Restorative Pruning a Plum Tree

Last week I tackled a job I’ve been waiting to do all summer: pruning a plum tree that’s growing at the back of #Plot59.

This tree is a classic example of the wrong plant in the wrong place. Planted by a former plot-holder of the plot behind ours about four years ago, it’s in completely the wrong location – smack bang in what ought to be a path across the back of our plot and the one behind – and judging by its general vigour I’d say it’s not on a suitably dwarfing root-stock either. But in a good year it produces very tasty golden yellow plums, so we’ve let it stand. Not that this year was a good year. A lot of fruit was set, but then a hot spell followed by a wet spell saw pretty much every single one of them split their skins and rot on the tree before they could ripen.

Since it was planted the tree had become rather overgrown, despite the light pruning I gave it last year, with a tangle of branches dipping under the weight of previous years’ fruit and blocking access to the storage area at the back of our plot. So I decided to unofficially adopt it and see what I can do to improve its growth habit with a proper pruning. I’ve pruned it now rather than waiting for winter to try to avoid the risk of silver leaf infection.

Here’s the tree before I made a start with my loppers and pruning saw:

A very over-crowded tree with lots of crossing branches and a too-high canopy.

First I concentrated on opening up the very over-crowded centre by removing crossing branches that were damaging each others’ bark. Next I picked out roughly half a dozen branches that would provide a good structure for the tree to grow and develop in a well-balanced habit, and removed anything that wasn’t helping or adding to the main structure. Finally I cut back the very long, whippy leaders at the end of those key structural branches, with the aim of developing a more manageable, reachable canopy, and trimmed back remaining side-branches to three or four good buds to encourage the development of fruiting spurs.

Here it is once I’d finished working on it:

After pruning, the tree’s essential structure is enhanced and plenty of space is provided for next year’s growth.

It looks like quite a drastic chop-back, but with the thought and planning that’s gone into the cuts I’ve made, I’m hoping that the tree will respond with good growth next year. Opening up the canopy centre will help to improve air-flow and hopefully counter some of the fungal issues that we saw this year, although if the fruit splits again then there’s probably not a lot that can be done about that. I need to clear all those weeds at the base and get some weed matting and wood-chip down as well, that should help the tree to draw up more water and nutrients next year.

How about you? Do you have any major pruning jobs lined up on your plot? Or have you any good examples of proper pruning that you’ve carried out in the past? Do please let me know, via the comments.

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