Peter Cundall: On how to grow plum delicious stonefruit
Whether you’re into growing apricots, peaches, nectarines, or plums – our cool climate provides the perfect amount of winter chilling needed for delicious, juicy stonefruit yields, according to PETER CUNDALL
Stonefruit trees are outstanding sources of nutritious fruit and our cool Tasmanian climate provides the winter chilling needed for excellent yields.
Home-grown apricots are particularly delicious when eaten fully ripe and make superb jams. The most successful crops occur in most southern and eastern districts, while in northern Tasmania, heavy rains around blossom time restricts bee activity, so yields can be disappointing.
The trees are pruned in February immediately after fruit harvesting. This ensures pruning wounds can heal rapidly, reducing the chances of diseases gaining access to trees. Winter pruning apricot trees risks infection from bacterial gummosis.
Reliable varieties include Travatt, Tilton and Divinity, all of which may be obtained grafted on to dwarfing stock for smaller gardens. Moorpark has a rich, sweet flavour but the tree is particularly vulnerable to die-back and other diseases.
Peaches and nectarines look different but are basically the same fruit, nectarines being smooth-skinned peaches with a special flavour. Like most apricots they
Plums are the easiest and most dependable of all fruit trees and most can be neglected but still carry useful crops year after year
are mainly self-fertile, so do not need pollination from another variety.
Blossoms appear in August, producing an attractive, pink display over entire canopies.
Leafcurl is the most devastating disease of peach and nectarine trees in wetspring districts. Leaves become thickened, puckered and drop off, seriously weakening trees and massively reducing yields. Control is by spraying with fungi-killing copper-based sprays such as Bordeaux, Burgundy or copper oxychloride in early winter, again at the end of July and finally just as blossom buds swell and turn pink.
Peaches and nectarines respond to heavy dressings of old, well-rotted farmyard manure in late winter and a generous sprinkling of dolomite limestone in June.
Good, long-tested peach varieties include the heavy-bearing, white-fleshed Anzac and Elberta. The most sought-after is J.H. Hale with huge, juicy fruit but the tree cannot set fruit unless pollinated by another peach such as Elberta.
Good, reliable nectarines include Maygrand with a rich, sweet flavour, Goldmine with white, juicy flesh, Newboy, great extra-tasty cropper, and Flavourtop.
Plums are the easiest and most dependable of all fruit trees. In fact, most can be virtually neglected but still carry useful crops year after year.
Japanese plums produce early-bearing crops of extremely juicy fruit on the previous summer’s growth. Flesh colours range from yellow, pink to deep, dark blood red. They grow to perfection in all parts of Tasmania and although partly self-fertile, always carry bigger crops when blossoms receive the pollen from other Japanese plum varieties.
European plums need cold winters so thrive in Tasmania. Fruit is formed on tiny spurs produced on two-year-old wood. Almost all require cross-pollination with other European plum varieties before they set fruit.
These plums are sweeter and more richly-flavoured than their Japanese cousins. They are firm-fleshed so are more suitable for drying and bottling. If allowed to hang until fully ripe they develop an exceptional flavour and sweetness.
Damsons are small trees with fantastic displays of white flowers in spring. The small, plum-like fruit covers the trees with an attractive purple bloom, usually massed along branches.
Flavour is slightly acidic but the taste and aroma when made into jams is unique – which is why damson jam is famous.
Good Japanese plum varieties include Santa Rosa with heavy crops of large, round pink fleshed juicy fruit in late December. Satsuma is an outstanding ‘blood’ plum with firm flesh and a sweet, sharp, spicy taste, ripening in March. Narrabeen bears large globular fruit with a yellow, juicy flesh and a small free stone while the best of the late blood plums is Ruby Blood which hangs until late March or later.
European plums include the extra sweet, early bearing Angelina Burdett and Golden Gage an unbelievably delicious dessert plum which cross-pollinates with Greengage so the two are best grown together.
All stonefruit trees have a common disease problem. Brown rot is a frustrating and destructive disease which causes fruit to rot before ripening. Only strict hygiene and selective pruning can control brown rot. That means pruning out all gumming twigs and attached mummified fruit and constantly raking up all fallen fruit to be taken away with the garbage.