Plums are a delicious treat in the homegrown fruit garden. Trees can be highly productive and require comparatively little effort for the baskets and bowls of juicy fruit that ripen in spring, summer and autumn. Fruit are sweet and delicious, full of anti-oxidants and can be eaten fresh, preserved, made into jams, preserves, chutneys and pickles. Plum trees can grow to the height of a two-storey house and they often make an attractive, slightly spreading shape. Plums can grow in most parts of the country and will do best where they get a cold spell in winter that helps to stimulate production of flower buds. They are frost hardy, although blossom can be damaged by late spring frosts.
Companions Borage, chives, comfrey, strawberries, marigold, calendula
Quantity 1tree per family – you may need an additional tree for pollination.
Plum trees are generally planted when dormant in autumn, winter or early spring. There are two main types of plum grown.European Plum - smaller fruit, Japanese Plum – larger fruit. Many plum varieties need the company of another cherry tree to help with pollination but some are self fertile - meaning they can be grown on their own. For plum varieties to cross-pollinate with each other they need to flower at the same time.
You can also get trees with two varieties grafted onto them – this means flowers of the two varieties pollinate each other and often you’ll get fruit for longer than if growing a single variety. These are usually quite small trees.
Billington's Early a small, red skinned plum with juicy dark red flesh. Produces a heavy crop around Christmas. Partly self fertile but pollination is improved with Black Doris. Good for cooking and preserving as well as eating fresh.
Black Doris a popular variety with reddish purple skin and dark red juicy flesh. Harvest is mid season around February. Cross-pollinates with Blillington and Santa Rosa.
Damson produces small blue-skinned fruits with a slightly tart yellow flesh that is best in jam. Self fertile European variety, good for small gardens with only room for one tree.
Greengage a classic European variety with delicious, small greenish-yellow fruit that have an exquisite, sweet flavour. Eat raw or make into great jams and puddings. Self fertile.
Hawera a large dark red plum with firm, juicy dark red flesh. Self fertile variety, heavy cropping with fruit ripening in January.
Santa Rosa reddish purple plum with yellow, sweetly flavoured flesh. A good cold tolerant Japanese variety that is cross pollinated with Black Doris. Can be grown on its own as it is partly self fertile.
Sultan reddish purple plum with yellow, sweetly flavoured flesh. A good cold tolerant Japanese variety that is cross pollinated with Black Doris. Can be grown on its own as it is partly self fertile.
Plum trees are generally planted when dormant in autumn, winter or early spring.
Plums like a sunny open position with good air circulation but shelter from strong prevailing winds. Put them where you’ll be able to enjoy easily walking around them and ensure access is good. Trees planted in lawns or grassy orchards will grow better if grass is removed from a circle around their stem – take a stride away from the stem and make this the radius of your circle, remove grass and add a finger-deep layer of mulch.
Plums like a deep, rich fertile soil that is well drained.
Space plum trees about six strides from trunk to trunk. Keep trees that are being grown together within the same part of the garden to ensure good cross-pollination.
Before planting dig a hole about 20% larger than the size of the container the plant comes in. Half-fill with well-rotted compost, rotted manure and some coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Mix together with garden soil at the bottom of the hole. Soak the container-grown tree before gently lifting it from its pot. Check the roots on the root ball and loosen any that appear to have grown around the inside of the pot – this should help them to get away and grow into the garden soil. Stand the root ball in the hole and adjust soil beneath it so that soil level is the same as ground level around it. Back fill with the soil/compost mix and firm with downward hand-pressure as you go. The container soil level should be the same as soil level in the garden. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the root ball. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground. Water well.
Water around the base of your young trees in dry periods, making sure that soil gets enough water for roots to be fully soaked.
Mulch around base of newly-planted trees, especially if you have sandy soil or trees are planted in lawns or grassy orchards. Cover a circle as wide as the spread of the branches with a finger-deep layer of compost, rotted manure or old straw and replenish mulch when necessary. Make sure the mulching layer doesn’t touch the stem of your tree as this can cause it to rot. This should be done for the first three years after planting, Thereafter roots should have spread wide enough to draw sufficient moisture and nutrients without help. You can plant borage, comfrey, chives and strawberries beneath your trees to draw nutrients from deep in the soil and to attract beneficial pollinating and predatory insects.
Feed: Trees can be fed with a sprinkling of blood and bone meal around the outer edge of their drip line in spring, however if you keep the ground beneath your trees weed-free and well-mulched when its dry this should help to reduce the amount of feeding that is required.
Depending on variety and weather you can be picking plums from late spring through to early autumn. Taste is a good enough indicator of ripeness but generally fruit are ripe when fully-coloured and they give slightly when squeezed. If you are in any doubt keep an eye on birds that will descend onto trees in numbers as soon as fruit are ready. Handle fruit carefully when harvesting to prevent bruising. Line your bucket or basket with soft material such as cloth or newspaper.
Storage: Fresh plums don’t last all that long, keep them in the fridge and they should be good for a week. Plums can be frozen one they’ve been halved and stoned. Frozen plums are usually only good for cooking or preserving once defrosted.
When first planted check over your young trees and if they have more than 5 upward growing stems off the main stem remove the surplus by cutting them back to main stem. This sets up a good framework for the tree to then grow into a balanced open shape. In general, when removing stems follow them down to the point where they are growing off a main stem. Cut the stem you are removing just above the point where it joins the next stem so that this leaves a small protruding collar that will heal over.
Plum trees don’t need too much pruning once established other than to keep the centre of trees open by removing any vigourous stems that are growing inwards. Vigorous stems that shoot upwards above the general framework are also removed. Regular maintenance involves cutting out dead, diseased and crossing stems. This is usually done after harvest in late summer or early autumn.
Birds are a common arrival just as plums start to ripen. Where practical trees are covered with mesh to protect the fruit. Other pests include aphids and leaf roller caterpillars. The best method is prevention and planting to attract beneficial predators as controlling an outbreak on a tree can be hard without resorting to sprays.
To reduce the likelihood of your trees falling victim to and suffering from pests and diseases look after them and maintain a diverse planting in your growing area.
Sweep and compost fallen leaves.
Mulch and feed, ensure constant moisture during dry weather.
Spray fresh spring foliage with Neem oil spray to kill aphids, scale insects and mites.
For best advice on how to deal with fruit tree related problems in your area seek out local organic growers and talk to them. A half hour chat can save on years of trial and error.