Growing Damsons – How to Grow Damsons

How to Grow Damsons – A Guide to Growing Damsons

Damsons are actually a form of plum but with a generally tart flavour and being used more for cooking, jams, wine etc rather than eaten fresh.

Damsons

Damsons are hardier than most plums and will often succeed in situations where a plum tree would fail to fruit. By selecting a damson on a dwarfing rootstock it is possible to have a damson in a small garden or even to container grow them.

You can also create a hedge or windbreak of damsons. Buy Farleigh as half-standards on St Julien A rootstock. Plant fairly close, 1 to 2 metres apart. Will reach 4 to 5 metres high

Growing Damsons

Damsons are greedy fruit and like a good soil with lots of nitrogen Like most stone fruit, they like a high pH

When planting in poor, sandy soils, dig as large a hole as you reasonably can and add 500 grams of bonemeal to the base. Mix the removed soil with good quality compost and back-fill. Ideally, test the pH and if below 6, add lime to take it up to 6

In early spring scatter 75 grams per square yard of general purpose fertilser such as blood, fish & bone or Growmore around the tree to the edge of the branch cover. Follow up with a 50mm mulch of compost and / or well rotted manure being careful not to take it right to the stem.

Every 3rd or 4th year, lime around the plant to keep the pH up to around 6

Whilst they do not like a waterlogged soil, they need to be kept moist. In dry weather water well, especially in the early years until they become established.

Plant bare-rooted trees in late autumn or early winter. Pot grown can be planted at any time.

Harvest in late August – September

Further Information on Damsons

Damsons Seed & Plants

  • Damsons from the Allotment Shop

Many plums and damsons are self-fertile, meaning that a tree will set fruit without need for a pollinator of a compatible variety. However, even self-fertile varieties produce much heavier crops when cross-pollination takes place, so it makes sense to grow two or more compatible varieties. Not all varieties crop well every year – fruiting can sometimes be biennial or erratic with good crops occurring only every second or more years. In a favourable season however, crops can be so heavy that branches can sometimes break under the weight of the fruit. This year plum crops have mainly been good.
The most commonly grown plum is the variety Victoria, which although generally a reliable cropper is also very prone to canker and other diseases. In the West of Ireland, where high humidity and rainfall combined with low summer temperatures leads to increased risk of disease, Victoria is not recommended. Far better are disease-resistant varieties such as Marjorie’s Seedling, Denniston’s Gage, or Czar. Another reliable but sweet variety is Gordon Castle, from Scotland. Of the really exquisitely tasty plums that might only crop in particularly good years, Coe’s Golden Drop would be hard to beat. The earliest plums ripen in August while the later varieties such as Marjorie’s Seedling are ready towards the end of September.
The commercial varieties of damson offer a diversity of flavour and cropping period not usually found in the wild hedgerow damson trees. Merryweather, a large, late September or early October damson, is the most well known. Farleigh and Shropshire Prune are smaller, tastier and earlier, and may ripen better in a poor year. Earlier still and tastiest of all are Blue Violet and Delma. Wild damsons can be found growing in many parts of County Mayo.
Cultivated varieties of plum and damson can generally be obtained both container-grown and bare-rooted. The latter can only be planted out during the dormant season (November to April but avoiding times when the ground is frozen or water-logged) while container-grown trees can be planted out all year round. The autumn is the best time of year to be considering additions to the fruit garden, enthusiastically browsing through nursery catalogues, and preparing the ground for the new arrivals. Anyone with existing plum or damson trees that are not producing crops should consider issues like disease, soil quality, shelter, or pollination, and perhaps seek expert advice on possible remedies.
Sources
Fruit and Nut (www.fruitandnut.ie) supply a large range of container-grown and bare-rooted apple, plum, damson and nut trees suitable for the West of Ireland. They will undertake site assessments and/or provide free advice over the phone or by email. Phone 087 6714075, or email [email protected]
Next week Blueberries without the blues
Andy Wilson is a founding member of the Westport Sustainability Group, which is involved in many food-growing initiatives in the Westport area, including the Railway Walk Linear Orchard project. He can be contacted at 087 6714075 or [email protected]

Plums, damsons and gages (Prunus domestica)

Plums, and their closely related damsons and gages, are all easy fruits to grow at home. They produce large (often too large!) reliable crops of fruit, which is available in a range of coloured skins and flesh. Dessert plums and gages produce sweet flesh and can be eaten fresh straight from the tree. The more tart culinary plums and gages, and damsons make delicious jams, preserves, pies and crumbles.

More compact modern varieties and semi-dwarfing rootstocks ensure that even small gardens can have their own tree – and make them perfect for growing in large containers.

Plums, gages and damsons are also highly ornamental, producing lots of gorgeous blossom in spring.

How to grow plums, damsons and gages

Cultivation

Plums, damsons and particularly gages need a warm, sunny site, which isn’t exposed – strong winds can reduce pollination by bees, leading to a poor crop. As a result, they are often grown as a fan, trained up against a south-facing wall or fence.

Always plant out of frost pockets, which again can affect the flowers and reduce pollination and fruit set.

They prefer a fertile soil enriched with lots of organic matter, which holds plenty of moisture in spring and especially in summer when the fruit is ripening, doesn’t dry out or become waterlogged.

Plum, damson and gage varieties

Plums are large, usually soft-fleshed – perfect for eating or cooking, depending on the variety. Gages are small, round and generally very sweet. Damsons are hardy and have a tart flavour, which is excellent when cooked.

If you only want to grow one tree, make sure you choose a variety that is self-fertile. The following are all self-fertile varieties.

Plums
Gages
  • Cambridge Gage (dual purpose), Early Transparent Gage, Imperial Gage (Denniston’s Superb), Oullins Gage (dual purpose)
  • Farleigh, Merryweather, Prune Damson

Pollination

Many plum, damson and gage varieties are self-fertile, meaning you only need to grow one tree, rather than having to worry about pollination from another variety that flowers at the same time. So it is a better and easier choice to stick to self-fertile varieties.

Rootstocks

Plum, damson and gage trees are available grafted onto different rootstocks, which control the overall size the tree will grow to as well as how early in their life they start fruiting. The eventual size will vary, depending on your soil; on heavy clay and fertile soils the trees will grow slightly bigger.

  • Pixy: Semi-dwarfing rootstock, perfect for bush trees growing in good light or loamy soils and produces a tree reaching 3-4m (10-13ft) high
  • Saint Julian A: Semi-vigorous and suitable for bush, half standard and fan-trained trees up to 4.5-5m (14-16ft) high
  • Torinel: Also semi-vigorous, suitable for all uses, including pyramids, and produces trees similar to Saint Julian A

Planting plums, damsons and gages

Plant bare-root trees between November and March, and container-grown ones preferably in autumn or spring. Bare-root trees often establish better than container-grown ones.

Dig a hole 60x60cm (2x2ft) and 30cm (12in) deep. Add a layer of organic matter – such as compost or well-rotted manure – to the base of the hole and dig in. Place the roots of the tree in the planting hole and adjust the planting depth so that the old soil mark on the trunk is level with the soil surface.

Now mix in more organic matter to the soil and fill in the planting hole. Stake the tree with a rigid tree stake and two tree ties so that it is fully supported against the prevailing winds. Water in well, apply a granular general feed over the soil around the tree and add a 5cm (2in) deep mulch of well-rotted garden compost or bark chippings around the root area.You can also grow trees in large patio pots (minimum of 40-50cm/16-20in in diameter). Use John Innes No 3 Compost, as its weight will help with stability of the container.

How to care for plums, damsons and gages

Once established, plum, damson and gage trees are unlikely to need regular watering, except in very dry conditions, but may need watering when the fruit is developing to help ensure a bumper crop.

Trees growing in containers, however, will need regular watering in spring and summer to prevent the compost drying out.

Add a controlled-release granular plant food to the soil surface each spring to ensure the tree is fed throughout the growing season. Because plums and gages produce such heavy crops, they respond well to feeding.

Trees that produce poor crops of fruit will benefit from feeding with sulphate of potash.

Their flowers can be very susceptible to frost damage, so wherever practical cover with horticultural fleece when severe frost is predicted.

Birds will often damage the fruit, so net small trees and fans as the fruit ripens.

Pruning

If you buy a fully trained tree it will need little in the way of pruning for the first few years at least.

Pruning must always be carried out when the tree is in full growth – usually any time from May to the end of August. Pruning at other times of year risks infections from disease – particularly bacterial canker, which can kill even fully grown trees.

It pays to know what, how and why you’re pruning, as wrong or excessive pruning can lead to crop reduction. Most times all you need to do is remove dead, diseased, dying or damaged branches, branches that rub against each other and those that cross from one side of the tree to another.

If you constantly have to prune the top of the tree to reduce its height, then you’ve probably bought the wrong variety growing on the wrong rootstock!

What and how you prune depends on the way the tree is being grown and trained; the 3 commonest are bush, pyramid and fan.

Bush

Pruning is mainly limited to removing crossing, weak, vertical and diseased growth. If the tree is still overcrowded, then further pruning and thinning can be done in July.

Pyramid

Shorten the central main stem by around two-thirds early in the tree’s life. Repeat every year until the tree has reached 1.8m (6ft) high on Pixy rootstock and 2.4m (8ft) on St Julien A. After that, shorten it to 2.5cm (1in) or less each May to keep the tree at the same height. Vertical shoots at the top of the tree competing with the central main stem should be removed.

Fans

Prune back branches growing away from the support to 3 to 4 leaves. Prune back fruited shoots to a suitable sideshoot to replace the removed shoot.

Thinning fruit

Once fruit has set, it may need thinning to ease congestion, which can lead to a lot of smaller fruits. Wherever possible, thin to 5-7.5cm (2-3in) apart.

Overly heavy crops one year can lead to small, insignificant crops the next. Also, very heavy crops can weigh down the branches and even snap them. So it pays to support heavily-laden branches with a Y-shaped prop, put in place in early summer.

Harvesting

Pick the fruit once it has developed a good colour, but before it turns too soft, holding it by the stalk if possible, not the fruit itself.

The fruit of dessert varieties is best eaten fresh, but can be stored in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to 7-10 days.

Flowering season(s)

Spring

Foliage season(s)

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Sunlight

Full sun

Soil type

Clay, Loamy

Soil pH

Neutral

Soil moisture

Moist but well-drained

Ultimate height

Up to 8m (26ft) depending on rootstock

Ultimate spread

Up to 5m (16ft) depending on rootstock

Time to ultimate height

10-15 years

Damson European Plum

The damson (Prunus insititia) is thought to have arisen through natural crosses in Asia between the sloe (Prunus spinosa) and the cherry plum (P. cerasifera). This is the Wild Damson brought into cultivation and first recorded in 1629.
Several cultivars / varieties were selected and some may still found in Great Britain, Ireland and the United States. Some known varieties in the UK include Farleigh Damson, Shropshire Prune, Aylesbury Prune, Frogmore, Merryweather, Early Rivers and Common Damson
The damson often occurs as a semi-wild hedgerow plant a little like a European version of one of our bush tucker trees.
We know of no reliably named cultivars of P. insititia available in Australia.
Our Damson trees are most likely clones of a tree brought to Australia sometime after the arrival of the First Fleet. It may have been a named variety at the time although these tended to arise towards the latter half of the 19th century. More likely it is simply a common damson, possibly originally raised from seed.
Fruits are not eaten fresh but are flavoursome when cooked or preserved. Flesh is yellow and astringent.

  • Pollination Group: self fertile
  • Uses: drying, jam, preserves
  • Harvest: mid to late i.e. March

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How to Grow Yellow Plums AKA Mirabelle Plums

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Growing yellow plums is really not all that difficult as long as you give them what they need! Plums are super healthy to eat by themselves, but they also make great jams, jellies, and desserts! Yellow plums, also known as mirabelle plums, mirabello prunes, or cherry plums, are simply a different variety of plum tree, and they’re absolutely delicious and easy to grow! If you’re interested in learning how to grow yellow plums, follow this easy gardening guide!

Prunus domestica is part of the genus Prunus. Scholars believe that the yellow plum was cultivated from the wild fruit grown in Anatolia. You can easily identify the mirabelle plum by its smooth skin and oval shape, and of course, its distinct yellow color. They are very sweet and full of flavor, which makes them an excellent canning fruit. The juice of the yellow plum is also commonly used to make wine, distilled into plum brandy, or made into eau de vie.

The name mirabelle plum comes from the region from which it is grown, Lorraine, France. This region of France has the ideal soil and climate conditions for the yellow plums to grow. Lorraine, France produces about 15,000 tons of mirabelle plums yearly, which accounts to about 80% of the global commercial production.

In the United States, yellow plum trees date back to the 1940s and can usually be found just north of San Francisco.

How to Grow Yellow Plums in Your Garden

Planting Yellow Plums:

  • Plant seeds or seedlings in good quality, well drained soil. You can purchase yellow plum seeds online or head to your local farmers market to purchase the fruit itself. Remove the pit from the fruit and wash it well to get rid of any leftover fruit. Dry the pit on a paper towel overnight before planting.
  • Choose an area with full sun and lots of space so that your plum tree can grow. Do not plant near other trees or vegetables. The mirabelle plum needs space to fully grow.
  • Make sure that your soil has a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. This is the ideal soil condition for yellow plums.
  • If possible, try growing the European yellow plum variety, as they are self-fruiting and you don’t need to plant several trees to get fruit. If you are growing another variety which needs to be self pollinated, you will need to plant both male and female seeds.
  • Make sure to plant somewhere where your tree can grow – yellow plum trees can reach a height of 16 feet, so keep away from other trees, plants, or structures.
  • Water the tree regularly, especially during its growing time.

Yellow Plum Tree Care:

  • Apply 1 pound of organic fertilizer in March during the tree’s first and second year.
  • Apply 1 cup of calcium nitrate in May during its first and second year as well.
  • After the first two years, apply 2/3 cup of calcium nitrate in March and August.
  • Give your plum tree plenty of water, especially during growing season.
  • Lay mulch around to keep soil moist.
  • Prune away any dead branches while the tree is growing.

Now that you know how to grow yellow plums, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to planting!

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