Plums can be gorgeous and rich with a soft, juicy, and sweet flesh. There are also more tart varieties of plums, and sometimes plums can taste sharp simply because they have not ripened fully before being eaten.
Health wise, plums are full of antioxidants, and they are also known for their laxative effects. Plums actually belong to the rose family, that also contains cherries, peaches, and apricots. From this family, plums and cherries standout as being easier to grow in the relatively cool UK climate. With the right plum tree, you should be rewarded with a prolific harvest of plums for many years.
- October – March
- Planting depth: Cover root ball
- Planting spacing: Depends on root stock
- July – October
- Eat fresh, makes delicious jam
The key to success for growing plums is finding a good match for your local weather climate. A late heavy frost can destroy the blossom on your plum tree and the resulting summer harvest. If late frosts are particularly severe where you live, then choose a late flowering variety, or consider growing damsons instead.
Like most types of tree, plums are best planted when they are dormant (without leaves) in late autumn or winter.
Dig a hole of sufficient depth and width to easily accomodate the root ball, and fill it with well rotted manure and compost. Consider using a stake to help support your tree until it becomes established, as a young tree in leaf can be blown over in strong winds.
Plum trees like a moist but well drained soil. Do not allow the soil to dry out during the growing season, as this may risk the tree shedding its plums. Your tree may need watering in dry periods for the first few years whilst it develops a strong root network.
Depending on your plum variety and local climate, your plums should be ready for eating sometime between July and the end of August. Plums should be allowed to ripen on the tree for as long as possible as this will allow their flesh to soften and sweeten.
How to prune plum trees? There are actually good reasons for not pruning plumb trees. Plum trees benefit from being left alone to develop a habit of fruiting, and pruning plums trees in their first few years can disrupt this habit.
There is a risk of introducing disease into the plum tree through pruning. It is recommended only to prune plum trees in hot weather, as pruning in late autumn and winter increases the risk of the tree developing silver leaf disease or canker.
My personal experience is the biggest problem affecting my plum (and cherry) tree is aphid attack. Black fly can easily be washed off the leaves with water – some people prefer to use soapy water.
The real problem is the ‘farming’ of aphids by ants that climb up and down the trunk. There is a simple solution. Grease bands are widely available in large garden centres. Simply wrap them around the trunk of your tree and secure them with twine, so that there is no way ants can crawl underneath the band.
An alternative, and good for larger trunks, is to buy tree grease that can be brushed into a ring shape towards the base of the tree. Older trees have more undulations in their bark, and tree grease can be pushed into these undulations with a brush. Read more on how to control aphids on fruit trees.
The grease surface itself is very sticky and makes it impossible for ants to climb over. The grease bands will need to be changed every six months, as their stickiness reduces over time.
Plum trees come in different sizes irrespective of the variety you choose to grow. The size of your mature plum tree depends on its root stock, and you will be able to check this at time of purchase.
There are three main root stocks to choose from:
- Pixie (2m high)
- St. Julian A (3m high)
- Brompton (4m+ high)
The Brompton root stock is only suitable for very big gardens. Two common and widely available varieties of plum trees are Opal and Victoria. Both are self fertile – meaning that only one tree is required for fruit – although two or more trees of different varieties may result in a larger crop.
Plum Opal is the variety of plum I grow at home. It is relatively late flowering and is delicious eaten fresh as a dessert variety. Plum Victoria is also a dessert variety, but is also commonly used for cooking.