Last summer we often found ourselves in shops, gazing at trays loaded with plums and muttering words of discontent. These ranged from “how much?” to “why aren’t any of these plums ripe?” and longer utterances along the lines of “why have they shipped these all the way from South Africa when we’ve got perfectly good plums growing in this country?”
To reduce such mutterings in future, and guarantee local, ripe plums that don’t cost a fortune, we decided it was time to plant a plum tree for ourselves. Having toyed with the idea of a damson tree for jammy and boozy recipes we succumbed to the wishes of family members and opted for the ever-popular Victoria plum tree instead.
Plum trees are among the thirstiest fruits, which should suit our wet Somerset environment and claggy, clay soil just fine. They also like a sunny spot in order for their fruits to ripen to perfection. Before choosing a type of plum tree you should check to see if it’s self-fertile, otherwise it will need a plummy partner to help with pollination.
Like most fruit trees, the dormant autumn / winter period is the best time to plant them, particularly if you’re buying a bare root tree. You can also buy plum trees in plant pots that can be planted out at other times of the year, although getting it in the ground before peak-spring is still preferable. Besides settling on a variety, you also need to determine what size you want your plum tree to reach and buy one with an appropriate rootstock (your nursery or garden centre should display this information on the plant’s label). Some plum trees can be grown in garden containers or cordoned against a fence, so there will be options for most gardens.
Planting a Plum Tree
To plant your plum tree, soak it in water while you dig a hole. This hole should be bigger than the roots – two to three times as wide is a good guide – and at least as deep. Loosen the roots a bit and fan out any bare root trees that have been tightly packaged. Add enough compost to the bottom of the hole so that when you plant your plum tree the part of the trunk immediately above the roots is level with the surface.
Refill the hole and firm in the tree. Make sure the trunk is straight and tie it to a stake to keep it upright and secure against strong winds. Give it a good watering and add some mulch making sure it sits clear of the trunk. Tree bark is excellent for this.
Keep the plum tree well watered and it shouldn’t need much maintenance, other than a light pruning of old or damaged branches. If you find yourself with a large volume of fruit setting then you might want to thin these out a bit so as not to put too much weight on the branches. But save this task until summer as lots of fruit will drop naturally. If you’re lucky, you might even get a few plums in the first year.
Types of Plum Trees to Try
Victoria Plum Tree
The UK’s favourite plum. Oval fruits with skin that ripens to various yellow and pink colours with yellow flesh. Delicious eaten straight from the plum tree and equally good in jams and pies.
Cambridge Gage Plum Tree
Greengages produce round green fruits that are smaller than the majority of plums. The Cambridge Gage has super flavoursome, sweet juice if allowed to properly ripen, and is a great eater besides making excellent jam.
Czar Plum Tree
If you’re after a purple plum then Czar is one of the more popular types of plum due to its compact shape and reliability. It can be used as an eater but is at its best cooked in a tart, pie or crumble.
What fruit trees would you like to grow in your garden? Tell us your favourite type of fruit tree in the comments.