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time to get fruity; From spring blossoms to juicy late summer fruits, a plum tree is the height of good taste.

Byline: DIARMUID GAVIN

Autumn is the season of harvest - from the veg beds with all the greens and root crops, to fruits finally coming to fruition.

Trees are laden with goodies plumping up by the day. It's always now that I hope for an extended season of sun to ensure they ripen on the branch ready for eating, cooking or storage.

I've long grown apples, pears and cherries but I'm beginning to put my mind towards plums. They're a versatile and delicious fruit, and can be turned into jams, chutneys, crumbles, pies, wine and ice cream.

Planning is important if you're going to develop a fruit garden. It takes thought and time to consider the choices available and what's appropriate for the needs of your household.

What fruit will you use and what will you end up letting rot or giving away? This week, my exercise is making decisions about the type of plum I'd like to grow and recommend.

There are different types of plum: dessert, which are sweet and juicy; culinary, which you cook; greengage, which are the smaller, yellow-greenish fruits; and damsons, which are good for jam making.

Gardeners can sometimes be reluctant to grow plums - they flower early and blossoms are prone to frost. So plant in the sunniest part of the garden.

Avoid known frost pockets and areas of cold wind and, if necessary, cover during the winter with horticultural fleece.

Or you can grow varieties that blossom a little later such as Marjorie's Seedling, which is a lovely purple culinary plum.

Blue Tit, a blue-skinned plum, is also suitable for more northerly regions, as well as the classic, much loved 'Victoria'. Choose a self-pollinating variety such as 'Victoria' and 'Czar' unless you have neighbours who also grow plums.

Before planting, prepare the ground well. Plums are thirsty and hungry plants so they need well-nourished, moistureretentive and free-draining soil - they don't like to be waterlogged. Regular readers will know this means plenty of compost and/or well-rotted manure and mulching in spring to help keep moisture in the soil during dry spells.

You can plant container-grown plums all year round, but as the bare root season approaches, this is the less expensive option and will establish more quickly. Order now for planting in November through to March. And be patient - it will take a couple of years for your first crop.

They can outgrow a small garden so choose one grown on dwarf rootstock such as 'Pixy' or 'VVA-1' which will restrict size to eight-10 feet.

Alternatively, grow them in a fan shape against a sunny wall.

Thin the fruit in May and June to ensure fat plums. This means leaving an inch or so between each fruit, discarding smaller fruitlets. As plums get ripe they become heavy and without thinning branches can snap under their own weight.

If you need to prune, do so only in June and July, but never in winter as silver leaf disease which they are prone to can enter through the cut this way.

Other pests include bullfinches who love to pick off and eat dormant buds in winter, so you may need to net your tree if this is a problem. Wasp traps in summer can help if they are a nuisance.

Fruit with white pustules are indicative of fungus (brown rot) so remove from tree and windfalls from the ground. 'Czar' has some resistance to this fungus.

Finally, watch out for caterpillars who will eat your produce. Pheromone traps can deal with moths and prevent them breeding and, again, remove infected fruit from the ground to disrupt their reproductive cycle.

CAPTION(S):

COOK IT Marjorie's Seedling is a popular culinar y plum

CLASSIC .Victoria plums are delicious self-pollinators

TASTY PRODUCE .Make home-made jam, plum tarts, crumbles and other wonderful puddings

GREEDY Get rid of caterpillars
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 10, 2017
Words:638
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