All of us use jargon that sounds strange to outside ears. I don’t know if this is part of some human desire to separate ourselves from the rest of the herd or an artifact of the development of our respective trades. One of the bits of jargon we use in pruning is the ‘toilet seat’ style of cut.
When we prune we manipulate trees into growing productively. We want a strong architecture of big wood that can support a heavy crop load. We want light evenly distributed throughout the tree that encourages even fruiting from the top of the tree to the bottom and from the inside of the tree to the outside. We want fruiting branches that grow horizontally rather than up and down. Toilet seat cuts are one of the ways we encourage flat branches.
To make a toilet seat cut the first step is to find a good spot to make the cut. We look for places where we would like a fruiting branch but instead have a branch growing upright.
If you leave the upright branch alone, it will stay upright and thicken into a shade factory. Too many of these and your tree gets too dense, hurting light distribution. Also , if you wait too long to cut out an unnecessary strong, upright branch, you’ll have to use a saw to cut it out. Sawing is hard and we try to avoid doing it.
If you eliminate the strong upright completely, you are left with a hole or bald patch in your tree. Trees missing bearing area don’t produce much fruit. We like fruit. We use fruit to make your cider, after all.
Making a toilet seat cut is simple. We use bypass style loppers for pruning. To make a toilet seat cut you put the anvil side of the shears next to the trunk and keep the blade parallel to the ground as you cut. This will leave an ellipse shaped stub of wood perpendicular to the trunk. It looks a bit like a toilet seat, hence the name.
In the year after making the toilet seat cut, 1-3 branches should regrow from the base of where you made the cut. These new branches tend to be flatter than the original branches you cut out. The following year, choose the best of the new branches and remove the others.
This new flatter branch will bud up and make good fruit in the following year. Yes, it takes 3 years for a toilet seat cut pay off. Growing fruit is a long game.