Late autumn and winter is the perfect time to plant fruit trees and, whatever sized garden you have, Martyn Loach thinks there's space for a tree if you choose carefully and manage correctly.
Plums regained popularity after the introduction of dwarfing rootstocks and these heavy croppers are easy to grow even in small gardens. Here is Martyn Loach's advice on how to choose and plant plum trees.
Although fairly tolerant, there is a preference for deep loamy or clay soils, pH 6.0 – 6.5. Damsons can be grown in shallower conditions. As many varieties tend to flower early, keep away from high ground or sheltered positions where the blossom may succumb to a spring frost.
Standard trees will grow very large, so choose an dwarf pyramid on 'Julian A' rootstock which will grow to about 9ft, is an attractive shape and the fruit is easy to pick. As an alternative, 'Pixy' rootstock will produce a smaller tree suitable for training.
Like other fruit trees, plums flower at different times but, as most varieties are self-fertile, they do not necessarily need another pollinating tree. They should however crop more heavily if they are cross pollinated.
All these varieties are self-fertile and as the flowering times do overlap, Victoria can for example pollinate Czar:
Dennistons Superb Gage (an early sweet gage that is very hardy)
Merryweather Damson (heavy cropping all rounder for eating, jam and gin)
Victoria (for cooking or eating, reliable very heavy cropper)
Czar (easy to grow, hardy, good for cooking and jam)
Oullin's Golden Gage (large fruit, a good for storing)
Majorie's Seedling (excellent for jam, late flowering to avoid frosts)
Shropshire Damson (strong flavour, makes the best jam)
Container grown trees can be planted at any time of the year. Water the tree while it is still in the container. If the soil is easy to work, it is necessary only to dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball. If the soil is poor, dig deeper and wider, and mix in some organic matter or fertiliser with the top soil that has been dug out. Take the tree from the container and tease out the roots quite vigorously if they are pot bound. Returning the top soil, plant the tree at the same level as it was in the container. Firm the soil. Place two short stakes inside the wall of the hole and a cross bar. Tie the trunk of the tree to the cross bar, water thoroughly and mulch.
For bare rooted trees, plant in their dormant period i.e. late autumn and winter. Dig a hole about 3ft in diameter, putting the top soil to one side. If the soil is poor, mix into the top soil some organic matter and fertiliser. Drive a sturdy stake (at least 2ins in diameter) deep into the hole, ensuring the top will be well several inches below the lowest branch. Fill the hole, shaking the tree to work the soil around the roots. Note the previous soil level (visible on the tree stem) and ensure that the tree is planted at the same level. Firm in, mulch and tie to stake.
Water well during dry spells. Apply a balanced feed and mulch in the spring bearing in mind that nitrogen rich manure is particularly good for plums. Fruit should be thinned to about 3ins apart with 3 or 4 in a cluster. Support branches that are heavily laden with fruit. Plums are susceptible to Silver Leaf, affected branches must be cut out and to avoid this disease occurring it is advisable not to prune in the winter months.
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