PLUMS-GARDENING TIPS FROM THE CULINARY VIEW
as recommended by Michael Vidrine
In May we are right in the middle of Spring. This month we start harvesting some of our stone fruit including one of my favorites, plums. There are several plums native to Texas including the Chickasaw plum and the Mexican plum both of which are edible and useful for making jelly and preserves. We have a few Mexican plums on our property which put on a beautiful and fragrant flower display in March and draw bees like a magnet. For the best eating quality however, we grow a number of European/Asian hybrid plums. Successful varieties will be those best adapted to our chill hour zone which averages 600 hours. Among the hundreds of varieties available, some that generally do well in our area include Methley, Santa Rosa, Bruce, Wickson Gold, Allred and Burgundy. Methley, Wickson Gold and Burgundy are also self fertile and can be grown as individual trees. The other plums should be planted with another variety for good pollination and fruit set. Plum trees also come in a variety of sizes from dwarf (8 to 10 feet) up to standard size (18 feet+) to fit into almost any garden situation. Like the native trees, these improved plums also put on a beautiful floral display. Plums will grow best in well drained soil in a location with 8 or more hours of full sun. If your soil is like mine – heavy clay – it may be best to grow the trees in an 8 to 10 foot bed raised about 6 inches. Bare root trees are usually started in the winter while container trees can be started at any time but will usually do best if started well before warm weather arrives. Young trees will need supplemental watering at planting and particularly during the summer months. Mature trees also benefit from supplemental watering and fertilizing to support good fruit set and size. Plum trees, like most stone fruit, are usually pruned when they are dormant into a vase shape to keep the center of the tree open for good light penetration and air flow. To get good sized plums, the flowers or immature fruit should to be thinned to be 4 to 6 inches apart. Because plums often bear so heavily, up to 90% of the immature fruit may need to be removed! Plums can have problems with various pests and diseases and may require treatment if the problems get severe enough. On our plums, brown rot – a fungal disease – has been the only significant problem that I treat for routinely. There are several good fungicides available to the home gardener for taking care of this problem often mixed with a pesticide. Texas A&M Extension has a detailed list of possible problems and controls in the publication “Homeowners Guide to Pests of Peaches, Plums and Pecans” which can be obtained online . Good garden hygiene – removing fallen fruit and limbs – goes a long way towards preventing many possible problems. One more thing, be prepared to share your fruit with birds and squirrels – they love them too. Harvest plums when fully ripe and they separate easily from the tree. The fruit should be somewhat soft at this point. We usually start harvesting some varieties by about mid-May and pick the last plums by mid to late June. Our mature plum trees can produce anywhere between a few gallons to over a bushel of fruit per tree depending on how the season went. Any plums you don’t eat right off the tree can be kept for a while if stored at cool temperatures – a refrigerator is ideal. I love watching our grandchildren eat ripe plums and peaches from the orchard. The youngest always have juice running practically down to their feet – which is a good excuse for letting them hose off outside – which is its own warm weather treat. Plums are also great in salads either fresh or slightly grilled. They make wonderful pies and tarts and of course syrups, jellies and jams. Dehydrated plums are a healthful treat with lots of minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Plums are really good in savory dishes as well. They make an interesting substitute for apples in pork recipes. When we have a lot of plums at one time, we make juice which can be stored in the freezer. Plum juice is great as is and makes a really pretty sorbet or a cocktail mixer – ever had a plum mojito? The beauty and fragrance of a Spring flowering plum is reason enough to have one in your landscape. The bonus of a fruit harvest really makes this tree a natural for our area.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor