Growing Plums and Gages


Although an extremely popular and delicious fruit, plums have the disadvantage of being unreliable as regards cropping. Flowering early in the spring (mainly March), they run the risk of having the blossoms frosted. Another snag attached to this early flowering is that pollinating insects, such as bees, are most reluctant to venture out into what is normally, at that time of year; a bitter east wind. For these reasons, plums are not often grown extensively in gardens.

Plant plum trees in a warm and sheltered position. If the garden is particularly cold and nowhere in it is suitable, then perhaps you ought to think again before planting plums.

While the trees are small, the best frost protection is simply to spread some horticultural fleece or some polythene over them on evenings that look likely to develop into frost.

Plums in rural areas may have the added hazard of bullfinches feeding on the buds in a harsh winter.

Perhaps it would be useful to have a quick word here about the difference between plums and gages. Though more of academic interest than horticultural accuracy, the traditional classification is that gages are for eating and plums for cooking. Today, the emphasis is much more on dual-purpose varieties that crop heavily and, for the modern small gardens, this makes a lot of sense.

'Cambridge' GagePlums can be grown as standards, half-standards, bush trees, pyramids and fan-trained trees. Unless you want a traditional large tree, make sure that you buy one that is growing on the rootstock Pixy. This produces a tree about two-thirds of the normal size.

Although fans may be grown trained to wires or canes in the open garden, it is more usual for them to be trained to a wall or fence. The horizontal wires for training the fans should be 6in (15cm) apart, or two courses of bricks.

New varieties appear from time to time, but none of them exhibit any great advantage over those that we already have. For that reason, Victoria is still the most widely grown variety, both commercially and in gardens, and there really seems to be no reason for changing. There is no other plum that can match it for reliability, ease of growing, flavour, and crop weight. Others are better than Victoria in one respect or another, but none overall.

From the many available, here are some of the best garden varieties:

Czar late July – cooking – purple

Opal early August — dual purpose — dark purple

Oullin’s Gage early August – dessert — golden

Denniston’s Superb mid-August — dessert – green/yellow

 Early Transparent Gage mid-August — dessert — green

Cambridge Gage late August — dessert – green

Victoria August — dual-purpose – bright red

Marjorie’s Seedling late September – cooking – purple


Victoria is one of the best self-fertile varieties, but, even so, does not carry what it is capable of unless cross-pollinated. Other self-fertile varieties include Denniston’s Superb, Czar Early Transparent, Oullin’s Gage, ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’ and Merryweather damson.

Cambridge Gage is partially self-fertile, but Coe’s Golden Drop and the Old English Greengage must be cross-pollinated to produce any fruit.

'Marjorie's Seedling' cooking plumDenniston’s Superb and Coe’s go well together; Czar, Victoria and Merryweather damson also do and so do Old English Greengage and Marjorie’s Seedling.

Plums like a soil that is not too chalky or limey as these are apt to turn the leaves yellow (through lack of iron and manganese) and reduce the crops. Strongly acid soils are equally unsuitable as calcium is in short supply.

Pests and diseases can also be troublesome. The worst is usually a greenfly attack from midsummer onwards; use a systemic insecticide against them the moment you see any. The most noticeable place is going to be on the end of the current season’s new shoots where colonies of the Mealy Plum aphid soon stunt the growth.

There is also a little moth (the Red Plum Maggot) that is responsible for maggots in the plums. The best control for this is a thorough spraying with a contact insecticide during June. The actual time can be determined with the help of a specific pheromone trap which should be hung in the tree(s) in late May.

Brown Rot is probably the worst disease; this can be kept in check, but not really cured, with a fortnightly systemic fungicide spray during the summer. The other symptom to look out for are the infected fruits remaining on the trees during the winter All these should be picked off and burned. They are easily recognised as shrivelled, brown and with fungal spores on the outside.

Another bad disease, Silver Leaf, can only be controlled by cutting back all infected branches into unstained wood during the summer. Infected branches are easily spotted because their leaves are pale green and have a silvery sheen to them. Summer is also a good time to carry out ordinary pruning because it is the time of year when cuts, especially saw cuts, seal themselves very quickly, thus preventing entry of the disease spores.

Actually, once the main framework of branches has been formed in the first four to five years, the pruning of plum trees is really just a question of keeping them tidy and free from dead, diseased, damaged and badly placed branches. No detailed attention is needed, unless you are growing fan-trained trees against a wall.

Fertiliser treatment is much the same as for other fruit trees in that it should be applied in the late winter so that it is washed down to the roots before growth starts in the spring. The type to use is also as for other fruit trees, that is one with a comparatively high potash content. ‘Growmore’ is better than most because it has a nitrogen, phosphate and potash content balanced equally at 7 per cent each.

The traditional way of growing plums is as standards, half-standards and bush trees. These are large trees whose trunks alone are 6ft (1.8m), 4ft (1.2m) and 2ft (60cm) tall respectively. Of these, only bush trees are really suitable for gardens.

As with apples and pears, plums can also be grown in a restricted form. The shaping is called ‘festooning’ because, rather then cutting the young main shoots back, they are pulled hard over and tied to lower branches in late summer after growth has stopped for the year. They can also be fan-trained to canes in the open garden or against a wall. In the latter case, wires are run along the wall 6in (15cm) apart.

The training of a fan is as follows.

1st February (after planting as one-year-old tree) Cut it back after planting to 24in (60cm) high.

1st summer Retain only two side-shoots. These should be opposite each other and 9-12in (23-30cm) from the ground. When 18in (45cm) long, tie them to the wires at forty-five degrees and remove the central stem above them. Remove any other shoots as they appear

2nd February Shorten the two shoots to 18in (45cm) long.

2nd summer Retain the extension growth and two new shoots on the upper surface and one on the lower of the two original side-shoots. Remove all others as they appear.

3rd February Cut back each of the eight new shoots to 2ft (60cm) long.

3rd summer Treat each of the eight shoots as last summer according to the available room on the wall. If there isn’t enough room, restrict the number of new shoots accordingly. Thereafter, the main concern is to prune and train for fruit, the basic framework of the tree having been created. Any shoots required for filling in gaps can be left but all others are stopped when they have made six or seven leaves.

Once the fruit has been picked, the shoots that were previously stopped are cut back by half.

Fortunately, it all sounds more complicated than it really is.

15. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Plums & Gages | Tags: , | Comments Off on Growing Plums and Gages


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: