Pruning Plum Trees: An Essential Guide

Pruning Plum Trees

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Like most fruit trees, plum trees need regular pruning. Pruning plum trees improves their health, aesthetics and productivity. However, unlike most fruit trees, plum fruit trees don’t like being pruned in winter. They also don’t like aggressive pruning. Yet, beginner gardeners often make these two mistakes.

To avoid the same mistakes, you must understand the fundamentals of pruning plum trees. It’s all about knowing what the tree needs at a particular age or condition. That’s why you can’t prune a young plum tree like an established one. It’s also why you can’t prune a neglected plum tree like a well-maintained one.

Fortunately, this article will explore the whens and hows of pruning plum trees. However, we have to make a quick stop with the whys first.

Why Pruning Plum Trees is Essential

Here are three reasons to prune plum trees.

Encouraging Fruit Production

Pruning improves growth rate and productivity. It encourages plants to sprout new shoots and produce foliage, flowers and fruits. Therefore, you can use pruning to fix poor growth, infertility and bald patches. Even better, pruning plum trees prevents these problems from happening in the first place. 

Preventing Diseases

Pruning reduces crowding, allowing centre limbs to get enough sunshine and air. These keep those limbs healthy and disease-free. Pruning also reduces the amount of weight on a tree’s branch. This reduces issues like broken branches. Finally, pruning removes dead, damaged and diseased limbs, thereby protecting the rest of the tree.

Maintaining Shape and Improving Aesthetics

Aesthetics are one of the main reasons for pruning plum trees. Most people want their plum trees to have a bush, diamond, fan or cordon shape. Only regular pruning can make this possible. Besides, nobody likes shabby and unkempt plum trees. We all want them neat, shapely, and healthy-looking. That’s why it’s essential to prune plum trees.

When to Prune Plum Trees

Early spring and mid or late summer are the best times for pruning plum trees. In contrast, winter is the best time to prune most fruit trees and plants. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Plants are dormant in winter, so there is less risk of cutting flowering limbs.
  2. Plants store energy (in winter) to prepare for spring. Therefore, they recover faster.

Therefore, winter pruning is the most powerful way to improve a plant’s productivity and growth rate. That’s why we prune most plants during this period. However, you must avoid pruning plum trees and other plants from the prunus family during winter.

Pruning plum trees in winter makes them vulnerable to a fungal disease called the silver leaf disease. This disease infects the plum tree through cuts (from pruning or other activities). It mostly happens in the cold months of winter and autumn. So, it is safe to prune plum trees in warm months. As a matter of fact, dry days are the best for pruning plum trees.

Either way, you should prune plum trees in early spring and mid- or late spring. Specifically, prune young plum trees (less than three years old) in early spring and mature plum trees in mid- or late summer. 

Tools Needed for Pruning Plum Trees

Here are the tools you need to prune a plum tree.

Pruning Shears

Secateurs will work, too. You need either of these two to prune young and small shoots.


Loppers will allow you to prune shoots in higher and harder-to-reach spots. You also need them to cut shoots that are too strong for pruning shears and secateurs.

Pruning Saws

These are necessary for bigger and stronger branches. Shears, secateurs and looping shears will struggle with branches thicker than 4 inches. Remember to follow the instructions and be careful when pruning saws.

Safety Gear

The protective clothing you need for pruning plum trees includes goggles, gloves and boots.

Step-by-Step Guide to Pruning Plum Trees

Once again, it’s all about understanding what the plant needs. Prune young plum trees in spring. Prune as their new growths start to show, but be gentle. Cutting too hard could affect their development.

You can prune established plum trees a little harder. Just don’t remove all the shoots that are one to two years old. They are the ones that bear the fruits. If a neglected plum tree needs hard pruning, don’t do it at once. Do it slowly over a couple of years until the tree finally reaches the desired size and shape.

In either case, follow these steps when pruning plum trees.

Prepare the Pruning Tools

This includes your secateurs, pruning shears, loppers and pruning saw. These tools must be sharp, clean and sterile to make clean cuts and avoid infecting the wounds. Use rubbing alcohol or a 9:1 bleach solution to sterile your pruning tools.

Prepare the Tree and Work Area

Remove things or weeds that can get in the way of your work. Then, set up your gear.

Identify Branches That Need Pruning

Choose a leading branch for your plum tree, then prune the following limbs.

  • Prune damaged, dead and diseased branches
  • Prune branches that cross other branches and disrupt the flow of sunlight and air to the centre of the plum tree
  • Prune new growths that are close to the base of the plum tree
  • Prune healthy branches but by 20%

The plum tree will respond to pruning by spouting new growth. You can prune these in late summer to force the tree to focus its resources on the limbs you leave standing.

Making the Right Cut

You need to make clean cuts when pruning plum trees. That’s why you must use sharp tools and good technique. Cut shoots at an angle of 40 to 60 degrees. The cut should slope downward so the water can drain faster and the wound can heal faster.

Aftercare and Maintenance of Pruned Plum trees

The first thing you must do is get rid of the clippings. Dead plants attract disease and endanger live ones. So, remove the clippings to protect your plum tree and other nearby plants. You can also treat the cuts with tree sealant to make them heal faster and reduce the risk of infections.

Finally, the primary purpose of pruning plum trees is to encourage growth. Therefore, it helps to apply other measures that encourage growth. In other ways, you need to water and fertilise your plum trees after pruning them.


Pruning plum trees makes them more productive, aesthetically pleasing and healthier. However, this only happens if you do it right. That means you want to prune during early spring or mid-late summer instead of winter. It also means you must use the right technique and avoid aggressive pruning.

However, the art of pruning plum trees is not an exact science. There is more than one way to do it. The only thing that matters is to find a system that works for you and your plum trees. So, let us know if your system is different from ours or if there is anything else you need to know about pruning plum trees. 

Author: Eleanor

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