Plum trees produce plenty
For a reliably prolific fruit tree, plant a plum for an abundance of summer fruit.
Bare-rooted plum trees are in store now, so head to your local garden centre and pick one or two out.
There are numerous species to grow, but the two most common for the home garden are the Japanese plums and the European plums.
Japanese plums are soft and very juicy and their large fruit are great eaten straight from the tree. Their flesh ranges from tart to sweet, and while they can be used for cooking, they generally lack the distinctive flavour of European plums.
Japanese plums bloom early, so the flowers can be damaged by late frosts.
European plums typically have thick, firm, very sweet, aromatic flesh, which is ideal for drying or making preserves. Fruit size ranges from small to large, oval to round. They encompass prune plums, which contain high sugar levels, which allows them to dry well without spoiling – although they can be eaten fresh or bottled as well. ‘Italian’ is the world’s most popular prune plum. It has dark purple skin with light amber flesh that turns red when cooked. It’s a heavy bearer, with medium to large fruit that’s very sweet – perfect for drying, eating of bottling.
The ‘Damson’ plum is part of the European group as well. It’s essentially grown for bottling and other culinary uses because of its tart, acidic flavour. ‘Greengage’, on the other hand, also a European plum, is a deliciously sweet, succulent fruit, which can be plucked from the tree and eaten on the spot.
European plums are generally late flowering and have a higher winter chilling than Japanese plums.
So how many plum trees should you plant in your garden? While many European plums are self-fertile, Japanese plums almost always require cross-pollination. Even selffertile plum trees will crop better with another tree planted nearby. European and Japanese plum trees won’t cross-pollinate because of the different blooming times, so to pollinate a European plum tree, you need to plant another European plum tree. To pollinate a Japanese plum tree, you need another Japanese plum. Plant them within bee-flying distance.
Plums like a free-draining, fertile soil, so dig in compost and fertiliser at planting time.
If you wish to espalier your plum tree, choose a fan shape for training purposes, as the plum’s more brittle wood is difficult to train horizontally. Avoid dwarf varieties, as these compact trees will slow down the training process. Self-fertile European varieties, such as ‘Damson’ or ‘Italian’, are ideal, but you can try other varieties, so long as you have pollinating partners close by.
Young plum trees benefit from an annual feed of a general balanced fertiliser at the start of the growing season. As trees mature they prefer a greater proportion of nitrogen and phosphate, so check that your fertiliser has a higher N and P value. An addition of blood and bone would be beneficial, as would organic mulch – but keep it clear of the main trunk to avoid disease.
And don’t forget to water your plants, especially in the early years.
In full bloom: This plum is at Ayabeyama in Tatsuno, Japan.