Why every garden needs plum trees

Prune d'agen plums - perfect for drying
Prune d’agen plums – perfect for drying

Plums are one of the most versatile and delicious fruits, and a great tree to choose if you’re a beginner to fruit growing, as they’re super easy to grow.

Maybe it’s exactly because they’re so easy to grow that they’re often a bit looked down on, and don’t get the attention they deserve. Today, we’re celebrating the plum!

Supersweet Greengage plums
Supersweet Greengage plums

There are hundreds of different varieties of plum, and while they have a lot in common, there’s so much variation that most gardens deserve a number of plum trees of different varieties.

This not only spreads the harvest and gives you fresh fruit for longer, but also gives you more variety in your diet and more scope to preserve and cook them in different ways.

There are two main types of plum – European-type plums and Japanese-type plums.

Damson plums - sour and perfect for jam making
Damson plums – sour and perfect for jam making

European plums are the more familiar and “old fashioned” looking plums that were common in early Australian gardens, like these Damsons (which by the way is one of the best jam plums you’ll ever find).

But the Greengage and Prune d’Agen plums above are also European-type plums, and there are also lots of other varieties in the ‘gage’ and ‘prune’ families.

The most common European-type plums that most people are familiar with have this classic “egg” shape, plus the dusty ‘bloom’ on the skin, which is actually naturally occuring fungi (which is one of the reasons that plums naturally ferment so well, and are used around the world to make hundreds of local variations of plum wine or liqueur).

An Angelina plum in a hand, this one is large for the variety
An Angelina plum in a hand, this one is large for the variety

Here’s another well-known European plum, the Angelina, which never gets very large but is prized for its sweetness, and is the classic plum used in many Eastern European countries to make plum dumplings.

Classic European plum dumplings
Classic European plum dumplings made with Angelina plums

The Japanese-type plum category includes all the blood plums, of which there are dozens of different ones. One of our favourites is the Mariposa because it’s a very regular cropper, grows to a good size, and is very sweet and juicy.

Mariposa blood plum with juice dripping
Mariposa blood plum dripping with sweet juice

But far more prized than the Mariposa is the more old-fashioned Satsuma blood plum, known for its dense and almost ‘meaty’ flesh and it’s dark red juice (whereas the Mariposa has clear juice with pink flecks).

Satsuma blood plums on the tree
Satsuma blood plums on the tree

Satsumas were a common feature of many early gardens, and they have the wonderful characteristic of being regular croppers regardless of whether they’re thinned or not (though they can sometimes fall back into the ‘biennial bearing’ pattern common to most fruit trees and start having a year off). Unless they’re thinned hard, they do tend to be one of the smaller plums.

There are also lots of different yellow-fleshed Japanese-type plums like these lovely Amber Jewel, who become nice and sweet fairly early in the season but continue to hang well and sweeten for several more weeks. One of the stranger things about these plums is that the tip of the stone often breaks off within the fruit, creating a small ‘floating’ bit of stone that forms an unexpected tooth-crunching trap for the eater.

Amber Jewel plums - sweet, and will hang on the tree without dropping
Amber Jewel plums – sweet, and will hang on the tree without dropping

Plums are rare in the fruit world in that they don’t have any particular pests or diseases that target them every season, though of course they can fall prey to aphids or brown rot if the conditions are right (or wrong!).

However they still need the right care in terms of thinning, pruning, picking and correct storage to get the most out of your crop. The Precious Plums short course covers all of these basic skills, as well as instructions and recipes for preserving and cooking with plums.

Mariposa blood plums on the deyhdrator
Mariposa blood plums on the deyhdrator

Plums lend themselves to preserving in a multitude of ways including jam, chutney, making alcohol, bottling and drying, and make the most wonderful arrays of desserts.

They can also be used to make more exotic fruits like berries go further, and one of our favourite desserts is this absolutely delicious plum and raspberry pie (the recipe is included in the Precious Plums short course).

Plum and raspberry pie
Plum and raspberry pie

5 thoughts on “Why every garden needs plum trees”

  1. I’ve always had plums. Love satsuma, my first one used to supply so much fruit I used to say I could feed my whole small town from it. My kids and there friends all loved it. Unfortunately I didnt know about thinning when I was young and the damage from all the broken branches eventually took its toll. It still served me for 35 years. Of course I’ve planted new ones at home and at my grandsons place. But my favorite plum is greenguage and from your advice I took out a tree that was huge and this year put in its place a prune,greenguage and coes golden drop. Cant wait till they have fruit. Love all your tips and information. Thankyou.

  2. I too am a big fan of the humble plum & just like Anne I had a Satsuma that was a trooper for over 2 decades, bulging with fruit year after year until my lack of care saw it’s sad demise. We relocated from the Dandenong ranges to Mansfield and of course planted new plums, a damson, a Satsuma & a Santarosa. The latter was the first to present each spring with tightly curled leaves which promptly filled with aphids, a few seasons in and this has spread to the others. I have noticed many plums in the area suffer the same plight. I sprayed them with copper at budswell, & have tried pyrethrum & white oil when things looked really bad but can’t seem to break the cycle. Ironically it’s a great location for peach & apricot but not plums.

    1. Hi Sue, yes plums can be prone to aphids for sure – in fact it’s the aphids that cause the curled leaves, not the other way around. It’s stressful to see them spread, but they can be beaten! Unfortunately spraying the pyrethrum may be partly responsible for spreading and perpetuating the problem, because even though it’s “natural”, it’s a broad spectrum insecticide that kills predator insects as well as the problem insect. Have a look at our organic pest control short course for some other ideas: https://growgreatfruit.com/product/protect-fruit-from-pesky-pests/. Good luck, and don’t give up!

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