Q.Which plum tree is best for a small garden and will fruit the year after planting?
(Mr Christopher Mcvey, 2 October 2008)
A.It’s time for tree-planting – and the choice you’ve got is enormous. Plums are popular and deservedly so: the sweet fruits are perfect for eating, but also wonderful in pies, desserts and jams.
It is difficult to find a tree that will guarantee fruit next year, or the following year. Plum trees take 4-5 years to begin producing fruit. Even then, plum trees do not produce fruit reliably – if the flowers suffer a late frost, they could all be lost. To give your tree the best chance, plant in a deep hole away from shade, because they don’t like frost, and feed with bonemeal in early spring.
Make sure that the tree you choose is also self-fertile. Many varieties must be planted in pairs or more to ensure that the flowers are pollinated. Plum flowers are fairly short-lived and lack of pollination often causes a poor harvest. To get the best harvest, thin out the fruits in early summer to give the best fruits a good chance to grow and ripen.
As for the size, you’ll need a plum tree in fan, pyramid or bush shape. Ask for a tree that has been grafted onto a dwarf or semi-vigorous rootstock – Victoria, Czar and Opal are all approved by the Royal Horticultural Society, which is a good indicator of quality. You can buy named ‘Dwarf Plum Trees’ too, even those which can be grown in outdoor pots, but, because plums are so easy to shape by pruning, they’re usually suitable for small gardens anyway.
Plums are easy to keep in shape by pruning – you’ll see them grown on cordons or espaliers in show gardens. If you have a south or west-facing wall, you could grow the plum tree against it in a fan shape to keep garden space free. If not, choose a bush type, which will grow up to 4m tall but will have foliage that starts quite high on the trunk. Refer to the pruning instructions for your particular tree; plum trees are usually pruned in the summer, but different varieties require different treatment.