What Are the Best Tips for Pruning Plum Trees?

Liz Thomas

Pruning plum trees is an important process necessary for trees to properly develop. Gardeners use pruning as a method to promote tree strength and health. The time of year, plant vigor, and light availability are important factors. The type of pruning can differ depending on the desired crop level and disease management.

Dried plums.
Dried plums.

One of the main reasons for pruning plum trees is to create a strong tree that can produce fruit without any difficulty. If tree limbs are not pruned and trained properly, branches can break and trees typically die sooner. Weak trees will also divert energy from fruit production to limb and leaf growth, reducing plum yield.

A bleach and water solution can be helpful for disinfecting pruning tools.
A bleach and water solution can be helpful for disinfecting pruning tools.

To achieve strength through the pruning of plum trees, the main goal is to have a full tree that is not too tall. The top of the tree should be pruned frequently. Removal of the growth tip, or the top of the tree, is known as heading. This occurs when the tree is planted and buds are swelling. Heading is typically used with dormant pruning to promote lateral growth.

Besides strength, pruning plum trees will remove any broken, diseased or dead branches, clearing it out. This will help to minimize the chances of disease spreading between trees, as well as make room for new growth. Removal of branches also allows for air penetration and circulation, which can kill pre-existing disease.

Gardeners and farmers interested in invigorating plum trees may consider dormant pruning. This type of pruning occurs during the winter when the tree is "sleeping", or dormant. Large portions are removed and in the spring many new shoots will typically grow. Growers recommend to wait as late as possible to prune during the winter. This minimizes the chances of cold damage.

Very vigorous plum trees that have a lot of vegetation may benefit from summer pruning instead of dormant pruning. Pruning plum trees in the summer eliminates energy sinks. The majority of the energy in the tree is then funneled to fruit production in place of vegetation growth. As with winter pruning, if the gardener waits too long to complete the process, winter damage can occur from early frosts.

The amount of light that reaches the plums is important for growth and plum production. Trees that receive large amounts of sun will require less pruning. Too much light can sunburn fruit, reducing the quality. If there is not enough sun, fruit production is often low and plums may not become ripe. Removing leaves and fruitless limbs depends on the average sunlight.

Pruning plum trees helps them grow strong enough to bear fruit.
Pruning plum trees helps them grow strong enough to bear fruit.

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