Saving our Italian plum orchard
We bought a house last fall with a very neglected bunch of Italian plum trees in the back yard. I have no experience with fruit trees but I have done lots of pruning on trees and shrubs. The buds are starting to swell. What should I do first? Please see the attached photos. I would like to get a nice harvest of plums this fall.
Multnomah County Oregon
How to renovate old Plum trees?
The general rule of thumb with fruit trees is to "prune when all danger from fall or early winter freeze has passed, but before full bloom in spring." With early flowering trees like Peach, Cherry and Plum this window of opportunity is small.
Since your Plums are already flowering it might be a good idea to wait so you're not pruning off potential fruiting branches.
Read our OSU pdf on Training and Pruning Your Home Orchard
It says the following about pruning Plums "Train prune and plum trees to the open center system (figure 5, page 4) with three or four main scaffold limbs. Prune very lightly for the first 5 years. Head only the limbs that will be permanent scaffolds, remove scaffold limbs that may compete with the three or four originally selected, and do little else.
Weighting or bending limbs stimulates early production. In mature trees, thin out the top every few years and remove dead limbs as they appear. Most plums and prunes have ample bloom every year, so you only need to prune enough to control height and spread, keep the trees fairly vigorous, and prevent limb breakage."
From the photos it looks like you may need to do some renovation pruning to get back to the 3 or 4 scaffold branches mentioned in the quote. Renovation is normally done over a three year stretch, only removing no more than a third of branches at a time. So start with the overall aim in mind and plan your pruning for the next 3 seasons.
They look like lovely old trees and it will be worth it!
Thanks for your interesting question.