The late summer bounty. Photo - photolibrary,com
As if the beautiful spring blossom of the plum were not enough to make it a lovely small tree choice for the home garden, it also deliver splump juicy fruit for eating, stewing, bottling, drying and cooking.
The only question is which plum to plump for.
Linda Ross considers the options.
Plums like an open, sunny spot with well-drained soil. Add organic matter or animal manure to improve the fertility and structure of the soil and if soils are heavy clay, build up the level of topsoil to ensure good drainage.
Before planting prune damaged roots and cut roots back to 20 cm. Trim limbs to an outward-pointing bud approximately 30 cm from the trunk. After planting create a depression around the plant to act as a watering basin. Water well and keep moist during summer until well established.
Allow for a maximum spread of 4m x 4m so the canopy can broaden without crowding. An open vase shape is best to increase sunlight exposure and fruit production. Alternatively, plums can be trained onto a north-facing fence or frame.
Pests and Diseases
Watch for birds and net as needed. We use four timber stakes placed around the tree and linked by sections of poly pipe over the top of the tree. Netting is draped over the top and secured into the soil around the tree with tent pegs. Put out fruit fly traps before fruit ripens and patrol with vigilance. We recommend OCP’s Eco-natralure during fruiting.
Plums come in two main types, Japanese (originally Chinese) and European. The Japanese plum (Prunus salicina) is one of the best stone fruits for warmer and coastal areas: blood plums and yellow-fleshed plums are among its many delicious cultivars. The European plum (Prunus domestica) needs winter chill and produces slightly smaller fruit than the Japanese varieties.
Most types require cross-pollination, so choose wisely if you have room for only one tree.
SANTA ROSA is considered one of the best plums, with large, high-quality fruit, purplish-crimson in colour with a pale blue bloom. The yellow flesh is mildly sweet, with some tartness near skin and stone.
DAMSON or DAMASK PLUM is self-fertile and also pollinates with Mariposa. Requires winter chill and is excellent in cold climates.
GREEN GAGE and its sister YELLOW GAGE have firm flesh and skin, even when ripe. These European plums are freestone, with amber-yellow flesh and a good, sweet flavour, favoured for cooking. They tend to bear biannually, ripen in late summer and can be pollinated with d'Agen, the plum dried to make prunes.
PLUMCOT and PLUOT are trademark names for a complex cross between plums and apricots which exhibit more plum that apricot characteristics. The Plumcot ‘Spring Satin’ can be purchased from Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery.
SATSUMA has red to purple flesh with a freestone. The flavour is good, the growth vigorous and it bears particularly well; in fact to get large fruits it may require thinning. Self-pollinating.
MARIPOSA is a popular blood plum with large, heart-shaped fruit with very dark red, sweet, juicy flesh. Sweeter, larger and softer than 'Satsuma'. Suitable for small to medium gardens.
Tips and Tricks
Unless you choose self-fertile varieties, two plum trees will increase pollination and therefore fruiting. Check with your supplier regarding compatibility.
Ideally the fruit should be picked off for the first three years to allow the tree to establish a good branching framework.
Plumcots should be pruned when young to establish a strong framework, then annually to keep tidy and maintain a height of approximately 2m.
Irrigate when required. Mulch to retain soil moisture and control weeds.
Where to buy
Fleming’s Nursery, www.flemings.com.au
Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery, www.daleysfruit.com.au