Growing Plums, Gauges & Damsons
These are all fairly easy to grow and once established, give heavy crops. They are all related to each other so require the same growing techniques.
Care should be made in choosing the variety, as not all are self-fertile. If space is at a premium a self-fertile variety should be chosen, preferably on a dwarfing rootstock. The two main rootstocks are St. Julien A, a semi-dwarfing rootstock and Pixy, which is a dwarfing rootstock that produces small trees suitable for use against a support for fan training.
Some self-fertile plum varieties are Dennison's Superb, Czar, Marjories Seedling and probably the best known, Victoria. Self-fertile Damsons are Merryweather and Shropshire.
Soil Conditions and Siting
Plums require a very fertile, deep, well-drained loam. Damsons are a bit more tolerant of shallow topsoil. The pH of the soil should be between 6.0 and 6.5. Fan trained plums should be grown against a south or west facing wall. Avoid growing plums where there is a danger of very late frosts as the flowers can be damaged.
Plant bare-rooted trees in autumn.
Free standing trees should only be planted in warmer areas where the early flowers will not be damaged by early spring frosts. If early frost is a problem grow as a fan against a south-facing wall where extra protection can be provided.
Mulch annually with well rotted farmyard manure.
The trees are very susceptible to silver leaf virus, for this reason they should never be pruned in winter as the wounds take a long time to heal and there is a danger of infection.
Prune free standing trees in spring by removing any dead or diseased wood, any branches that cross over each other and that could cause damage by rubbing and any overcrowded branches. Fan trained bushes need pruning every year. (See fan-training section of Pruning)
Exceptionally heavy crops can be achieved but this can lead to breakage of the branches. To avoid this problem with large crops, wait until the natural drop has finished in midsummer then thin out the fruits to 3" apart. The laden branches can also be supported with a forked prop but cover the end to prevent chafing of the branches, which can lead to infection.
Protect the flowers from frost in the early part of the year. It may be necessary to net the tree to prevent damage by birds when the fruit is ripening.
For eating fresh, the fruit is best left on the tree until fully ripe. The fruit is ripe when it feels soft to the touch and it lifts off the tree easily. Cup in your hand and gently lift with a slight twisting motion. Always handle gently as the fruits bruise very easily.
If required for cooking or bottling, pick the fruit when the bloom appears on the skin.
Pests and Diseases
Plums, Gauges and Damsons can be affected by Aphids, Birds, Wasps, red spider mites, Plum Sawfly, rust, silverleaf and bacterial canker. (See pests and diseases section for prevention's and cures. This is accessed via the Main Index Page)
14 December, 2003
© copyright 1999, P. A. Owen