Lopsided / Unbalanced Young Plum Tree

rossnMay 31, 2014


I bought a green gauge plum tree from a nursery recently. Unfortunately, they only had two available, and neither was of very good shape. I didn't realize until after i was home how poorly structured the tree was.

Virtually all the branching goes to one side, and about 30" up, the central leader breaks at about a 20 degree angle from the vertical. There is one stub type limb on the 'balancing' side, but it does not appear to have sprouted any leaves (dead?). The tree is about 5 1/2' tall, in total.

Are there any reasonable solutions for balancing out this tree?

I had wondered if it is possible to head back the tree around 30" and cause it to sprout additional limbs, but I don't see any buds/nodes. And... I'm not sure if that would allow me to continue as a Central Leader form.

I have not yet decided if I I would train to the Open Center or Central Leader, but given this will be in the corner of the yard, likely Central leader.

Thanks in advance for the help!

(Denver Area)

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alan haigh

I'd point the branches north when planting it and stake it to a post or a piece of metal electrical conduit to straighten it and let it grow the first year. Branches can be coaxed later if they don't volunteer on the south side, but I expect they will form there this season or, more likely, next, without any further effort on your part.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 5:32AM
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I don't have a huge experience with trees yet, but I think I'd let it grow for a few seasons before cutting anything off.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 6:28AM
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harvestman - Thanks for the thoughts. I was actually thinking about the tying it straight to some conduit. How does one coax new branches on a fruit tree? The other though I had was planting it at 10degrees or so, so as to split the difference between the top and bottom, but the staking sounds like a much better option.

Very interesting comment on the orientation. I assume you're saying this so that it will tend to sprout some branches on the 'sunny side'? And, I assume the graft orientation (away from the sun) is less important in this case, as the graft would be on the Southish side.

Any pros/cons to leaving on the branches that don't appear to be leafing out yet?

Colonel_kernel - thanks for the thoughts. My concern being that I plant it and have a tree that can't actually bear fruit in 3 years due to being too lop sided, but it sounds like I may just have some limbs that are a little behind.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 9:09AM
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Rossn, I too have a gage plum and it will not fruit for at least seven years. It was lopsided as well and frankly looked like your tree. After trimming the root system, then planting it, I lopped of the the tall limb in half. By the end of the tree's first summer the tree began looking balanced and well shaped. Four years later it still does and not a plum in sight. They take a long while to fruit. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 10:27AM
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alan haigh

I've never worried about what side the graft is on, can't even remember reading about that being a concern- but there's lots I don't remember. Anyway, I've planted thousands of fruit trees without considering that, but I always try to lean most vigorous growth north.

Coaxing branches is done with scoring cuts above where you wish to place branches.. It is something best done once trees are well established and have at least 1.5" diameter trunks. It's done 2 or 3 weeks after trees begin to grow in spring.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 11:38AM
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thanks, harvestman

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 2:02PM
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Ross, if it is a windy site, you might consider wind direction. My orchard is windy, and my plums are quite lopsided, despite my pruning efforts. If windy, you could aim the leaning top toward the prevailing wind direction. Hman gives good advice.


    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 11:00PM
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Thanks, Marc.

I had not thought of that, and unfortunately pointing the branches north means the top leans away from the wind, versus into it. Well, it's all done now -- as it went in last night. The good thing is that it is in a corner of a 7' fence (N and E sides) to block some of the wind.

I think I'll give it a bit of time (a month?) to establish before I stake it straight, that way the ground will firm up and it can root a little more as I'm sure I will chop some roots when I pound in the stake. What material is best to tie a tree to a stake (EMT) when it has to be under a lot of force (to straighten it)? Any idea how long it takes on a bend like this before it no longer has to be staked?

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 9:08AM
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I am one who does not like tall trees. I would cut that whole branch off which would also give me the confidence to be more aggressive on un-balling the root system. that is assuming I correctly see leaves on the small branches (a few will do)

I am still struggling with a tree that had a bad rootball, but being late in the spring, I did not have the confidence to get too aggressive. The tree struggled all the first year and since then looks great at a glance but very slow growing.

The thing about yours is that a nursury has a warranty that will replace it if it dies, so the only thing you risk is time, but I would rather wait a year to pick from a nicely shaped tree then to be stuck on a ladder for the rest of my life... I plan to be picking fruit when I look like Alan Greenspan

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 9:45AM
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