Ahhh, fruit trees!! Just the thought of picking fresh fruit from a tree in the yard sends my taste buds reeling! We can grow so many fruits up in the north such as apples, pears, apricots, cherries and plums. Of course, there is one that brings back very fond memories of the past. My grandma used to make the best plum dumplings around when we were kids. She would get large purple plums and pit them and then roll them in a handmade dumpling and bake them with a cinnamon and sugar glaze. They were the mix of sweet and tart all in one and we looked forward to them every time they were served. A good old recipe from the old country. One day I will replicate them, but at the moment they seem a bit challenging.
Many different plum trees grow in our area and produce on various levels and amounts. These trees are fairly easy to grow as long as you follow a few simple guidelines. First, one will need the space in order to grow plum trees as you will need at least two in order to pollinate each other. Plums belong to the ‘prunus’ family which also contains peaches, cherries and apricots. Large fruit trees should be planted 10-20 feet apart while dwarf varieties can be closer at 10-12 feet. Plums like at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day and enjoy a good fertile soil that is not heavy or predominately a heavy clay soil. Heavy soils and areas that don’t drain well are sure elements to cause the demise of your tree. Always check your soils and conditions before planting.
Another good thing to do is check around at existing trees and see how they are thriving or struggling; if they are not doing well, chances are neither will the plum tree. Once you have decided a good area to plant, check for other obstacles like patios, sidewalks, driveways, power lines and water lines. Since fall time can be messy when the trees start to lose their fruit, this can cause slippery and messy conditions on patios, drives and sidewalks. Taller varieties may infringe on power lines and need to be cut if planted beneath, so avoid this situation. Roots seem to like finding their way to water and sewer lines. So plant them at least 10 feet away from these features to avoid roots invading these systems and causing problems down the road.
Most plum trees are sold either potted or bare root. I am always a believer in bareroot stock as it plants well, does not need staking and goes through very little shock after planting and resumes normal growth shortly thereafter. Potted plants can sometimes become rootbound and need to be untangled and spread before planting.
If your soils are not ideal upon planting, mix in up to one-third peat moss or dried organic manure to add to the fertility and health of the soils in which you are planting your tree. The lighter the soil, the better your tree will grow.
You can expect to see your first plums within two to four years after planting, but some may take longer depending on the size of the tree being planted on the onset. Trust me, your patience will pay off. Smaller trees (under 6 feet) will adapt and adjust quicker than larger ones at planting time.
Some of the common varieties for our area are the ‘Pembina,’ ‘Mount Royal,’ ‘Toka’ and ‘Superior’. These are great eating plums ranging from purple to red in color. ‘Waneta,’ Brookgold' and ‘Fofonoff’ are a few other great varieties. ‘La Cresent’ is a yellow selection that tastes similar to apricots when ripe.
You will either find plums that are grown from seed and are on natural roots stock or others that have been grafted to a more hardy root stock. Dwarf varieties are usually grafted. If grafted, you will notice a bulb transition area on the trunk near the base where the graft occurred. Always remember to keep this graft section above ground when planting or the top portion will root into the ground and you will lose your dwarf characteristic.
Plums are a wonderful fruit to eat off the tree, make syrups from, create various jams, jellies and preserves, or even in which to make wine. Yes, I have made wine from the plums before and it is wonderful!
If you are into fruit trees, try a few plums in the yard. They are a medium-sized tree that produces a good crop of fruit once mature. In some years, they will produce more than you can use, but this is the perfect opportunity to share with others who may not have any of their own. Think about a selection you might enjoy and look to plant a couple this fall to start their cycle in the spring season. If nothing else, it is something to think about. In the meantime, I am going to think about the flavor of those plum dumplings again!!