Plums remain a popular, reliable and attractive fruit to grow in a garden, with plum trees providing a delicious crop of sweet fruit for pies, crumbles and jams. They can also be eaten straight from the tree.
Plum trees also provide pretty flowers in spring ahead of the main fruit picking season around August.
Where to plant plum trees
Try to select a growing spot which has good sunlight, is not too open to the wind and is not in an area that frequently gets frost.
- Avoid planting near large or overhanging, trees.
- Don’t plant in an area where a fruit tree has been removed recently as this may carry over a dormant disease in the soil.
Preparing the soil for plum trees
Before planting, dig over the soil and add in a bulky compost or organic manure to strengthen and boost the soil. Give it a feed with a fish-based general-purpose organic fertiliser.
Remove any weeds and if the soil’s sandy or chalky, incorporate lots of manure to improve the fertility.
When to plant
Plum trees are grown from either bare-root or potted plant varieties. Bare-root plants are more common, and these arrive to you as a main stem with bare roots exposed and no soil around them.
- Bare root plants can be planted between November to March, but don’t plant in frosts or when the soil is very
- Potted plum trees can be planted all year round.
Planting bare-root plum trees
- Dig a hole 6inches (15cm) wider than the plant’s root system when it’s spread out.
- The hole must be just a little deeper than the soil mark made on the stem of the plant.
- Make small holes in the side of your dug hole, using a fork, to let the roots establish.
- It’s a good idea to securely add a wooden stake post into the edge of the hole, giving the tree something to stabilise it.
- Place the tree in the hole and spread out the roots.
- Add layers of soil in the hole, firming and packing down each layer as you go and until the hole is full.
- Using strong twine or rubber, secure the stem of the tree to the wooden stake but make sure it has some room to move. The plant’s roots need to be secure enough in the soil so that it won’t come out if you pull lightly on the plant.
Planting potted plum trees
Potted plum trees arrive to you as more mature plants, ready to be planted in the ground. They can be planted all-year round, but not in high summer or the cold of deep winter.
Remove any weeds that could be growing on top of the container that the plant’s in, plus take out any weeds around the main root ball.
Potted plum trees are planted in the same way as bare-root trees (see above).
Watering and feeding plum trees
- In the first year of planting, water plum trees generously.
- Create a small pool of water around the stem. Let this absorb into the ground, then repeat.
- Water twice a day in hot weather.
- Until the tree first flowers, you can add a general-purpose fertiliser feed to the water.
- After the first flowering, use a potash-rich feed, like tomato food, instead.
How to harvest plums
- Plum fruits are usually ready for picking in August. If the fruit feels soft when it’s squeezed gently, then it’s ripe.
- Plum trees will need to be harvested of fruit several times, as not all of it ripens at the exact same time.
- Carefully remove fruits without bruising them and pick plums with the stalk attached.
- To freeze, cut in half and remove the stone.
How to thin plum trees
Plum trees often need thinning in early summer to stop them over-cropping and making the branches too heavy.
Thinning means removing some of the smaller unripe plums or fruitlets to create space for others to flourish on stems and branches.
How to prune plum trees
- Don’t prune trees in winter, because this could cause infection.
- Young trees should be pruned in spring, after the first flowering.
- Established trees can be pruned in summer.
- Trees that are three years old or younger can have all the main stems pruned to half their length.
- For trees older than four years, prune stems which are dead, diseased or damaged.
- Prune stems that overcrowd the centre of the plant.
Growing plums in containers
- Growing plums in containers is more difficult than in beds. Opal, Victoria and Blue Tit plum varieties grow best in large containers so that the potting compost doesn’t dry out in the summer.
- Keep potted plum trees well-watered.
- Add grit to the soil to help with drainage.