Even the small gardens usually have space for a small plum tree. Plums are a fantastic addition to your home garden and need not take up too much space. Plum trees will be beloved of pollinating insects, attracting them to your garden with their beautiful blossom. With the right care, a plum tree can provide a bounty of delicious fruit for eating fresh and for preserving for later use.
Choosing a Plum Tree
When choosing a plum tree, it is crucial to determine whether the variety that you are looking at is self-fertile. Also, the plum tree you select should be decease free and healthy. If you select a self-fertile type, then you will not require a second tree, while self-infertile varieties much have a partner tree to bear fruit. One plum variety well suited to a zone 8 climate in Texas is Gulf Beauty. Your local AgriLife Extension office, master gardeners group, garden center, and plant nurseries will be able to advise you of further good options for where you live.
Planting a Plum Tree
Plum trees will love a sheltered spot and can do well up against a south-facing wall or fence. They will do best when planting in soil that is not too free-draining and which will retain moisture. Plum trees are best planted in the dormant season between late fall and early spring and should be watered regularly, at least once weekly during cool weather and daily during hot weather during the first year until the plum tree has had time to settle in.
Caring For a Plum Tree
An application of some form of nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer in the middle of spring can help increase yield. Established trees will benefit from an organic mulch, which will keep down weeds and help with nutrient needs. Be sure to deep water during drier periods, especially while the plum tree is young.
Plum trees will also benefit from under-planting with a ‘guild’ of beneficial companion plants like comfrey, borage, alliums, and tansy, as well as, nitrogen-fixing legumes. Since plums have intense nitrogen needs, keeping grass at bay to well beyond the tree’s drip line is strongly recommended. So it is best to plant alternative companion plants or at least mulch heavily around the base of the tree to prevent grass from encroaching. Additionally, plum trees benefit from a thick helping of compost and a fresh covering of mulch. Also, fertilizer stakes, in moderation, can be helpful, as well.
When the tree fruits in summer, you may find that some boughs have to be supported to prevent them breaking with the weight of the fruit. Unlike with other fruit trees like apple trees, plum trees should be pruned in spring or summer when they can recover more easily without risk of infection.
Plums are sweetest when left to ripen fully on the tree. You will be able to tell if the fruit is ripe because it will be soft when you squeeze it gently. Take care not to bruise the fruit during harvest. Otherwise, they may spoil rapidly.
Plums are best when eaten fresh. If you have a bumper crop, however, you can also create a cordial or an alcoholic beverage, de-stone and freeze excess plums for cooking later or make jelly or another preserve with the delicious fruits.