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Plums and prunes are a great choice for a garden fruit tree, plums tend to be relatively expensive in the stores as they don't travel all that well or keep for very long, so the varieties that you do buy are selected for features that are good for the store keeper rather than the consumer. Plum trees are generally fairly small, and aren't as bothered about pruning in the way that apples or pears are for instance. They are also a particularly delicious and valued fruit, in many parts of SE Asia, plums are considered as an "exotic fruit" well worthy of the title.
Their only vulnerability is that they flower early in the spring and the blossom may be damaged by frost reducing that years crop. Birds often eat the flowers which can also affect the crop, I'm fortunate in that there's only a pair of collared doves that get at mine and I can live with the limited damage that they do. They seem to keep others out of the garden and I tend to feed them more at plum blossom time. so they're less likely to go for the flowery salad.
Plums are not self-fertile other than the admirable "Victoria" variety, though given their size it is not too difficult to have 2 or 3 for cross-fertilization in the same garden. Like apples and pears, plums are grafted onto a rootstock which determines their ultimate size, with the grafted portion being the particular variety of plum. Suckers may be produced from below the graft junction which should be removed as seen.
Training and pruning - Being drupes (stone fruits) plums should not be pruned in the winter months as they are susceptible to the fungal disease silver-leaf. The bush form is the easiest to maintain and most effective in the average garden. Over the first three years an open crown with four strong branches should be allowed to develop. Pruning needs only to remove obvious shoots and branches that are damaged, too thin and long, crossing or in the wrong place.
Silver Leaf - This is a fungal disease that affects drupe fruits and plums in particular. The name is descriptive and affected plants leaves take on a silvery appearance due to air being introduced just under the top epidermal surface. The disease usually enters the tree in the winter months often through pruning cuts, so the best defence is not to prune in the dormant winter months, but only when the tree is in active growth. There is no chemical cure for silver leaf, it is the plum tree equivalent of gangrene. Affected branches or twigs should be cut back to healthy unaffected wood with no brown staining. If there is more than about 1/3rd of the branches affected, the tree is best removed and burnt. Any prunings from affected trees should be burnt.
Q. I Was left a plum tree by my father which I planted 4 years ago I don't know a lot about plum trees but this year I had fruit grow which weren't very big or looked edible but the tree has grown to about 12 foot and has a thin trunk which bends over could you tell me if it needs pruning or trimming as I haven't got a clue and it is important to me that I look after it as best as I can your help would be greatly appreciated.
A. Difficult to say really without seeing it. It sounds like it's not happy where it is planted, is it in the shade, poor soil conditions? getting a lot of competition?
What variety of plum is it? Could it be a damson tree? they're small and used for cooking usually. Sounds odd that it's bending over.
So, what to do? Clear the ground around the base at least 2 feet in radius and apply a thick mulch of garden compost. If it needs supporting, then 3 short stakes with long ties each about 2 feet from the trunk and tied quite high up would work or a single 6 foot tall post next to the trunk, but this might damage the roots if you dig or hammer it in.
To be honest a tree that is that condition and is 12 foot tall doesn't have a lot of chance to become normal. It's either in the wrong place or it wasn't staked correctly when it was developing. I assume it has a sentimental significance, so it's worth trying what I've suggested, but if it didn't I be considering replacing or risking moving it to a more advantageous position - a lot of work and no guarantee of success.
I thought I should give you some feed back on the advice you gave me last year.
As advised by you, I cleared the grass for about
2 feet from the trunk and gave it a good dose of
potash last summer. In the autumn I gave it a good
amount of mulch ( rotted compost heap material)
and followed up with another potash feed in the
spring. The results have been tremendous with a
big crop this year, although the size of the plums
has been small (probably due to the real lack of
So all in all a very satisfactory result. Many thanks for the advice.
Q. A young plum tree I recently planted (purchased in a dormant state) does not look healthy and is mildewed, however, what would appear to be a sucker, growing from the base, is doing well and budding as usual. Should I cut back the original tree growth to ground?
A. It's far more likely than not that the sucker is part of the root stock of the plant and not the cultivated plum that you bought it for. Cultivated fruit trees have a well performing variety of top growth grafted onto a wild or semi-wild rootstock. That way you get the quality of fruit and top-growth that you want but with the vigour of native rootstock. Cultivated varieties tend to have fairly poor roots.
If the top growth has died, the sucker will be from the rootstock and while vigorous will produce poor quality fruit. Best to pull it up and start again. Might be worth asking for a replacement from where you bought it if you treated it properly i.e. didn't keep it in the wrong conditions for too long (days or weeks) before planting it.
Apple & Plum Duo£ 29.99
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