When and where

October or November is the optimum time for planting out a plum tree, although you can (if you’re brave) plant out at any time from late Autumn through to early Spring. A moist location in full sun is ideal for plum trees – they need warmth and plenty of light. Avoid areas which retain frost – if your garden is cooler you would be well advised to choose a later flowering variety. Growing fruit uses a lot of energy, and plum trees get a large part of their energy from the sun
 A good draining soil is needed. Don’t forget that if your tree is not self-pollinating you will need to plant a pair of trees.

How to plant

If you have a relatively small space for growing your fruit trees, choose a half-size or small variety which you can train against a wall. First of all, soak the roots. Then use a spade to dig a hole which needs to be at least a third wider than the roots, though no deeper; fork over the soil at the bottom of the hole. You’ll need to stake the tree out, placing a stake next to the root before filling in with soil, mounding towards the base of the tree. Keep the joint and the grafted part of the tree at least 5 cm above the soil level. Firm the soil down gently with your feet, and water in thoroughly. Keep the tree watered until it has established itself in location. Feed regularly. If you are planting your tree to grow against a wall, plant it around 15 to 20 cm away. Water plum trees thoroughly without water-logging them. Spread fertiliser around the tree, up to 15 cm of the trunk – do this in the early spring.

Prune properly. Cutting out dead or closely growing branches is essential for proper tree growth and to encourage fruiting. Pruning should be done in the fall, after the fruit has been harvested. New blossoms, which are the starting point for fruit, occur each spring, so that's a bad time to prune, unless you want to encourage fewer, but larger fruits. In general, try to keep the tree canopy open enough to let that important sun light in. Check with a gardening manual or arborist for details on which branches to cut and how.


Feed those trees. In addition to light and water, fruit trees need food to produce lots of juicy fruit. Using a root feeder in the spring once the buds have started to show can direct nutrition to the roots where it is quickly absorbed. Otherwise, use a fruit tree fertilizer that is soluble in water and can be applied with a hose-end sprayer to the soil around the tree and out to the drip line. (That's about where the shade falls under a tree. Feed again after the tree blooms, and then when it starts to set fruit. Apply fertilizer once more when the fruit is about half the harvest size.

Remember to water. Plum trees are stressed enough just producing their loads of fruit each year. Regular spring rains should get them off to a good start, but in dry conditions, you will need to water. Let a slow-running hose slowly soak the soil or use a root feeder, but without fertilizer. Trees need watering every seven to 10 days if no rain falls during that period. If the leaves curl up and turn brown, it's nearly past time to water, so be observant if you want good fruit.


Blast the bugs. Insects can attack plum trees and leave them in poor health for producing fruit. To help prevent infestations, use dormant oil spray at the beginning of winter and in the early spring. This can be purchased at most garden supply stores and applied with a hose-end sprayer. For insects during the growing season, apply a food-safe pesticide spray, following application directions. Remember to always wash plums before eating. During the growing season you can use a lighter summer oil, and also protect from moths by applying a grease band at 50 cm above soil level. This is a sticky paper which will stop wingless moths from reaching up into the branches where they will mate and leave caterpillars to eat leaves and fruit.

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