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

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASSIE LIVING -

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.

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