Plum Pruning Particulars

I have a Duarte Japanese plum that’s been in the ground for two years. Last year it went absolutely crazy with growth after the late frost killed all the fruit. I should have summer pruned it probably but I was scared of fungus so I let it go. It put on probably 2.5-3x it’s size in a single year.

I’m a little stuck on how to prune it now. It has a very large thick central branch that I really want to get rid of to make it more of an open shape but after last year it probably makes up 25% of the entire tree. To make things more uncertain the branches it is shading are at a steeper angle than I’d like and not sure if they will make good long term scaffold branches either.

So I’m looking for advice on which of these branches I should actually remove. Here in the first picture shows the big main central branch in yellow. It splits into two branches a little further up, the one in orange goes back towards the center of the tree. Behind it are the branches it is currently shading in blue.

Here it is from another angle

And finally here in red is all the tree mass that would be removed if I took out that main yellow branch.

Most of my other trees are pretty well behaved growth wise, but I have no idea what to do with this plum.

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PA Fruit Grower…

Pruning a fruit tree can be a bit stressful at times. I am no expert by far, but I have grown fruit trees for 20+ years and even though I am sure I did not always do a perfect pruning… I have never killed one or even had it look bad or perform bad after pruning. I have peach, apple, plums, apricot, jujube, che…

I also have a Rodale’s Organic Gardening Encyclopedia that I often go to for basics of pruning…

It says, Japanese plums - prune open center
European Plums, central leader…

I used to have a Couple Japanese Plums, but they both died around year 12. I rarely got fruit off them because they bloomed in mid to late Feb…

Now I have a couple of European Plums… that I should get fruit from this year. Looking forward to that.

In my Rodale’s book, Open Center Training it says this…

1… After planting, cut the whip back to 2-2.5 ft and head back all side branches. It shows a pic of that.

2… At the beginning of June, choose 3 scaffolds that emerge in different directions and are separated along the trunk by about 4". Cut off all others (it shows a pic of that).

Notice all of that is done the first season.

NOTE… even though it says 3 scaffolds, in the pic, there are 4.heading off in different directions. So I guess you could do 3 or 4 there… I often do 4 myself.

3… In the 3rd and 4th year, thin as lightly as you can to avoid delaying fruiting.

It mentions that Japanese plums fruit only on year old wood.

To get to a more open center type pruning… I think you are going to have to remove that larger, central leader part at least. In your first pic that one you have flagged in yellow.

You have several nice limbs (scaffolds) heading off in different directions…
Limiting it to 4 of those, seems to be the recommendation from Rodale’s. That would be a goal to work towards. Not sure if you would need to do all that now, or if you could spread that out over a couple years.

Perhaps someone else with more experience can help with that.

PS… My Euro Plums are in a 2 in 1 planting… about 18" apart. I have to prune them soon too. They grew like crazy last year, after my first pruning.


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The good thing is,there are many branches to work with.So,I’d probably remove the large center one.Others can be shortened by about 1/3 their length.
If there is any fair diameter size wood,maybe make that available for scions.

You don’t see any issue with removing such a large branch? I don’t want to shock and kill it. Guess I’m still a little nervous about pruning too much.

PA… perhaps this will help ???

I planted a new peach last spring, got it form Bob Wells Nursery, and it was a 2nd year tree, good sized, had probably 3 ft and several limbs above where I lopped it off there…

I started it off like that… 4 nice limbs heading off in different directions.
That one with the clothes pin on was pointing up more than I wanted and I used that to force it to stay down.

Again that was last spring, late March I think, when I planted it…

A few days ago this is what it looked like…

I have not pruned it yet for this season but will soon.

So last season after being started off as shown in that first pic, it ended up the season 8 ft wide, 12 ft tall. I will give it a good pruning here soon… and take a lot of that height off.

As a general rule, I usually take off branches that are going straight up, or down… any that are crossing (rubbing othes), and dead or damaged branches… and remove unwanted height… cutting them off just above a bud that is pointing in the direction I want the limb to go.

Good Luck with your Plums.



I think these fellows offered good ideas and rationale, the other thought I had was to question why this main central is so much more aggressive, the answer may be in examining the bark of the junction to see if there may have been a different more aggressive variety grafted on? When I pan in on the junction it appears there is the rough bark central and smother bark on the other limbs. That seems peculiar to me. Maybe check your nursery to see if they did something.

It will calm down some when it starts bearing fruit next year (unles it’s an Elephant Heart which takes way too long to come into bearing). Just remove any branches that aren’t your chosen leader that are more than half the diameter of your central lead (trunk) where they meet. Also cut out upward pieces attached to similar diametered more horizontal wood to amplify its open center.

Once the tree is bearing you can choose permanent scaffolds.

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