Plum Tree Pruning: Learn About How And When To Prune A Plum Tree

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Plum trees are a lovely addition to any landscape, but without proper trimming and training, they can become a burden rather than an asset. Although plum tree pruning is not difficult, it’s important. Anyone can trim plums, but timing is important, as is consistency. Therefore, learning how and when to prune a plum tree is imperative.

The purpose of pruning and training is to encourage tree health and increase fruit yield. When plum trees are not carefully pruned, they can easily become heavy and break under their fruit load. Developing a strong foundation is essential to the life of any fruit tree. In addition, keeping fruit trees well pruned protects against both disease and pest infestations.

When to Prune a Plum Tree

The time for plum tree pruning depends on the maturity and type of plum tree. Young plums are generally pruned in early spring, before bud break, in order to avoid infection by silver leaf disease. Begin pruning immediately when you plant a young tree to ensure a proper shape. Established fruit tree plums are best pruned in mid-summer.

Trimming flowering plum trees is not advised.

How to Prune a Plum Tree: The First Three Years

All young fruit trees need some pruning to get them off to a good start. Plum trees are best pruned in a vase format to get a short trunk with three or four major branches to come off of the trunk at a 45-degree angle. This allows plenty of light and air into the tree. Always use sterilized and sharp pruning shears when you trim.

The central leader branch should be cut back to 2 feet (61 cm.) above soil level on new trees. Always make the cut just above a bud. Once you have made the cut, you can rub off the bud directly below the cut. Be sure that there are at least three buds below.

When you prune in the second year, cut the main stem back to 18 inches (46 cm.) above a bud. Below this cut, there should be at least three branches. Prune these branches to 10 inches (25 cm.), on an angle, immediately above a healthy bud.

Prune three-year-old trees in a similar fashion by trimming the main stem to 18 inches (45.5 cm.) above a bud. Trim the three or four branches immediately below to 10 inches (25 cm.).

How to Prune a Plum Tree When Established

Once your tree is established, it’s important to prune only branches that have not produced fruit in that year. Remove all dead wood and dispose of it. Trim all side shoots to six leaves from their parent branch to encourage fruiting next year. Keep the central stem no more than 3 feet (91 cm.) from the highest branch.

When and how to trim plums shouldn’t be discouraging. Simply learning the basics of how to prune a plum tree will provide you with the necessary tools for growing a healthy, happy tree and plenty of fruit.

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Read more about Plum Trees

The Stanley Plum Tree

Posted on Last updated: March 29, 2021 By: Author Ryan

The Stanley Plum Tree, also known as the Stanley Prune Plum Tree, is a showstopping, late September plum that has become the standard for which all plums are measured by. Easy to grow, beautiful to look upon, and a consistent producer, the Stanley Plum Tree is a must-have addition to your home orchard or edible landscape.

In the spring, the Stanley Plum Tree is a riot of fragrant white blossoms. In early fall, the tree produces copious amounts of blue fruit hanging in clusters looking like you decorated the tree with pretty ornaments. The vase shaped tree works beautifully as a specimen tree due to its gorgeous ornamental presence and pleasant upward sweeping shape.

This is the plum tree you have been waiting to plant. You will love their sweet, complex flavor neat, upright habitat, and drying the into the perfect winter snack.


Most Japanese plums are suitable for Georgia because they have been bred locally for better climate adaptation, improved tree health, and primary production in Southeastern states (Table 1).The choice of varieties for Georgia gardens dependson several factors. Most plum varieties are self- incompatible (the flowers cannot receive pollen on its own to produce fruit) and require appropriate pollinators for reliable cropping. Similarly, fruit setof self-fertile (the flowers can receive pollen on its own to produce fruit) varieties usually improves with the use of pollinators. For this reason, it is highly recommended to plant multiple varieties in a single location to ensure proper pollination.

High disease pressure and short tree longevity are always a concern under the hot, humid conditions of the Southeast. If few or no sprays will be used in the home orchard, select varieties with high health and quality ratings for best results. Fruit characteristics should match the intended final use. Taste may bethe most desirable quality for homegrown plums, while size and firmness would be important for roadside sales. For example, the “green plum” varieties (as described in the table below) are not desirable for fresh consumption.

Plum Tree Care

As every horticulturalist will tell you, once you have your fruit tree established, it will for the most part take care of itself. This is true for the plum tree as well. Apart from pruning and pollinating it, this tree is self-sufficient and won’t hassle you with constant care and maintenance.


The water requirements of the plum tree vary based on the stages of its growth. A young tree that’s less than two years old needs plenty of water. You’ll need to water the tree on a weekly basis and keep your watering close to the ground to penetrate the soil and reach the roots faster. Always water the young plum tree in the early morning so that the moisture doesn’t evaporate before it reaches the roots. For mature trees with established roots, you can water them once every two weeks during the growing season. When the tree goes dormant, scale down watering. Most experts recommend that you water the tree until October to help it go through dormancy.


You’ll need to fertilize your plum tree once a year. That’s usually done before the growing season in the early spring. You can use a balanced fertilizer or organic compost. You won’t need to fertilize the tree again for the rest of the season unless you have rather poor soil. In that case, another application of fertilizer around bloom time and before the flowers are pollinated helps produce a good crop. Avoid fertilizing toward the end of the season since that would interfere with the tree’s dormancy cycle and leave the new shoots vulnerable to the cold winter temperature.


Without regular pruning, your plum tree will be unmanageable. It can double its height and size within a few years unless you take your trusty shearing scissors to it regularly. The best time to prune the young trees is in the early spring before the growing season. For mature trees, you can prune them in mid-summer. Depending on the type of hybrid you grow, your pruning style varies. Japanese hybrids are usually thicker and denser so you need to prune the center of the tree leaving the main outer branches. In American and European hybrids you do the opposite. Prune the outside branches and leave the middle branches growing intact. Don’t prune in the fall or winter.


While pruning refers to the leaves and branches, thinning the plume tree usually involves the fruits. Many good cultivars would produce an abundance of fruits. At times that’s more than the branches of the tree can carry. So you need to thin the fruits to keep the branches intact. For Japanese hybrids, thin the fruits to keep them about 4 inches apart. For American and European hybrids the fruits can be two inches apart without being too heavy for the branches.

Pests and Diseases

Aphids are the most common pest that attacks the plum tree. You can get rid of these pests with neem oil. If that doesn’t work you can spray the branches and foliage with a homemade brew of horsetail tea or stinging nettle tea. Avoid using pesticides since the residue could find its way into the fruits.

As for diseases, you need to watch out for plum rot and scab. Both are fungal infections that are usually caused by inadequate air circulation, high humidity, and water landing on the leaves. Remove the infected leaves or fruits and get rid of them safely before the infection spreads to the rest of the tree.


Plums become ripe at different times of the year depending on the hybrid. Whatever cultivar you grow, you will know that the fruit is ready to harvest when the texture feels soft under your thumb. To harvest it, hold the ripe plum in your hand and twist it off the branch. It will come off easily. Ripe plums are ready to eat immediately. You can also store fresh plums in the fridge or use them in all sorts of cakes, pies, and smoothies.

When, How, and Why to Prune Plum Trees

For some people, the thought of pruning their plum tree is a thankless task. However, if you do it right, your tree will reward you by producing a more abundant crop of delicious fruit. Once you know how to do it, pruning a single fruit tree does not take much time and only a bit of effort, and the payoff is well worth it.

What to Know about Pruning Plum Trees

Pruning fruit trees is an important part of caring for the tree. Reasons for pruning include:

  • Proper pruning increases fruit production.
  • Pruned trees are healthier.
  • Pruning creates a branch structures which can better support the weight of fruit.
  • A well-pruned tree is more attractive.

Pruning is both an art and a science, and not everyone does it the same way. It is better for your plum tree to do some careful pruning than to do none at all, so don’t be afraid. Just follow a few simple guidelines.

Pruning Plum Trees at the Time of Planting

When you buy a new plum tree for planting, it may come from the nursery already pruned. If this is the case, you only need to prune out broken branches at this time.

If your new tree has not been pruned, prune initially to create a V-shaped branch structure and cut off the top of the tree so it is between 24 and 32 inches (60 to 81cm) in height.

Pruning Mature Plum Trees

Prune plum trees before they bloom in late winter.

There are two basic types of pruning cuts:

Heading cuts are made along a branch at the junction of a bud. These cuts stimulate growth behind the cut.

Thinning cuts are made at the base of a branch, removing it entirely and reducing the amount of vegetative growth. Use thinning cuts to open up the interior of the tree to light and air circulation.

Start by cutting out dead or broken branches using thinning cuts. Also remove sprouts growing up from the root stock and long whip branches growing in the interior of the tree.

On heading cuts, choose a bud which is facing outward from the inside of the tree. Cutting at this location stimulates growth outward on the tree. Make clean cuts at an angle across the branch or twig just above a bud.

Japanese Plum Trees

Japanese plum trees grow best when pruned into a vase-shaped structure. When the tree is young, choose three to five main branches which grow upward and outward at the 10 O’clock and 2 O’clock position and cut out other limbs.

European Plum Trees

European plum varieties grow best with a central leader branch as the main structure. Head off the leader branch to stimulate lateral branches below it.

Thin out lateral branches so they form a whorl of branches coming out from the leader branch, making sure each remaining branch is spaced evenly around the circumference of the tree.

Watch the video: How to prune stone fruit trees - peach, apricot, plum, nectarine, etc - open center vase shape

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