Plum growing techniques explained

Plums are well worth making space for – delicious eaten fresh, they can also be used for cooking, bottling or jam-making.

P lum trees are usually vigorous and prolific, giving good harvests – a well-grown bush tree may yield l8-23kg (40-501b) in its first 10 years and twice this amount when fully established. All plums fruit on one- and two-year-old shoots but yields vary considerably, according to the size of tree and the variety, and may plummet if the flowers are damaged by spring frosts.

Plums can be grown as seedlings from their own stones, but take a long time to bear fruit and are often too vigorous. More commonly, the varieties are grafted on to rootstocks of various kinds, which ensure earlier fruiting and smaller trees.

Types of tree

Plum trees take up a lot of space so grow them as bushes – standards are too large for most gardens. If your plot is small, opt for a fan-shaped specimen, trained against a wall; or a pyramid, which you can restrict by pruning to l.8-2.7m (6-9ft) high, with a spread of l.8-2.4m (6-8ft). Plums are too vigorous to be trained as cordons or espaliers.

Gages, a sweet-flavoured type of dessert plum, are not quite so ‘ hardy as other varieties.

Buying a tree

A single plum tree should produce enough fruit for the average family, but make sure you choose a self-pollinating variety as many varieties nvi:<S a pollinator growing nearby.

When you order your trees, be careful with your choice of root-stock. The ‘St |ulicn A’ stock is semi-dwarfing and suitable for all forms except standards. Avoid ‘Brompton’ and Wlyrobalan IV,

Sweet, juicy plums are W excellent as dessert/S fruits and may also he used in puddings. Some varieties are best “WyaPf* cooked, hut gages are a line-flavoured type of dessert plum.

Which are too vigorous. The new ‘Pixie’ stock is dwarfing and particularly suitable for fans and pyramids, but does need a good fertile soil.

Site and soil

Plums grow best in full sun and need shelter from wind, lor the best-flavoured gages and dessert plums, grow them against a sunny, south or west wall. Avoid frost pockets, because the trees flower early in spring.

Plum trees will succeed in most well-drained soils – the ideal is a fairly heavy clay loam with a pi I between 6.0 and 6.5. Fop dress very acid soils after planting with carbonate of lime (chalk) at a rate just high enough to bring it up to the pi I value given above. The rare will be given in the soil test kit instructions.

Planting and eultivation

Plant plum trees any time from late autumn to early spring – the earlier the better. Prepare an area Im (3ft) square in early autumn, thoroughly clearing away all weeds. Fork in a balanced fertiliz- er just before planting, at 9()g per sq m (3oZ per sq yd). You could also fork in well-rotted garden compost or manure, at one bucketful per tree, or two bueketfuls if your soil is light.

To plant, dig a hole slightly wider than the spread of the roots. Plant the tree at the same depth as it was in the nursery – you should be able to see the original soil mark on the stem. Planting a bush or dwarf pyramid First hammer in a support stake and place the tree about 5-7.5cm (2-3in) away from it. Fix the trunk securely to the stake with a tree tie – or use soft string tied round a piece of cloth to protect the bark from chafing.

Plum tree branches are often brittle after the natural early summer and they may snap under the heavydrop of fruit.

Weight of the fruit. To guard against this happening, start thin-Support and protection ning a heavy crop at the beginningIf the branches are still overladen of early summer (sec below). Thewith fruit alter thinning, support- final thinning should leave thethem with clothes-line props or by fruits 5-7.5cm (2-3in) apart or onetying them to stakes driven into ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’ the ground. Protect wall-grown trees from frost at blossom time by draping them with hessian or bird netting. Trees grown in the open may also be draped with netting or hessian, if practicable and this will also help to protect the buds and ripe fruit from birds.

Harvesting and storing Plums ripen from late mid summer to late autumn, depending on the variety and the locality. Pick them before they are quite ripe lor cooking, bottling or freezing; but if you plan to eat them raw, leave them on the tree for as long as possible before picking. Pick the stalk along with the fruit.

If the weather is wet, pick gages before they are quite ripe, or their skins may split.

Pests and diseases

Plums and gages may be attacked by aphids, caterpillars, fruit tree red spider mites, wasps and plum sawfly. They are also vulnerable to bacterial canker, brown rot, honey fungus, scald and silver leaf.

VARIETIES

TO CHOOSE ‘Early Laxton’

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