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Grow like a pro: plums

By Emily Peagram
22nd May 2023

These fruits are easy to grow, prolific croppers and are sweet and juicy – all excellent reasons for you to plant a plum tree this spring!

The plum has experienced a recent revival in popularity and it’s not hard to see why, as there’s nothing better than watching these fruits gradually swell and develop their deep colour and sweet, juicy flavour – who would not be tempted to pick one straight from the tree?

Preparation is key
The first thing to do before planting a plum tree is to consider the size of your growing space and to pick a rootstock that best matches it, as the plant a tree is grafted to will determine its size. You will find the rootstock Saint Julien A in most fruit patches and this will give a height and a spread of 3.5m but if you’re short for space, the charmingly-named Pixy rootstock will give a more modest spread of 2.5m. Next, you will need to decide whether a self-fertile or a self-infertile variety is best for you – a self-fertile tree will flower on its own but a self-infertile tree will need a partner to pollinate it. This will mean more work, but also more plums!

Time for planting
Plums prefer moist clay or loamy soil but they also hate getting their roots wet, so pick a spot that is well-draining. Prepare the ground for planting a month beforehand by digging in a large helping of well-rotted compost or manure. You can purchase plum trees in containers that can be planted all year round or in a bare-root, ‘naked’ form, that must be planted in the dormant season between October to April. Bare-root trees are more popular, as they tend to establish better, but are time-restricted. To plant your tree, dig a hole that is three times wider than the root system of your tree but no deeper than the roots. You will need to match the
original soil level with the existing ground level so look for the soil mark on the bare trunk. Place the tree in the planting hole and pile the soil in and around the roots, pressing down on the site with the heel of your shoe as you go to eliminate air pockets.

Continued care
Like most specimens on the fruit and vegetable patch, your tree will need support as it develops. To do this, tie it to a stake using proper tree ties. Plums are usually trained as open-centred bush trees, but can also be grown as fans against a wall, or as a cordon or pyramid. However, these methods are a little more complicated so it’s a good idea to research them beforehand. It’s also a good idea to prune your plum tree after the summer harvest to prevent overcropping.

Harvest time
You can get stuck in with harvesting once the fruits have developed their deep, dusky colour, are soft to the touch and smell sweet and juicy, which is usually around August to September. Once harvested, you can eat your plums straight from the tree or transform them into jams and chutneys.

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