Plums make good small trees for any garden and the delicious home-grown fruits are well worth the effort.
There are many different types of plum, including sweet and cooking varieties, damsons, gages, mirabelles and sloes and they have many different uses, from eating freshly picked to making cakes and preserves and adding to gin.
Follow the advice in this guide to grow your own plums.
Plums grow best in a sunny spot in well-drained, fertile soil. Most trees in the plum family come in sizes to suit all gardens. If you choose your tree carefully you can train it into your preferred shape – as a standard or fan. Smaller trees, grown on semi-dwarfing rootstock are easier to maintain.
The same growing conditions apply to most trees in the plum family, although gages grow best against a warm wall to ripen the fruit.
Damsons are hardier, smaller trees that will often do well where larger varieties fail. They can be trained on walls and grown as pyramids and are also used for windbreaks or hedging.
Many cultivars are self-fertile so you can get away with planting a single tree, but plum trees will generally produce a better crop if cross-pollinated with other plums. There are four pollination groups but plum trees flower at very similar times, and a plum tree in one group can be successfully pollinated by another variety in its own group or in a group above or below it. Look out for the pollination group when choosing your trees
Planting plum trees
Plant plum trees during the winter when trees are dormant. Bear in mind that bare-root plants usually establish better than container-grown trees. Young trees will need staking for the first few years.
Add plenty of well-rotted compost or farmyard manure to your planting hole. Or if growing in a container choose a generous size pot and add a mix of soil and compost to help prevent the plant drying out during hot weather.
Looking after plum trees
Plums are some of the earliest fruit trees to flower. Although the trees are hardy, frosts will kill the blossom. A sheltered, sunny location will protect them to some degree, but you may need to use horticultural fleece in freezing conditions.
When the fruits have formed by June or July, it’s best to remove some so they don’t overload the tree.
Pruning plum trees
Don’t prune plum trees in winter as this can cause them to develop silver leaf disease. Prune young trees in spring for shape and established trees later on, to remove dead and damaged wood. Summer pruning will keep the tree manageable, and allow the fruit to ripen.
Follow our step-by-step guide to pruning a plum tree.
Problem solving: plum trees
Plums are prone to aphids, birds, caterpillars, plum fruit moth and wasps.
The larvae of plum moth and plum sawfly tunnel through fruits leaving them inedible. The fruits may drop, but it’s worth looking out for the telltale puncture in the fruit in May. If you can spot them, remove these damaged plums before the larvae return to the soil. Pheromone traps can also help to protect trees.
Plums are also prone to silver leaf if pruned in winter. Brown rot and bacterial canker are also common problems. Watch Monty Don demonstrate how to prune out bacterial canker.
Allow the fruits to ripen on the tree and pick them when they are soft to touch – the individual plums should pull away from the tree easily if ready.
Plums are best eaten fresh if uncooked, but can be preserved in jams, chutneys, or stoned and frozen to use in cakes, stews and more through the winter.
See some of the delicious recipes using plums from our friends at Olive magazine.
Plum varieties to try
Prunus domestica ‘Victoria’ – the best-known variety, produces heavy crops of delicious, egg-shaped fruits, ideal for jams and chutneys as well as eating straight from the tree. Victoria plums are usually grafted on to a semi-dwarfing rootstock, so trees are compact and a good choice for small to medium-sized gardens. It’s self-fertile
Prunus domestica ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’ – reliable and disease-resistant, the fruits ripen in September and October. Good for eating and cooking, it’s self-fertile, but as it flowers mid-season, it can be cross-pollinated with most other plum trees
Prunus insititia ‘Farleigh Damson’ RHS AGM – also known as ‘Farleigh’ and ‘Farleigh Prolific’, this is one of the best damsons, especially if pollinated with another variety
- Prunus cerasifera ‘Golden Sphere’ – a very hardy Mirabelle cherry plum, with large fruits that are good for eating and cooking. This is partly self-fertile and fruits are ready in late July
- Prunus domestica ‘Cambridge Gage’ RHS AGM – one of the most popular greengages, because it is reliable and produces delicious green fruits with yellow flesh. It is good for jams and for eating. It’s self-fertile and crops in mid-August