Plums, are a really reliable fruit and reward the gardener with a good harvest of delicious plump fruit for eating straight from the tree or making into jams, pies and crumbles. Nowadays there are varieties available that don’t take up a lot of space so that even the smallest of gardens can have a plum tree.
Plums have quite high moisture demands, so they are best planted on good clay or loamy soils. But sites also need to be well drained as plums, and gages in particular, hate waterlogged soils. Add bulky organic matter to sandy or shallow chalky soils prior to planting. When growing in a container, make sure pots are large enough to prevent the potting compost drying out in summer.
These stone fruits are some of the earliest crops to flower in the fruit garden. While the plants themselves are often extremely hardy, the flowers can easily be killed by frosts, so it’s essential to position trees out of frost pockets or windy sites; a sheltered, sunny spot will produce the best results.
Gages in particular are best sited against a south- or west-facing wall to ensure the fruits are exposed to sufficient sunshine and warmth to develop their sweet, rich flavour and to ripen wood.
Thanks to modern rootstocks and restrictive training techniques any garden can accommodate at least one of these trees – if not more. Standard, pyramid, fan, and festooned tree forms are all possibilities.
There are hundreds of cultivars to choose from for both cooking and dessert use – those with limited outdoor space can opt for a dual-purpose cultivar to get maximum use from the crop.
Many are self-fertile so a single tree can be planted, while some are self-infertile, so check with the supplier before buying. When buying look for a system of well-balanced branches with a strong central leader. You can then train and prune the plant to any of the popular tree forms.
Plant plum trees during the dormant season, before growth starts in late winter or early spring. Bare-root plants usually establish better than container-grown trees. Stakes or training wires may be needed depending on the type of tree form you decide to grow.
Plums develop their best flavour if left to ripen on the tree. If they feel soft when gently squeezed, they are ripe. Trees will generally need picking over several times.
Harvest fruits carefully so as not to bruise them, then eat fresh, destone and freeze, or make the fruits into preserves.
Plums will usually start to produce fruit when they are 3 to 5 years old. Not all varieties of plums turn quite the same color at ripeness, so that’s not always a good way to judge. Your fruit should be slightly soft to the touch when ready to be picked.