There are three commonly used methods of pruning plums: bush, pyramid and fan. Plums trained as cordons are gaining popularity too.
The bush is perhaps the most popular method of training and pruning and creates an open-centred tree with a clear stem of 75cm (2½ft). Its ultimate size will depend on the rootstock it is grown on. Trees grafted onto ‘Pixy’ rootstocks will reach 3m (10ft), ‘St. Julien A’ 3.6-4.5m (13-15ft) and the ‘Brompton’ and ‘Myrobalan B’ 6m (20ft).
The overall aim of pruning is to create an open-centred tree. This begins with the same formative pruning as apples and pears but, importantly, is carried out in early spring.
On established trees, rub out any buds developing on the lower trunk and carefully pull off suckers arising from the rootstock. Pruning is mostly limited to removing crossing, weak, vertical and diseased material. If the plum tree is still crowded, then further thinning can be done in July.
A pyramid plum tree is considerably smaller than a pruned a bush, and this makes it practical to net against birds. Plums on ‘St. Julien A’ rootstocks are kept to 2.4m (8ft) and on ‘Pixy’ rootstocks to 1.8m (6ft).
The pruning of a newly planted tree is the same as for apples and pears. Remember: carry out in April not winter to avoid silver leaf disease.
After the initial pruning, follow these steps:
During the first summer:
- Prune in the third week of July when the young shoots have finished growing. Shorten new branches to 20cm (8in), cutting above a downward or outward-pointing bud
- Cut side branches back to a bud at 15cm (6in)
- Train and tie in the central leader to the stake
In subsequent years:
- During April, shorten the central leader by two-thirds.
- Repeat annually until the tree has reached 2.4m (8ft) on a ‘St. Julien A’ rootstock, or 1.8m (6ft) for ‘Pixy’, after which, shorten the central leader to 2.5cm (1in) or less each May, to keep the tree at the same height
- Vertical shoots at the top that compete with the central leader should be removed in late June
- In the third week of July, shorten branch leaders to 20cm (8in), pruning to a downward or outward-facing bud in the axil of the leaf. Cut side branches back to a bud at 15cm (6in)
A fan-shaped tree is created by training against a wall or fence with horizontal wires fixed 15cm (6in) (or two brick courses) apart. Trees can be bought as maidens, or partly trained. Expect the height and spread of trees on ‘Pixy’ rootstock to be 3m (10ft) high by 2m (6½ft) spread and trees on ‘St. Julian A’ to be 3.6m (12ft) by 2.4m (8ft).
Where space is particularly limited, plums can be trained as cordons. See our plum cordon page on this technique for more details.