Plum Trees – A Guide to Buying, Pruning, & Growing

Plum trees are regularly grown in gardens in the UK and their fruit is traditionally made into jam and eaten on its own. They can also be made into a fruity wine or dried and eaten as prunes.


Early Spring brings us beautiful buds on trees which then blossom in wonderful shades of pink.  This pretty blossom often produces juicy plums during the summer months.

They’ve become increasingly abundant in recent times and in most places you don’t have to go far to find a tree full of plums. They are fairly easy to grow, even for the beginners amongst us.

This easy growing fruit has many uses in the kitchen. Plum jam is one of the tastiest jams you can eat. Plums can be used for a wide range of sauces, chutneys, wines, and you can even pickle them in vinegar. Plum trees make a great addition to your garden and will produce fruit year after year when cared for correctly.


Plum Tree Varieties

There are many varieties of plum trees available to grow in the UK. They all have different features and uses for eating and cooking. Some tree varieties produce fewer plums which may suit you if you want them as just a fruit rather than a cooking ingredient.

Below we bring you our guide to the common varieties of this particular fruit to help decide which plum tree will be best to buy.


Damson

Damson plums
Damson: Sweet and good for jam.

Damson plums are oval and are one of the sweeter plums making them a popular plum for jam-making. They are quite small in size and they actually originate from Damascus in Syria.

Damsons grow well in the UK climate which may seem surprising with its origins. They are blue-black and have a lovely taste to them when cooked, making them hugely versatile.


Greengage

greengage plums

Greengage: Good to eat fresh.

Greengage plums originated from Iran and they are one of the nicest plums to use for desserts. This green plum produces one of the sweetest tastes you can imagine and it’s so very juicy.

They are often eaten fresh and also are popular with some cheese and wine. These plums can be quite tricky to grow so perhaps not for the inexperienced fruit grower.


Mirabelle

mirabelle plums

Mirabelle – Good for Jams, Cakes & Sauces

Most commonly grown in France, mirabelle plums are a small and sweet fruit often called cherry plums. These plums are a lovely yellow and are sweet, juicy and perfect in jams, cakes, and sauces.

Again, it’s not the easiest plum to grow but it can be successful in gardens.


Victoria Plum

victoria plums

Victoria – Hardy and easy to grow.

The Victoria plum is an English plum that is red with a yellow flesh inside. The shape of this plum takes on an oval appearance and they are quite hardy plums to grow.

The name is closely linked to Queen Victoria and was thought to first be discovered in a garden in Sussex. However, this claim has been disputed over the years and its true origin is unclear.


How To Grow Plum Trees

Growing plum trees is not difficult, and they don’t require much maintenance. However, it’s still important to follow key points to ensure successful production. There are some tasks you should carry out throughout the year to ensure you get plums during the summer months.

When To Plant Plum Trees

The ideal time to plant your plum tree is late winter or early spring while trees are not yet in bloom.

This also gives your plum tree a chance to acclimatise to its environment which will set it in good stead going forwards. It’s vital to find the appropriate spot for your plum tree because if you don’t choose wisely your tree may not produce fruit at all.

Please ensure your chosen spot has the following conditions for optimum results:-

  • Use sandy soil rather than clay – plum trees prefer well-drained soil and don’t do so well if the roots are very wet.
  • The spot you choose must have full sun for most of the day. Anything less will not produce such good results.
  • Be mindful of frosts when planting your plum tree. Plum trees flower early and are therefore susceptible to frost damage in cold spells. To avoid frost damage it’s best to try and plant on higher ground where possible.
  • If you have a fairly open garden you might want to try and add some shelter before planting your plum tree. They can take quite a beating during windy weather which can affect the end result.

Pruning Plum Trees

Your plum tree will need pruning once a year to keep it healthy and producing plenty of fruit. The best season for pruning is during full growth at the height of summer. As a rule of thumb this is during June and July.

Pruning keeps it in tip-top condition and keeps it in fine shape with plenty of light being able to get through. Left without any care will see your tree become unruly and unhealthy and will ultimately lead to diseased branches.

Top Tip: Never be tempted to prune your plum tree during the winter months. If you attempt to prune over winter you risk your tree getting a disease called Silver Leaf Disease. This disease affects fruit trees and eventually kills the branches with a harmful fungus.

Pruning Tips For A Young Plum Tree:

  • Carry out the first pruning session during the tree’s first dormant seasons as this encourages good growth and healthy fruit produce.
  • Once planted, cut the height down to around 30 inches in height and when you make that snip be sure it’s just above a bud.
  • When you make each cut be mindful this will be where there will be new growth.
  • When cutting the tree back, keep the cuts clean and at an angle to prevent diseases from occurring.
  • It’s important to keep a shape for your young tree so focus on 4 main branches which will provide the overall structure to your tree.
  • On each of these branches, there should be just one or two buds to avoid overgrowth.
  • Any other branches cut cleanly against the tree trunk.
  • For the first few years try to keep the branches to 10 inches and focus on the main branches to retain a nice manageable shape.
  • Once the tree is well established over 3 or more years you can allow other branches to remain. Try and encourage even spaces between branches to keep it healthy.
  • The top branches should have just one bud each while the lower branches can have two buds each.
  • The plum tree should take on the vase effect or Christmas tree appearance shape-wise.
  • Each year take a little height off the trunk to keep the plum tree at a respectable height.

Pruning Tips For A Well Established Plum Tree

  • Any dead or diseased branches need to be removed to stop the tree getting damaged. These cuts should be made flush to the trunk.
  • Dead branches can be removed at any time of the year and shouldn’t be put off as the tree will be wasting valuable energy on these diseased branches.
  • Be aware of any branches not producing buds as again, the tree will do better with its energy being pulled towards healthy growth. These branches can be removed.
  • New shoots may start growing from near the tree roots and these should be removed when you spot them.
  • Do not let the tree get too crowded, no branches should cross over with each other.
  • If you are worried your tree is producing too much fruit and becoming unmanageable you can prune it during the summer to slow down the process.

Harvesting Plums

When to harvest plums: August & September

You can squeeze your plums  (ooh, matron) to decide if they are ready to be picked. If they feel soft when squeezed and come off easily then you are good to go. They are best left to ripen on the tree for as long as possible to get the best out of your fruit flavours. Plums don’t keep very long once picked so be sure to eat them quickly or have plans for them in advance.


FAQ’s

Read our fruity FAQS on everything you need to be aware of when it comes to plum trees.

How Big Will A Plum Tree Grow?

The good news is that you will be able to work with the space you have available. You will be looking at a height of 2m and a width of 3m for fan trained trees. These will flourish against a south or south-west facing wall, in a large garden preferably.

For those smaller gardens, it might be best to purchase a free-standing plum tree. These will get to around 2.5m in height which is perfect for a small space.

You could also opt for a bush trained plum tree which will reach a height of around 4m. These are free-standing and you’ll need a ladder when it comes to picking the fruit. This one won’t be suitable for small spaces.

How Fast Will Plum Trees Grow?

You can expect to see fruit being produced on your plum tree between one to three years after planting. Five years after being planted you should see the optimum fruit growth being produced.

How Do You Pollinate & Do You Need Two Trees To Produce Fruit?

Some plum trees are self-fertile so in these circumstances, you will only need one. However, most will need a second tree nearby to allow for pollination to occur. If you do need a second tree make sure it will flower at the same time as the other.

How to Grow Plums From Seed

Before you get too excited about the prospect of being able to grow plums from seeds, it’s important to be realistic about the results. You may not produce any fruit from your tree at all and if you do, it won’t be to the quality of the plums you took the seeds from.

First, remove the pit and give it a rinse in tepid water to get rid of the pulp. You should then wrap the pit in a wet towel and pop it in the fridge so it can begin its chilling process. This will take approximately 6-8 weeks.

Once you see evidence of sprouting it can come out of the fridge and you can plant the pit and pop it in a soiled container. The soil should be around 2 inches in depth and keep it in a well-lit place and don’t over-water.

Once the frost has gone you can plant the seed outdoors in your desired location and it needs at least 6 hours of sun daily. The pit should be placed in a hole around 12 inches deep and keep the area well-watered.


Further Reading

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