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I have a plum tree that is around six years old (possibly a year or two older - I forget exactly when I got it). I'm very keen that the tree not get so big that I have to use a ladder to pick the fruit, so I've been pruning it to keep it around two metres high. This is what it currently looks like (the tree isn't leaning, that's my bad camera work :-):

My tree

The instructions I got from the friend who gave it to me were to thin out the centre and remove overlapping branches so the shape is sort of like an inverted cone. This I've been doing and I'm basically pleased with the shape so far.

The problem is that I get very few flowers and plums. I know it's quite a young tree but I was expecting a bit more fruit by now. I wonder if it's my pruning that's to blame. The trouble is that to keep the tree size down I have to remove most of the new growth each year, and some Googling suggests it's on last years new growth that the plums appear. If this is true I'm sabotaging the tree's attempts to fruit.

I'd be grateful for any comments on how to encourage the fruiting and/or advice on looking after the tree and how to keep it at a manageable size.

  • I had similar problem, with some more years and more pruning, the problem solved by itself. Did you use much fertilizer? (with high N). This could divert the plant to produce more green than fruits. – Giacomo Catenazzi Jun 1 '16 at 13:12
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    If you fertilize the lawn that could impact it - you might consider flipping the sod and mulching (real mulch that decomposes, preferably) out to the dripline. Or grow something like currants there if they are legal in your state (some of the old lumber states still have laws against Ribes - currants, blackcurrants, gooseberries...) – Ecnerwal Jun 1 '16 at 18:33
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Knowing nothing about your particular plum variety, or growing conditions, I will simply report that I have had 5 Japanese plums of 3 varieties for 21 years. For 20 years the harvest was 0, 1, or 2 plums (for all 5 trees) more or less. The deer and chipmunks got a few more, some split, etc.

Last year, there were 50+ pounds harvestable. This was not a gradual increase. I have no idea what I'll get this year, if anything. The weather at flowering time was a bit dubious.

While a variety of factors go into this including weather in the current and prior years, this appears to strongly support the advice that "the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second-best time is now"

While I hope it does not take 14 more years for yours to take off, it might. I'll also take a moment to inquire about pollination sources (even "self-fertile" trees often do better with other varieties) and pollinators (support your native and/or feral bees, give them habitat, forage, etc.)

If you are trying to stick to 2 meters, you might want to consider putting up a sturdy wire fence and espaliering. Or you could let it grow a bit taller and learn to use a can on a stick (or a pole picker, if you prefer store-bought tools) to pick with, which you can do from the ground.

  • funniest answer about fruit trees yet – kevinsky Jun 2 '16 at 0:17
  • Thanks, though it doesn't really address my concern about pruning. I might try doing a very minimal prune next spring and see if that affects the fruiting. – John Rennie Jun 3 '16 at 11:45
  • For size control, spring is the wrong time to prune, IIRC. Mid-summer is a better time for that. – Ecnerwal Jun 5 '16 at 2:03
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I suspect the problem is that your tree is grafted onto a vigorous rootstock (most fruit trees are grafted onto a rootstock). The type of rootstock will greatly determine the ultimate height of the tree. Unless bought from a specialist nursery, fruit trees tend to be on vigorous rootstocks. If that's the case, you're probably fighting a losing battle trying to restrict the tree's size. If you like plums and really want a small tree I would consider starting again with an appropriate rootstock. The Royal Horticultural Society website is an excellent source of advice. They have a page devoted to the pruning of plum trees here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=339. And here are some useful links re rootstocks: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=359, http://www.orangepippintrees.co.uk/articles/introduction-fruit-tree-rootstocks

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