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Plums Growing Guide

Plums Growing Guide

Few trees better epitomise the glory of growing your own fruit than plums. These sweet, dusky crops are bursting with juicy goodness – a succulent treat at the end of a long summer spent patiently watching them swell and colour.

Once popular throughout Britain, these irresistible fruits were the highlight of the harvest. Following a period of decline, they are now seeing a comeback, as gardeners clock on to their exceptional flavour and heavy-cropping habit. Dwarfing rootstocks, coupled with a tempting array of self-fertile varieties, make these among the easiest tree fruits to grow, with both eating and culinary types available for a wide range of delicious uses. The popular ‘Victoria’ plum is still hard to beat, but other varieties bring to light the only difficulty in growing these trees – which one to pick! Greengages are closely related to plums but are slightly smaller and usually green or yellow-green in colour. They are exceptionally delicious and well worth trying. Damsons are simply cooking plums which have a slightly sharp taste – ideal for pies and jam-making. Also look out for bullaces, a decorative variety with much smaller, sharper fruits that are also good for jammaking enthusiasts.

Whatever you decide to grow, bear in mind the tree’s ultimate size (take note of the rootstock it is growing on) so that it will stay manageable. Given a sunny spot it will produce its sweet fruits for many years to come.

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Growing Plums month-by-month

January

Planting of bare-root trees can continue throughout the dormant period. Push back any trees that become unsettled by frost.

February

Planting of bare-root trees can continue throughout the dormant period. Push back any trees that become unsettled by frost.

March

Apply a slow-release organic fertilizer this month and then add a 5cm-thick layer of organic mulch to feed the trees and suppress any weeds.

April

Spring-prune young plums and on fan-trained trees rub out the buds growing towards or away from the wall.

May

Complete an initial thinning of fruit early in the month. Water recently-planted trees in dry weather to help them establish.

Must do this month!
June

Finish the second thinning of fruit by the end of June to leave about 5-7cm between each plum. Complete summer pruning and keep young trees well watered.

July

Finish the second thinning of fruit by the end of June to leave about 5-7cm between each plum. Complete summer pruning and keep young trees well watered.

August

September

The main month for harvesting. Go over trees every few days to pick the crop as it ripens. Prepare the ground for autumn planting.

October

Finish picking late varieties of plum and begin planting recently delivered bare-root trees, staking free-standing specimens to keep them in place and steady.

November

Continue autumn-planting plums while there is still some warmth in the soil. Rake away leaf debris from under established trees.

December

Planting of bare-root trees can continue throughout the dormant period. Push back any trees that become unsettled by frost.

Caring for your Plums plants + problems

Should recently-planted trees be heaved out of the ground by winter frosts, you will need to ease them back into position. Other than that, newly planted plums will need to be kept well watered during dry spells. Wall-trained trees require more water than free-standing specimens.

Keeping the base of the plant weedfree is also important and a thick mulch of organic matter applied in early spring will help to both lock-in moisture and slow the progress of weeds. Spread a mulch about 5cm thick out to the edge of the tree canopy, keeping the mulch clear of the trunk. An organic, slow-release fertilizer should be applied just before laying it.

Plum trees are prone to biennial bearing – where plenty of fruit is produced one year only to be followed with none the next. Don’t let this happen! Judicious thinning of the developing fruits will ensure a consistent year-to-year crop, while helping those plums that remain to attain the fullest depth of flavour. Complete an initial thinning as soon as the fruitlets appear, then another thinning at the end of June to leave about 5-7cm between each plum. In this way you will get a decent crop every single year – late frost allowing!

The only other regular job is to cut away suckers. These are upright shoots that appear from the ground, away from the main trunk. They come directly from the rootstock and will not be of the variety you have planted, so need to be removed. Cut them back to below ground level or, preferably, dig out the soil to pull them away from the roots.

How to harvest Plums

Wasps have a particular penchant for plums. If you know the pests are prevalent in your area then set up traps from early July. These may be home-made from plastic, two-litre bottles – cut across the neck and invert this to create a funnel. Seal the funnel onto the body of the bottle and fill with sugary water.

Hang the traps up in the tree canopy. The insects will fly in but are unlikely to be able to escape. Their frantic buzzing will attract other wasps to the trap and away from the fruit. You will need to empty these traps from time to time and recharge them with fresh sugar water. Plums will be ready to pick once they become fully coloured. They will smell ripe and juicy, too. Pick them along with their stalk and go over trees at several intervals so as not to miss any of the fruits. Plums and damsons destined for cooking or bottling can be harvested when slightly under-ripe. The earliest of these fruits will be ready as soon as August, with picking continuing on into October. Enjoy your plums fresh, or turn them into chutneys, jams, pickles, pies, wine and more – the options are as plentiful as the crop you’ll hopefully pick!

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