A guide to choosing Plum and Gage trees

Here are the most important things that you need to take into consideration when choosing plum trees:

Variety. Choosing the right variety is by far the most important consideration. It is of course important to choose a variety that you will like and enjoy as well as one that suits the purpose you want it for. The fruit colours range from green, through yellow and red to purple and blue. The tastes range from very sweet in the case of the gages to quite tart in the case of some of the cooking plums. Flesh texture can be very firm as in the case of the continental Quesches or Zwetschen to very soft and juicy as in the case of the transparent gages. Here are some examples of the main types based on taste, flesh texture and use to help you get started in making your choice.
  • Firm fleshed sweet plums. We suggest you look at Avalon, Bluetit, Goldfinch, Jubileum, Marjories Seedling , Opal, Reeves, Verity and Victoria
  • Soft fleshed sweet gages. We suggest you look at Cambridge Gage, Denniston’s Superb, Early Transparent Gage, Old Greengage and Reine Claude Doree.
  • Cooking plums good for jam making and stewing. We suggest you look at Diamond, Purple Pershore, Rivers Early Prolific and Yellow Pershore
  • Firm fleshed sweet cooking plums for tarts and drying. We suggest you look at Quetsche d’Alsace and Bohemian Zwetsche.
While most plums can be grown in most parts of the country, some require warmer conditions. If you live in a cooler region you need to take this into consideration when choosing a variety. Plums also flower quite early. If you are in an area subject to spring frosts you need to avoid earlier flowering varieties.

Rootstock. 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. Unlike in the past when the choice was largely limited to fairly vigorous trees, with the introduction of modern dwarfing plum rootstocks there is quite a wide range available now. 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. Plum trees need to be pruned and trained to become attractive and productive trees. They need less pruning than apple and pear trees. 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:
  • Dwarf pyramid trees. Christmas-tree-shaped trees suitable for small gardens, allotments or other restricted spaces. We do not supply two year dwarf pyramid trees and you would need to buy maiden trees on dwarfing rootstocks to train in this form.
  • 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. Plum trees are not suitable for espalier training and we only supply fan trained plum trees .
Cropping season. The earliest plum and gage varieties ripen in late July and latest varieties are ready by mid to late September. Plums do not keep and must be used fresh off the tree. The fruit on one tree will obviously not all ripen at the same time but nevertheless depending on weather conditions will all ripen and needs to be used within a short one to two week period. It is therefore important that if you are planning to grow more than one variety you choose varieties that do not overlap too much. Also bear in mind that many varieties ripen during the summer holiday period. Avoid varieties which ripen when you are likely to be away on holiday.

Blossom. All plum and gage trees have attractive pure white blossom during April.

Pollination. We have deliberately left this to last as it is an issue that you only need to check after you have chosen your varieties. There are many plum varieties which are self-fertile and can be grown successfully on their own. But some are self-sterile, which means that they need pollen from a plum tree of a different variety to fertilise the flowers and produce fruit. The information on each variety page will tell you if your chosen variety is self-fertile or self-sterile. You can use the show suitable pollination partners facility on the same page to ensure that your chosen varieties cross pollinate and make changes if necessary.