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Growing and care for plum trees

Plums are popular for cooking, jam-making and bottling or canning, but the sweeter varieties are among our most delicious dessert fruits Damsons ripen a little later than most plums. The fruits are small, oval and richly flavoured, but not really sweet enough for the general taste for eating raw. They are, however, excellent for cooking, preserves and bottling. Bullaces are small round fruits which ripen even later and are useful on that account to lengthen the season. Bullaces can be eaten raw but are excellent for cooking. Gages are simply a class of plum with a characteristic, and particularly delicious, flavor. Gages, bullaces and damsons are all grown in the same way as plums



Fruit quality


Special remarks

Late Transparent, greenish-yellow skin, yellow flesh

Late Sept

Juicy and very sweet with rich gage flavour


Dessert. Good for the south, needs a wall

Laxton's Cropper, reddish-purple to blue-black skin, yellow flesh

Mid—late Sept

Firm, juicy


Cooker. Hangs well on tree

Laxton's Gage, golden-yellow skin and flesh


Rich gage flavour but not the equal of 'Cambridge Gage'

Good, regular


Marjorie's Seedling, blue-black skin, yellow flesh

Late Sept—mid-Oct

Sweetish, moderate flavour

Good, regular

Dual-purpose. Cooks well

Merryweather Damson, purple skin, yellow flesh


Moderate damson flavour


Cooker. Self-compatible

Monarch, dark purple skin, pale yellow flesh

Late Sept

Rather flavourless but cooks well

Irregular in
some areas


Old Greengage, green skin and flesh

Late Aug

Superb flavour


Dessert. Remains green when ripe

Ontario, greenish-yellow skin, yellow flesh


Fair flavour, juicy



Oullin's Golden Gage, green to


Fair flavour, not very juicy. Not true

Fair but

Dessert but good for bottling

yellow skin, yellow flesh


gage quality



Pershore, yellow skin and flesh

Late Aug

Rather mealy

Very heavy

Cooker, particularly good for jam. Also picked green for cooking

Pond's Seedling, dark red skin, yellow flesh


Large fruit, little flavour, cooks well



President, deep purple skin, greenish-yellow flesh

Late Sept— October

Sweet, pleasing flavour. Large fruit


Cooker but can be eaten as dessert

Purple Pershore, dark purple skin, yellow flesh

Mid—late Aug

Firm flesh, cooks well



River's Early Prolific, blue‑

Late July

Sweet with damson-like flavour

Good in

Cooker, makes good red plum jam.

purple skin, yellow flesh



some areas

Also known as 'Early Rivers'

Severn Cross, greenish-yellow skin and flesh

Late Sept

Sweet, very juicy, moderate flavour



Shropshire Damson, blue-black skin, greenish-yellow flesh

Late Sept

Excellent flavour


Cooker. Self-compatible. Also known as 'Prune Damson'

Victoria, red skin, yellow flesh

Mid—late August

Fair dessert flavour when fully ripe

Very heavy

Dual-purpose. Excellent for cooking and preserving

Warwickshire Drooper, yellow skin and flesh


Just acceptable as dessert when ripe


Cooker. Excellent for jam and preserving

Washington, yellow skin and flesh

Late Aug— Sept

Juicy, sweet, delicious flavour



White Bullace, pale yellow skin, yellow flesh


Lateness is its chief virtue


Cooker. Self-compatible

Wyedale, reddish-blue skin, yellow flesh


Mealy but cooks well




Plums will grow in most parts of the world but as they flower early they are very vulnerable to spring frosts. The choicer kinds deserve the protection of a wall where protection from frost (and birds) can more easily be given. They do best in districts where the annual rainfall is between 50 and 90cm (20 and 35in). Damsons will succeed in areas having higher rainfall, and less sunshine, than plums will tolerate.

Plums need a well-drained soil and one containing plenty of humus to hold moisture during the growing season. A very acid soil should be limed, but an alkaline soil should not be planted with plums. Plums (and other stone fruits) do need calcium but they will not prosper in an alkaline soil. Plum trees planted in thin soils overlaying chalk often suffer seriously from lime-induced iron deficiency.

No really satisfactory dwarfing rootstock has yet been found for plums. The two least vigorous are common plum and St Julien 'A'; the former, however, is only compatible with certain varieties. Trees grown on these rootstocks are sometimes described as 'semi-dwarf' but, even so, a standard or half-standard would be too large for the average garden, and even a bush-type tree requires a spacing of 4-5m (12-15ft) (on Brompton or Myrobalan 'B' rootstock, 6-7m [18-20ft]).

Because plums do not produce fruiting spurs as apples and pears do, they are not so amenable to training, and are seldom satisfactory as cordons or espaliers. They may, however, be grown as fans, for wall-training or with the support of posts and horizontal wires, but root-pruning will probably be necessary every five years or so to restrain growth and maintain fruiting. A fan tree on St Julien 'A' rootstock should be allotted at least 5m (15ft) of wall space.

Plums may also be grown as semidwarf pyramids on St Julien 'A' rootstock and this is a form, which is best for the small garden. Such a tree requires a spacing of 3.3m (10ft) and, as it will never be allowed to grow much over 3m (9ft) in height, it is possible to arrange some kind of cage or netting over the top of the tree to keep off birds, which will otherwise damage the fruit. An additional advantage is that the branches of a pyramid seldom break and there is thus less likelihood of infection by disease.

For training as a pyramid a maiden should be planted in the usual way and the following March it should be headed back to 1.6m (5ft). Any laterals above 45cm (18in) from soil level should be shortened by half and any arising lower down the stem should be cut off entirely. Towards the end of July or early in August, when new growth has finished, cut back branch leaders to 20cm (8in), making the cut to a bud pointing downwards or outwards. Cut laterals back to 16cm (6in). Repeat this procedure annually. Leave the central leader untouched in summer but in April of the second year cut it back to one-third of its length. Repeat this annually, cutting the new growth back by two-thirds until a height of 3m (9ft) is attained. After that shorten the new growth on the central leader to 2.5cm (1in) or less each May.

Plant plums in the usual way between November and March, the sooner the better, always provided the soil is friable. Stake securely and put down mulch to preserve soil moisture.

An established plum needs plenty of nitrogen but, until good crops are being carried, on most soils it will be sufficient to give a light mulch of rotted farmyard manure or garden compost in spring, and prick this lightly into the surface the subsequent autumn. When good crops are being borne, the yearly mulch may be supplemented with 28g (1oz) per dressing of Nitro-chalk and 14g (0.5oz) per sq. m sq. yd) of sulphate of potash, given in February. Every third year, add 28g (1oz) per sq. m sq. ft) of superphosphate. Where no manure or garden compost is available, peat may be used as mulch and the dose of Nitro-chalk doubled.

The wood of plum trees naturally tends to be brittle and branches often break in late summer gales when the crop is heavy. Thinning of the fruit will help to prevent this form of breakage, and it is also advisable to arrange some kind of support for extra-heavily laden branches on bush-type trees. Wooden props may be fixed beneath branches (well padding the point of support) or a tall, strong central pole can be erected and branches supported from this by ropes, maypole fashion.

Dessert plums should be left on the tree until quite ripe and then picked by taking hold of the stalk so that the place. They will keep for a couple of weeks or so.


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