How to Grow Plums and Mulberries
How to Grow Plums
(including greengages, bullaces, damsons andplums)
In general these are all very much alike and, although they can be trained, they are least effort grown as trees at five paces or so apart. Plums like a heavier, moister soil than most other fruits except. They do not like cold, damp sites, though some such as ‘Victoria’ and ‘Czar’ have done well trained on a cold wall. Liking richer conditions than most fruits, they can be very favourably sited next to chicken huts or compost heaps.
Grown as trees they are best left unpruned, any pruning is always done in mid-summer. Plums wait several years before starting cropping, this can be speeded up by pulling the branches down — though if patiently grown as unpruned standards the fruiting branches will weep and bring the fruit down to picking level.
Some plums are self-fertile, but benefit from having pollination partners. Even so, cropping is rather hit and miss, as the blossom is so frequently frosted. Irregular cropping makes them overdo it in good years and then be exhausted for the next couple. So thinning exceptionally heavy crops is necessary — and often expediently done by cutting off half of each over-burdened truss with shears.
There is much maintenance pruning required for plums trained on walls because the rootstocks still do not control them enough, and traditionally they prefer a herringbone to a fan shape. Better quality fruits can probably be had more easily by growing plums in pots on one of the new dwarfing rootstocks such as Pixy or Colt.
Plums suffer from a host of minor pests, though most seem to barely affect the crop. Maggots in the fruit can be almost eliminated with pheromone traps, and earwigs by banding the trunk. Mealyoften coat the leaves, but it is birds and that destroy most fruit. Protect prize fruits with bags. Birds also damage the buds in winter. I find winding black cotton over the trees really worthwhile as soon as there is snow or hard frost. Plum rust affects the leaves and damages future crops, so avoid having anemones nearby as they are an alternative host. Silver leaf disease is prevented by not pruning except during summer, and keeping the tree vigorous. This also helps prevent gummosis, an oozing from the bark on trees growing in badly drained or acid soils.
To enjoy the bloom and the sun’s warmth eat a plum off the tree — go for the ones the wasps choose if you want the most sweetness. Many varieties will peel and this avoids the well-known side effects of too many plums. I make gourmet jams of the same variety with and without skins, and with double the skins — what a difference this makes, try it! All the plums make good jam fairly easily, use slightly under-ripe ones for the bite of. They freeze well, but need stoning first to prevent taint. Surpluses can be juiced by simmering in water, straining and freezing. Or they can be fermented to make wine and, where legal, distilled to make the devastating fluid, plum brandy.
The true greengages have lightly scented flesh and I prefer them for dessert. ‘Coe’s Golden Drop’ is my favourite, but a shy cropper and needs a warm spot or a wall even -here in Norfolk. ‘Severn Cross’ is a delicious seedling more reliable and self-fertile. The transparent gages are hybrids with pale, translucent flesh and fine flavour. They ripen late and benefit from a wall or sheltered site.
Bullaces are small and generally too acid to eat raw, but make some of the most superb preserves. Varieties are scarce.
Damsons are closely related to bullaces, but larger and resemble blue black plums distinguished by a delicious spicy flavour once cooked. Damson trees are compact and usually self-fertile. ‘Shropshire’, or prune damson, which ripens late has the best flavour, but is a light cropper.
The cherry plum or myrobalan is often used as a windbreak because it is tough and more shrub like, and its growth makes good. They are self-fertile and bear almost spherical fruits which have an insipid, but juicy, flesh which makes good jam. ‘Onuka’ is a new, tastier variety.
If you want to eat these you’ll have to grow them. They are generally slow to come into fruit, but I have had them fruit a year or two from planting. They are traditionally planted as large specimens with a seat underneath in the middle of a lawn, but can be fruited earlier and easier in pots. Mulberries are self-fertile, have few diseases or pests other than birds, and require no regular pruning.
The trees are propagated by 1-ft. longfrom one-year-old wood taken from the tree in early October. Make a cut just above a bud at the top end of each cutting and just below a bud at the bottom end and insert the cutting 9 in. deep in in a cold frame. Leave the cuttings in the frame under glass during the winter and remove the glass early in May. By the following September the cuttings should be well rooted. Dig them up in October and plant out where they are to grow.
The fruits, which are a bit like black, are best shaken off the tree on to the grass or a sheet. Take care with clothes and fingers as the colour stains everything. Delicious fresh, mulberries also make a good jam and potent wine.