The Q&A Archives: Pruning My Plum Tree

Question: When (and how)is it the best time to prune a plum tree. Mine is blooming right now and has extremely LONG THIN branches. Also, If it is blooming and there is a threat of 32-34 degree weather---what can i do to protect my tree??? It's quite tall.

Answer: I wish there were something I could recommend to protect the blossoms from a cold snap, but sadly, there is nothing you can do. Losing flowers and fruit to late frosts is one of the challenges of growing fruit trees. If you lose the blossoms this year, perhaps next spring will be warmer and your trees will set lots of fruit. As for pruning, you'll want to wait until after the tree has finished flowering (just in case it sets some fruit) and then you'll want to prune. The general rule of thumb is to wait until after the new vegetative growth has reached 3 to 4 inches in length, the being your summer pruning. The first step is to select one upright shoot near the top of the tree to be the leader. After selecting the leader shoot, remove all other competing shoots for approximately 4 inches below it; then rehead the tree above this leader. This will provide a single upright branch. At this time, side shoots (laterals) should be spread out to form an angle of 60 to 70 degrees between the leader and the side shoot. This angle is referred to as the branch or crotch angle. Branches that do not have a wide branch angle are overly vigorous and have a weak point of attachment to the leader. These branches frequently break under a heavy fruit load. Spreading the lateral branches will also slow the growth of the branches to a manageable level and promote the development of secondary or side shoots on the scaffolds. When growth is only 3 to 4 inches, toothpicks or spring clothespins can be used to spread branches. You can shorten or remove any extremely thin branches to encourage growth on the branches you've chosen as laterals. It may take a few years, but once your tree is thinned and only specific branches are retained, your tree will flower and fruit on the framework you've provided with your pruning practices.

Best wishes with your plum tree!

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