, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I recieved a dogwood for Mothers day and one of the middle branches is broke but still attached , Is this limb savable or not. Need answere soon. 5-8-2016

    • CLFornari on May 8, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      No, if it’s broken you can’t fix it. It will need to be cut off. The good news is that as plants grow they often take on a nice shape and you never could tell that as a young tree it had a broken branch. Happy Mother’s Day!

  4. doug on June 2, 2017 at 10:25 am

    That was a bad answer. This winter a large tree branch fell on my dogwood. It sheared a branch nearly off. A small amount of the internal wood was still attached along with bark. I took five hose clamps, moved the branch back into place and clamped tightly. The branch is alive and full of leaves. There is a YouTube video I found on the subject which helped me.

    • CLFornari on June 2, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Sorry you didn’t like my answer but it’s the truth. You can find all sorts of advice on YouTube but that doesn’t make it correct. Those hose clamps will eventually kill that branch if they don’t naturally die first. The branch is only “alive and full of leaves” for the moment. But enjoy it while it’s still there!

  5. Lin on June 3, 2017 at 5:33 am

    I have an Azalea that has snapped at the main stem after my dog broke retrieving his ball, it’s about 2ft there anyway I can save it.

    • CLFornari on June 3, 2017 at 8:04 am

      If the main stem is completely broken, there is no way to mend it. If it’s still half attached the branch might show signs of life for awhile but will always be weak and a place where disease can enter. And the vascular system that carries water and nutrients up and down the stem won’t repair where the stem is broken. Usually making a fresh cut just below the break and hoping the plant puts out new growth in response is the best way to go.

  6. Bhupinder Jandu on May 23, 2022 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve got a large bush of which the bush’s branch has snapped slightly, I was which watching a program in which it stated there is a method as to which this can be repaired. Please can you inform me?

    • CLFornari on May 24, 2022 at 2:23 pm

      Unfortunately most plants broken branches cannot be repaired – plant tissues don’t “knit back together” like human bones do.

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