I didn’t get around to pruning my plum tree last winter. Both the tree and I suffered some for that neglect. There was fruit I couldn’t reach, branches that broke, and a general haphazard, gangly form developing. Not only did the frenzy of harvest keep me from attending to it, but any extensive pruning in the late summer to early fall, here in Idaho, could have damaged it. So, I put it off longer.
Then it was time to put up Christmas lights. Fortunately, this lead to being reminded about the plum tree. I consulted my two main resources for pruning: my son, Ben Blodgett, who has a degree in landscape architecture; and the book titled Pruning Made Easy: A Gardener’s Visual Guide to When and How to Prune Everything, from Flowers to Trees. I was relieved to find that late fall, after the cold temperatures have settled in, is considered a reasonable time to prune a somewhat neglected tree.
There were two branches hanging by threads that had to go first. Armed with my slightly bent pruning saw, Ben carefully removed these limbs before making any other pruning decision. He was careful NOT to cut too close to the trunk, so as to damage it. Then he made good use of the lopper pruners and smaller hand held pruners to bring the rest of the tree into balance and down to a height that would aid future fruit picking.
The wood that was cut seemed to be healthy, except for one break that may need to be protectively coated. The tree looks better and should be subject to less damage from winter ice or growth next spring. If it is able to produce fruit next year (which can sometimes be inhibited by extensive pruning), I should probably try harder to get out and thin the fruit.
Ben says that he consults a pruning book on the different species regularly, because there is a lot of variation in what leads to best shape, health, and production. He also recommends disinfecting tools between trees, to be careful to not pass on disease. He likes to work outdoors with plants and can prune any fruit, ornamental, or nut tree that can be done with a medium sized ladder, so if you live in the Boise/Nampa/Caldwell area and would like to hire some friendly help, send him an email! firstname.lastname@example.org
I will wait until late winter to prune my other fruit trees, or have them pruned, which ever it ends up being. That way it should be more obvious if there was any damage from winter that needs to be trimmed away. Hopefully, I will remember the trouble that the plum tree had and be more diligent to get them all attended to. I will always think it strange that some plants need to be regularly cut away in order to be healthy and productive!