Pruning plum trees: when and how is it pruned?

When should you cut back plums? How do you go about pruning plum trees? We give tips on the right time and pruning for young and old plum trees.

Anyone who believes that a plum ( Prunus domestica subsp. Domestica ) is just another, the region-dependent name for the plum ( Prunus domestica ) is wrong. Because the plum – also called plum, Prüm, or Quetsche depending on the region – is actually a subspecies of the plum. On closer inspection, small differences become apparent: the plum is smaller than the plum and has an elongated, oval shape. The two fruits also differ in taste, for example, the plum is more acidic and is said to be more suitable for baking. But is there also a difference in the care of plum and plum trees? Here you can find out what to look for when pruning the plum tree and how to proceed best.

When should you prune plum trees?

Like almost all fruit trees, the plum can be pruned both in summer and in winter. Both cuts differ significantly from each other and are therefore divided up as follows.

  • November – March
  • On frost-free days
  • Advantage: easier assessment when there is no foliage
  • Promotes growth and branching
  • End of June – August
  • Slows down growth, reduces the formation of new shoots, and length growth

In addition, the age and stage of development of the tree also influence the choice of cut. Depending on the stage at which the tree is, a distinction is also made between the upbringing pruning, the maintenance pruning, and the rejuvenating pruning. The following applies to all cutting measures: In frost, continuous rain, or heat, it is better not to use scissors, because existing moisture at interfaces increases the risk of illness and strong sunlight increases the risk of dehydration. Since plum trees cannot tolerate large wounds, they should not be pruned back brutally, but rather receive an annual maintenance cut.

Pruning plum trees correctly: instructions

Pruning a plum tree makes sense because regular care increases the yield as well as the quality, size, and shelf life of the fruit. In addition, the lifespan of the tree is extended and it becomes less susceptible to diseases and pests. By nature, the plums grow upright and with a narrow crown. The pruning measures aim to grow a full-crowned and wide tree. Plum trees are pruned according to the same rules as plum trees.

Pruning plum trees: when & how is it pruned?

The pruning of the plum tree

Even in the first years of life, pruning is essential for the plum tree. The plum tree is therefore pruned when it is planted. The following applies: If the plum is planted in spring, the planting cut takes place immediately. If, on the other hand, the young tree is planted in late autumn, it will receive one in the following spring. The plant pruning brings shape to the plum crown and promotes budding.

For this purpose, three to four shoots are selected, which grow distributed around the trunk – the shoots should develop into the leading branches of the plum. These form the basic structure of the later crown because side branches and fruit trees are arranged on them. Since they remain with the plum tree for their entire life, special attention is paid to them when pruning.

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All shoots growing vertically upwards in the vicinity of the central shoot are cut off directly on the trunk, the length of the remaining leading shoots shortened by a third. Here, the cut is made behind a bud of the branch that is directed away from the tree, so that the buds of the leading branches develop into fruitwood. After shortening, all leading branches should be about the same length. The central shoot is also shortened, but it should still be able to protrude ten centimeters above the main shoots.

Tip: The selected leading shoots are often not ideally positioned in relation to the central shoot. Their alignment can, however, be corrected with wooden struts or by tying them down with a string. The perfect guide branch is roughly at a 45-degree angle to the trunk.

Cutting young plum trees: the parenting cut

In the following five to nine years, the upbringing ensures that the plum tree develops a pyramidal crown that is permeable to light and air. The editing work is carried out between February and March. The upbringing consists of the following three main steps:

1. Determine side branches: Outwardly growing branches on the side and underside of the main branches are desired, because these will later bear fruit. Select three of these side branches on each guide branch. They should stand alternately to the left and right of the branch and have plenty of space in the direction of growth. The remaining shoots on the side branch, which grow steeply up or down or are in competition with the side branches, are removed or diverted to younger shoots. Deriving is understood to mean that the steeper shoot is cut off at a fork in the branch. The flatter shoot stops so that the tip of the branch runs horizontally.

Pruning plum trees: when & how is it pruned?

2. Avoid competition: You should also remove branches that compete with the central shoot or the leading branches. It is also important that the leading branches do not compete with the central shoot for light and air. That is why leading branches that have grown particularly long and upwards are shortened to a bud that protrudes outwards.

3. Thinning the crown: All branches that grow steeply into the interior of the crown or in the direction of the tree trunk should be removed. Branches that grow flat or horizontally out of the tree and do not compete with the main shoots or the central shoot can remain and will be examined again next year.

Pruning old plum trees: The maintenance and rejuvenation of pruning

Once the plum tree has developed a beautiful crown and shows itself in all its splendor, it is important to maintain the shape of the crown in the following years by pruning and increasing the fruit development. When pruning for maintenance, particular care is taken to ensure that the treetop does not become too dense – diseased, dead branches, branches growing inwards or steeply upwards are therefore removed. Old branches can also be cut out if you notice that they are not bearing much fruit.

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However, radical pruning of an old plum tree is not recommended: On the one hand, removing old branches leaves large wounds that make the tree susceptible to fungal or pest infestation. On the other hand, plum trees mainly bear fruit on perennial branches, so that after a radical cut it can take several years for the plum tree to bear as much fruit as before. If an old plum tree still needs intensive rejuvenation pruning since it has not been pruned for years, only branches with a diameter of up to five centimeters should be removed. Branches that are particularly dry or too close together are cut off, but the selected leading branches can also be shortened. Reduce secondary branches and old fruitwood so that the crown is set back by a quarter.

Pruning plum trees: when & how is it pruned?

After the rejuvenation cut, the tree will sprout again and form young fruitwood. However, the approach should not be too brutal: It is often worthwhile to slowly bring the tree back into its shape by annual maintenance pruning instead of radically pruning it, as the sensitive plum trees can cope better with this type of pruning.

Pruning the plum tree

Column fruit is extremely popular with many gardeners because it can also be grown well in smaller gardens. A columnar plum tree is particularly space-saving and is therefore also suitable for a less spacious location. For the column fruit to retain its slim shape over time, a regular cut is recommended. The column tree cut aims to maintain the classic column shape so that the tree remains young and vital. The columnar plum tree should be pruned annually because it does not tolerate large pruning measures.

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The following steps are necessary:

1. Shorten the side shoots: First, the side shoots growing to the side of the plum or plum tree column are shortened to 20 to 40 centimeters. So these branch out further and form fruit buds. The best time for this work is early summer.

2. Shorten the central shoot: The plum tree should also be limited in height. To do this, the central shoot is shortened: The cut is made in June to slow down growth. In addition, it is made at a height of about 80 centimeters on the central shoot, so that the growth of the supporting side shoots is stimulated. The top branches are also cut back to two to three buds. The shortening can be increased by 50 centimeters every year until the column has reached the final height you want.

Pruning plum trees: when & how is it pruned?

Tip: If you want to carry out larger pruning measures, you should prune in winter.

Maintain the plum tree after cutting

Every cut means stress for the plum tree because small wounds occur through cutting measures. Since the interfaces greatly increase the risk of disease or pest infestation, it is particularly important to take care of the plum tree after it has been cut. In the days after cutting, the tree should therefore be checked regularly for signs of disease. In addition, it is often recommended to seal interfaces from a diameter of three centimeters with a wound tree wax from a specialist retailer. In practice, however, opinions differ as to whether coating with wax actually supports the growth process or whether the tree shows a better healing process without treatment.

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