There are numerous types of plums including mirabelle (cherry), Japanese, and bullaces, but this section concentrates on the most common types of plum grown in the UK, namely: commons plums, gages, and damsons. In addition, there is a further bias towards dessert plums for eating fresh from the tree, rather that tart plums used for cooking.
Commonly grown plums can be divided as follows:
These are the largest type of plums and are most commonly purple, but can be yellow, or variegated shades of the two colours. Plums can be culinary (acidic like cooking apples) or dessert types, and the dessert types (when fully ripe) can be deliciously sweet. Typically, plums do not store or freeze well.
Like plums, the majority of gage varieties grown at home are sweet, but they differ in shape, being smaller and rounder than plums. Most often, gages are yellow or green.
The hardiest variety of all, damsons are able to fruit reliably even when there are late frosts. Damsons are round or oval, small, blue or black, and have a tart flavour. Their acidic nature means damsons are most often cooked to make jams, compotes, and other sugary desserts.
Plums are hardy trees and grow very well in the UK, but they can be affected by late frosts. In more northern or exposed areas, it is better to look for varieties that blossom late.
Plums can be big trees, commonly over two metres, and can be much higher depending on the root stock. In small spaces, it is possible to train plums by pruning and tying to supports, with the fan or pyramid shape working particularly well.
There are many types of self fertile plum trees, which avoids the complication of finding a compatible pollinating partner. However, having another variety in the same pollinating group nearby can increase harvest size. There are partly self fertile plum varieties that are less reliable or give smaller harvests than self fertile varieties, and some varieties that need a pollinating partner. For these trees, it is recommended to check with a tree stockist to confirm a compatible partner based on flowering time.