Blog: Enjoy the luxury of home-grown tree fruit with the minimum of effort…
Many people avoid stone fruits (plums, apricots, peaches, cherries and their hybrids) because they assume they’ll be difficult to look after or won’t grow well in our climate.
They’re actually quite easy to grow and pruning is much simpler than apples and pears (more on that here).
I was drafted in to have a look at a damson tree (a type of plum) on my dad and sister-in-law-type-things’ allotment. Don’t forget before you start to have clean and sharp tools – you’ll need secateurs, ratchet loppers and a pruning saw.
When to prune plums
This is what makes it easy – only prune established trees in midsummer (now is ideal), as this reduces the chance of infection by silver leaf disease – don’t prune them in winter. If young trees need formative pruning, you can do that in April but this is a basic guide and we won’t be covering it here.
How to prune stone fruit
Plums can be trained as bushes, pyramids, fans and cordons. This particular damson was a bush but was quite overgrown.
With bushes, you’re aiming for an open-centred tree with a stem of about 75cm. Most are on a dwarfing rootstock (fruit trees are usually grafted onto different ‘roots’ to limit their size).
If you do nothing else, remove any dead, diseased or crossing branches (where two branches rub together, removing the bark, allowing diseases and pests to enter).
Remove any buds developing on the lower trunk and pull off suckers from the rootstock.
After you’ve done this if the tree is still crowded, thin out any weak or vertical shoots but don’t overdo it – cutting out too much of the crown will result in lots of water shoots next year – sappy growth with no fruit-bearing spurs.
When branches come a cropper
One problem I have with my own apricot Kioto – and my Japanese blood plum Lizzie – is that they can have heavy crops that break the branches. If this happens to you, cut the branch back cleanly to the next intact branch.
After pruning and fruiting, give trees a good general fertiliser, water well and mulch.
P.S. – when I saw the pictures, I realised there was a label after all – damson Merryweather. Turns out to be rather vigorous with a height and spread of 2.5-4m.
It was bought as a gift in a bundle so if you have limited space, do beware – the smallest of saplings can end up being whoppers! Looks like it will have to come out…