How much you prune a plum tree depends on the variety of tree and the shape you want your tree to take. When you prune the tree is most important to avoid silver leaf disease. Silver leaf disease if a fungal disease that can spread throughout your fruit trees, reducing the amount and quality of your fruit or eventually killing them. Following some simple standards can greatly decrease the threat of this sometimes fatal disease.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Pruning sheers
- Gardening gloves
Decide what shape you want the tree to take. Plum trees are usually trained into a standard shape, pyramid or bush shape. Always prune your trees in their growing season; June is the best time for most. This is when they will heal the quickest to avoid contacting silver leaf disease. The most common types of plum trees are Japanese and European. The Japanese variety grow faster and bushier, requiring heavier pruning. Pruning for shape and amount of fruit is done over a period of 3 to 4 years. After that, pruning is only done to get rid of dead or diseased wood.
Start the pruning in June. In the first year, the main trunk should be cut to be about 3 feet for a bush, 6 feet for a standard and 2 feet for a pyramid shape and Japanese plum. There should be 4 or 5 budding branches below the cut. Take out the first bud and leave the remaining 3 or 4 healthy buds. Make sure all cuts are clean and sharp blades are used. Do not twist or break the branches off. There should be no reason to seal the cuts, as they should heal themselves.
Prune again in June of the second year. Cut off the main trunk right above the top budding branch. Trim the year old branches back to between 10 and 12 inches long right above a healthy new bud. With the Japanese plum, take off the new buds or sprouts to allow the one year old branches to bear healthy fruit. The Japanese tree will actually bear fruit on these new sprouts, taking away from the older ones. Leave the new buds to make new branches for next year. At this point, the pyramid shape and standard shape are not much different.The standard shape will be allowed to bush out more than the pyramid.
In June of the third year, the main trunk should now be left alone and the stems from the main trunk should be cut back to about 12 to 14 inches long. Any stems coming off of them should be cut back to about 6 inches for the standard and bush shapes. The pyramid shape still needs the main trunk cut to the first healthy bud and each new branch from this year cut back to about 10 inches. The Japanese plum should have branches that are crossing each other or too close to each other cut off. Remember, these trees grow faster and bushier and need heavier pruning.
Cut off all dead and diseased branches in June of the fourth year. Burn the wood so as not to spread any disease. From this point on, the tree should just be watched for dying branches or too much branching. If the trees branches start getting too bushy there won't be enough room or nutrition for the fruit. Check it every June, but not too much pruning should be needed after the third year.