How to Summer Prune Stonefruit

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tamaki plum fruiting at ediblebackyard

Plums, Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Almonds and Cherries are all stonefruit and best pruned in summer when they finish fruiting. There’s a few good reasons to prune them now rather than winter.

Number one is disease prevention – there are no silver leaf spores on the wing at this time of year.

Number 2 – to slow down that crazy wild, stonefruit style cause pruning now elicits a less vigorous response lessening the amount of leggy watershoots the following season.

For beginner pruners, a summer prune of your stonefruit is easier because you can see the true density of the canopy when all the leaves are on.

A vase shape

I like a vase shape for plums et all – it best suits their spreading tendencies.

The open centre of a vase lets the light pour in to ripen fruit and inspire productive wood. It also lets the air flow for best health.

4 – 6 evenly spaced main branches (scaffolds) come from the trunk at about 1m off the ground. This low centre of gravity means that with annual pruning you can keep your fully grown tree to 3m – 4m. A compact stonefruit like this begins with the prune you do at planting. If your plum or peach is a wild overgrown beast then slowly, slowly reduce it over 4 or 5 years. It’ll be a gorgeous character, not a text book specimen.

Cherries and Almonds are hard to tame. Hamper their ever upward tendencies by tying scaffold branches horizontal or growing them in Evergrow bags.

5 golden rules for stonefruit pruning

  1. Always prune on a dry day
  2. Before cutting begins,  study your tree to find the framework – identifying the scaffolds.  Notice where light needs to penetrate, notice where vigour has faded and renewal is required. If you are new to pruning it’s a good idea to mark limbs for removal with a squirt of spray paint, a rag or a clothes peg. Stand back and double check your vision before getting into it.
  3. Don’t prune off more than a quarter of your tree. Stack the pruning’s up beside your tree so you can clearly see how much you’ve taken off.
  4. Use clean tools. Cleaning your tools with meths or vinegar between each tree is basic hygiene that saves spreading bacteria from tree to tree.
  5. Use sharp tools. Sharp blades slice through wood making a healthy cut with no raggedy edges for bacteria to cling to. They also save you straining yourself and getting RSI or OOS or whatever term is latest.

Every variety grows differently, so use this as a guide in tandem with commonsense/ intuition and your own sharp observations.

Make a strong frame

plum trees coming into blossom

Start with the big wood – the main branches/ scaffolds,  loppers and pruning saw to hand. Allow up to 6 main branches for your main frame. Choose ones coming off the trunk at about hip height and well spaced around the trunk. Remove other branches.

Shorten longer branches back to similar lengths as shorter ones to create a strong balanced shape. Don’t remove more than a third off each branch.

Old, weak or broken branches need to be removed.  If a replacement shoot is available then pull it down and train it into into the space. If not, wait for a well placed growth next season.

Remove all growth in the shade under the main branches.

Remove all growth heading to the middle and growing in the middle. Fruit grows where the light is, if the middle is cluttered all the fruit will grow around the outside. By letting light right into the centre you’ll get fruit all the way along the branches.

Make fruit

Prune vigorous laterals back and thin out the clutter

Finish your prune with the fruit producing, seceteur size wood. These are the laterals, the fruiting shoots that grow along the branches. Create a 20cm-ish space between each lateral by completely cutting off (thinning) laterals that cramp the space.

Shorten any laterals that are longer than 40cm. Prune back vigorous ones to a similar length to shorter ones.

Watershoots

If your tree has put on loads of upright growth don’t remove all of it or you’ll send the tree into a frenzy, ending up with three times more shoots next year (and not much fruit to boot). It’s better to remove some and reduce the rest. As a starting point for you, completely remove every third upright growth (choose the most vigorous ones) and reduce the others back to a couple of buds. With any luck they develop into fruiting spurs.

tie a branch down
Tie a shoot into the gap

Occasionally these over zealous growths are useful to fill a gap. Tie the growth down so it fills the space, and cut it back to balance with the rest of the tree.

Assess your beautiful prune

kays peach seedling 3 yr

Take three steps back, and slowly walk all the way round the tree to check it’s a balanced shape and light shines forth into every nook and cranny.

Chop up the prunings and if they are healthy, lay them beneath the tree to return the carbs. Job tidy.