Plant a Plum Tree this Winter
Success with plums is as easy as following these steps
There is no juicier fruit than a plum. Ranging in flavour from very sweet to tart, and in colour from deep purple to golden yellow, plums have been cultivated in South Africa since Jan van Riebeeck established a food garden at the Cape way back in the 1650s. And in spring they burst into spectacular white blossom, adding to the beauty of the garden.
The best time to plant a new plum tree is during the coldest months of July and August. Most plum varieties need to cross-pollinate with certain other varieties to bear fruit, so unless you have space for more than one tree you need to select a self-pollinating variety. If planting two or more trees, you need to space them at least 3-4m apart for easy access and optimal cultivation. (If you plan to espalier your trees, then space them 1m apart – we will cover this subject in a future issue.) Choose a sunny spot and make sure the soil is well drained. Plums tolerate a range of soils, from sandy-loams to clay-loams, but it is imperative that the soil does not get waterlogged. Needing at least 1000 hours of winter temperatures below 12.5°C, plums grow best in regions that experience cold winters followed by hot summers. This is why they do extremely well in the Boland.
Choosing your trees
Select the varieties of your choice at a reputable nursery in your area. Look for one-year old grafted trees. The factors to consider are whether they need cross-pollinators, the colour you want and the fruiting periods: it’s always good to extend the bounty in your orchard by ensuring a selection of varieties that fruit over different periods. Early varieties produce fruit towards the end of November, and late varieties towards the end of February. A rule of thumb to apply when choosing cross-pollinating varieties is to note the colour of the fruits: seldom do two varieties of the same fruit colour cross-pollinate – a curious fact of nature. Below is a table to help you make your selection: