Cat in damaged plum tree

We had neglected the plum trees for years, the winds and storms had taken their toll; branches had snapped, tangled, developed callouses. For years the birds and wasps had enjoyed what fruit they had produced, and it hadn't seemed much.

That was, until last summer when we managed to beat the wasps to enough fruit to make 2 litres of jam. The few plums we picked were better than expected, tasted delicious and made wonderful jam. It was a long shot but maybe we could revive the old plum trees, if not we would replace them. 

A quick search for advice informed us we should wait until late June early July this year before pruning.  The advice was firm. Cut out all the old and damaged branches. Don't spare them just because they have started to fruit.

It was difficult to avoid the temptation, but we had a bit or wriggle room. The section of the guide dedicated to reviving old, seriously neglected trees said it may take a couple of years. The author was kind. His scenario was moving into property and inheriting the unmanaged trees from the former negligent owner. 

We lopped the branches, cut out the dead wood, pruned back the long shoots,  let in the light. Half ripe plums fell to the floor. Green plums dropped with the severed limbs. Slowly but surely the tree took shape. Clusters of developing plums were revealed. More than we had realised.

We gathered the fallen plums and the larger green plums from one of the trees and left them in a bowl to ripen. A few days latter they were almost all a deep purple, only a few had grown mouldy. The moment of truth: juicy fruit for jam or worm infested compost material?

A clear resin like substance had oozed from some of the plums. A quick reference to the guide told us this was almost certainly a response to some stress, could be pests, disease, environment or all three. Some of the plums showed evidence of worm activity, something to tackle before next season! But enough of the plums were fine and produced 1.5 litres of jam.

A month later and the tree was full of almost ripe, purple plums.  Now to decide. Leave them to ripen fully or pick them now to make jam. We decide to pick most of them and leave a few to ripen to eat fresh. These were easier to stone than the first batch and although still showing some signs of stress we found almost no worm damage. There were enough for 5.5 litres of jam. If this is the result of just one session of lopping and pruning, we may yet succeed in rejuvenating the tree.

We are already looking up what we need to do to prevent the insect and worm damage for next year. 

The second tree had been more seriously damaged in an earlier storm. It really is only half a tree and has an enormous wound where it lost a branch, but it too is developing fruit, although it ripens much later in the season, so as yet only smaller, hard and unripe green fruits, but no sign of insect damage. 

In the meantime we did buy new trees but maybe they will be an addition to rather than a replacement for the old trees. If only we could remember what varieties they are.