How to prune a plum tree
Plum trees are susceptible to silver leaf disease and should therefore be pruned in summer. We show you how.
Pruning fruit trees encourages a good size and shape, keeps the tree productive and helps remove dead and damaged wood. Many fruit trees, such as apples and pears, are pruned in winter, but plum trees can be susceptible to silver leaf disease if pruned at this time. Plum trees are therefore best pruned in spring or summer.
Silver leaf disease is a debilitating fungal disease that affects the whole of the Prunus family, including plums, apricots, cherries, and Portuguese laurel. The fungus enters the plant through wounds, turning the leaves silver. Eventually the whole branch dies back. Pruning plum trees in spring or summer enables the tree's pruning wounds to heal before the spores of silver leaf disease become active during the damp months of autumn and winter.
Young plum trees (up to three years old) are best lightly pruned in spring. The most popular way to prune is to create a 'bush' shape with an open centre – like a goblet or wine glass. This means that light, air and sun can get to the developing fruits. Prune when the buds are just bursting, or when the tree is just beginning to flower.
Established plum trees that are more than three years old can be pruned in summer, from mid-June onwards. Again, the aim is to keep the tree a manageable size and shape, while allowing the fruit to ripen. Prune to create an open, wine glass shape. Prune the branches by about a third, then prune away shoots growing into the centre of the tree, plus any that are dead, damaged or crossing. Also pull up any suckers that are growing from the base, and grub out any buds growing on the trunk.
If you want to renovate an old, neglected plum tree, do it gradually, over several years. Again, aim for a good goblet shape. Each pruning cut will result in several thin shoots growing – these will need to be thinned the following summer.
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If your plum tree is unproductive or is only producing fruit every two years (known as biennial bearing), the cause may be lack of moisture at the roots, or a late frost affecting the flowers in spring. Heavy pruning can also affect cropping, as fruits are produced on one- or two-year-old shoots.
You will need:
Whether it's a pair of long-handled loppers, pruning saw or secateurs, using the right tool is essential for this task. For more information read our guide to tools for pruning, and if you're looking to update your kit, our experts have been busy testing the best pruning saws, the best secateurs and the best anvil loppers, so you can buy with confidence.
In a hurry? Here are some of the best buys from these tests:
- ARS PM-21 folding pruning saw
- Felco 640 pruning saw
- Darlac Expert Bypass DP1030A
- Niwaki GR Pro
- Felco 8 Bypass Secateurs
- Draper Deluxe Anvil Secateurs
- Corona Ratchet Cut Comfort Gel Anvil Secateurs
- Wolf Garten Telescopic Anvil Lopper
- Spear & Jackson Razorsharp Advantage Telescopic Ratchet Anvil Lopper
Remember to always prune on a dry day, using clean and sharp tools, such as secateurs or a pruning saw. Always cut just above a bud and sloping away from it. Don't worry if you end up pruning out some developing fruit – you may need to thin the fruit in July, anyway. And don't worry if you don't get your pruning exactly right – plums are more forgiving than apples or pears.
You Will Need
- Plum tree
Prune all of the branches back by about a third, cutting to just above a bud. Take side shoots back by one half.
Keep the tree in good health by cutting out any older branches that are weak, damaged, competing or crossing. Prune away any older branches that growing into the centre of the tree. The aim is to create an open, goblet shape.