When to prune plum trees - experts reveal the perfect time to avoid the deadly silver leaf disease

No, you shouldn’t prune a plum tree in the winter…

Plums on tree and in basket
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Knowing when to prune plum trees could make the difference between a happy and healthy fruit tree and a diseased fruit tree. So, that’s why we’ve asked the experts to share their tips on the perfect time to get the secateurs out. 

If you’ve grown a plum tree from stone, bought an established tree from the garden centre, or inherited one in your new garden, keeping it in tip-top condition is the best way to ensure that you see fruit year after year. And if you’re planning on mastering your plum crumble, this means that you need to know the right time to prune your fruit tree.

Choose the wrong time, and you risk exposing your plum tree to devastating diseases that could cause your precious plums to disappear within weeks. Choose the right time, however, and you can use the pruning process to create the perfect shape and encourage continuous growth.

When to prune plum trees 

Although apples and pears are normally lumped together in the same category, the timing of when to prune apple trees is very different to the timing of when to prune plum trees. While apple trees benefit from being pruned during the winter months, doing the same to a plum tree could have disastrous consequences. 

However, when exactly you prune a plum tree does depend on how old it is.

Plums on tree and in basket

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When to prune young plum trees

‘By following the correct pruning techniques and schedules, plum trees can be kept healthy, productive, and well-shaped year after year,’ explains Steve Chilton, garden expert at LeisureBench.

If you have a plum tree under three years old, you shouldn’t need to give it a hard prune. But it’s always a good idea to give it a light prune in the spring and open up the canopy. This allows sunlight and airflow to make their way into the centre of the tree to encourage the growth of the developing fruits. 

Although this can be done anytime in early spring, it’s best to wait until the tree is just starting to flower or you can see that the buds are starting to burst.

Headshot of gardening expert Steve Chilton
Steve Chilton

Steve is a passionate and knowledgeable garden expert with several years of experience within the field and has developed strong expertise for all things nature and plants. Steve is a keen educator and loves to share this knowledge with others. He strives to simplify complex garden practices and encourage eco-friendly gardening.

When to prune established plum trees

If you have an established plum tree over three years old, you should wait a bit longer to prune your plum tree. This is best done during the summer months when the temperatures are warmer, so you should consider adding this to your list of jobs to do in the garden in July

The act of pruning an established plum tree is the same as pruning a young tree, and your aim is to open up the inside of the tree while also shaping the outside in the process. Ideally, you should prune about ⅓ of the tree - focusing largely on removing older wood.

Steve adds, ‘On established trees, you need to remove crossing, weak, vertical, and diseased branches to keep the tree healthy and strong. Thinning can be done in July by pulling out some seedlings to reduce overcrowding.’

Plums on tree

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How pruning plum trees prevents silver leaf disease

While many fruit trees should be pruned in winter, it’s crucial that you only prune plum trees during the warmer months. That’s because plum trees are extremely susceptible to silver leaf disease, a fungal disease that will kill branches, turn the leaves silver, and eventually kill the whole tree. 

Silver leaf is especially prominent during the cold and winter months, and it infects a plum tree through any wounds or cuts in the branches. So, it’s best to prune a plum tree during the warmer months when your tree has time to heal itself.

Plus, gardening is always more enjoyable in the summer! 

Plums on tree

(Image credit: Getty Images)


What is the best month to prune a plum tree?

If you have a young plum tree, it’s best to prune it during early spring - so late March or April would be ideal. If you have an established tree over three years old, however, it’s best to wait until summer has arrived to start pruning it. Generally, you should start thinking about pruning an established plum tree in July. 

Do plums fruit on new wood?

Yes, they do. Plums usually fruit on wood that’s between one and two years old, which is why you should focus most of your pruning efforts on the older wood and leave as much new wood as you possibly can.

By doing this, you can make way for even more new wood and encourage a fruitful harvest year after year. 

If you’re itching to prune your plum tree right now, try to hold off until spring or summer to keep it in the best condition possible. 

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.