A guide to choosing Damson, Cherry Plum and Bullace trees

Here are the most important things that you need to take into consideration when choosing damson, bullace and cherry plum trees:

Variety. Damsons are all a dark purple or blue colour. Most ripen quite late in September. They will sweeten sufficiently to be eaten fresh but are best known for their characteristic sharp bitter flavour which gives damson jams and jellies their distinctive taste. Bullaces are smaller than damsons, round and also ripen late in September. Their colour ranges from a pale cream to purple. They all have a tart flavour which is less distinctive than that of damsons. Cherry plums ripen early in July and August. The colours range from green and yellow to dark red. They are generally sweet and quite palatable for eating fresh.

Rootstock. Damsons, bullaces and cherry plum trees are grafted on rootstocks and the choice of rootstock is important because it determines the ultimate size to which your tree will grow. It is important to choose a rootstock suitable for the space you have and the way you wish to grow the tree. The choice of rootstocks is the same as for plum trees. See how much space you have, imagine how you want the tree to look when it is a mature tree and decide on your choice of rootstock. Here are some guidelines for various common situations:
  • Small garden or allotment. Dwarfing VVA-1 (Krymsk 1) rootstock. We also use Krymsk 2 which is similar.
  • Small tree for medium sized garden. Dwarfing VVA-1 or semi-dwarfing WA-VIT rootstocks.
  • Medium size tree in a lawn or other grassed area. Semi-dwarfing WA-VIT or semi-vigorous St Julien A rootstocks.
  • Large old fashioned tree. Vigorous Brompton rootstock.
  • Pots and planters. Both VVA-1 and WA-VIT rootstocks would be suitable. Restriction of the roots by the pot will keep the tree small. It is also best to start with one year maiden trees.
  • Special restricted forms. Dwarfing VVA-1, semi-dwarfing WA-VIT and semi-vigorous St Julien A can all be used for fan training.
Tree Forms. Like all fruit trees these need to be pruned and trained to become attractive and productive trees. However pruning should be kept to a minimum just to develop and maintain the shape. All pruning should be carried out during the main growing season from early May to August and avoided in the dormant season. You need to consider what you wish your tree to look like once mature and buy a tree suitable for that form. We supply untrained one year old trees known as maidens which can be trained into any suitable form. We also supply two year old trees which we have already started training towards a particular form. If you want to order a two year old tree ensure that it is in a form that suits your purpose. You would normally not be able to re-train a two year old tree into another form. Here are some guidelines about the various tree forms:
  • Bush trained trees. Open centre goblet shaped trees with relatively short clear trunks of 3ft/1m normally on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks suitable for small gardens.
  • Half standard trees. Open centre goblet shaped trees with medium length clear trunks of 4ft/1.3m in height normally on semi-vigorous rootstocks suitable for medium sized, large gardens or paddocks.
  • Standard trees. Open centre goblet shaped trees with a tall clear trunk of 6ft/1.8m on vigorous rootstocks suitable for large gardens and paddocks.
  • Restricted forms. These are intended for growing against walls and fences. They are both a way of growing fruit in a restricted area and an attractive decorative feature. We offer a very small range of damson trees trained as fans.
Cropping season. Damson and bullaces ripen quite late and because the weather is cooler at that time of year they stay on the tree for a long time and can be picked over a long period. Cherry plums in contrast ripen early during the warmer part of the summer and can over-ripen and drop very quickly. They need to be picked as soon as ready.

Blossom. All damson, bullace and cherry plums have abundant, very attractive pure white blossom. The blossom usually opens in late March and early April but for some varieties in some years can be as early as February.

Pollination. All the damsons, bullaces and cherry plums are self-fertile and will crop on their own.