Pruning Plum trees

When you're pruning plum trees, it's important to keep your goal in mind. Plum trees should be shaped to allow plenty of air and light to reach all parts of the tree. This open form promotes the growth of large, healthy fruit.

Pruning Plum Trees To The Perfect Shape

The most productive shape for a plum tree is roughly conical. It should have a single trunk (called the central leader) and it should several widely separated rows of branches (called a scaffold whorl).

Each scaffold whorl is composed of four or five branches at the same height on the trunk, projecting out at a horizontal angle. The scaffold whorls should be separated vertically by about 18" to 24". This vertical separation allows for light and air circulation in all parts of the tree and makes it easy to get at fruit at harvest time.

Pruning Plum Trees By The Numbers

  • When to prune. Plan on pruning plum trees in June, when the weather is dry. Pruning at this time of the year serves several purposes-pruning while there are leaves on the tee makes it easier to identify dead or diseased branches; June pruning helps minimize the threat of silver leaf disease infection and pruning in early summer gives your plum tree plenty of time to recover before winter.
  • Clean and sharp tools. As with any pruning, you'll want to start with sharp tools. A sharp blade is likely to make a clean cut and will avoid crushing branches. As you work, have a solution of water and bleach handy (4 parts water, 1 part bleach). Dip the blades of your pruning tool into the solution at regular intervals to limit the spread of bacteria or fungus.
  • Year one. Although it might seem strange to prune a young plum tree, remember that pruning promotes later growth. At planting, cut the central leader to 30" to 36" above the ground. Later in the summer, when new growth is about 4" long, create the first scaffold whorl by selecting four or five lateral branches at about the same level on the trunk. These laterals should lay mostly flat and project out around the tree, but should not be directly across from each other. Remove any other laterals that are not part of the first scaffold whorl.
  • Year two. Select a new set of lateral branches to form the next scaffold whorl. These laterals should be 18" to 24" away from the first whorl. Remove any other new laterals (especially near the top of the tree) and cut the branches of the first whorl back by about 1/3.
  • Year three. Select another set of lateral branches to form the third scaffold whorl. Remember to space the new whorl 18" to 24" away from the last whorl. Remove any other laterals and cut the branches from the other whorls back by about 1/3.
  • Following years. Now that your plum tree has a good form, pruning should be limited to removing dead or diseased limbs and cutting to maintain shape and size.
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