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Plums are one of the most versatile and delicious fruits. If you’re a beginner to fruit growing, a plum tree is a great choice, as they’re super easy to grow.

Plum trees are often a bit looked down on, and don’t get the attention they deserve. Maybe it’s because they’re so easy to grow.

Today, we’re celebrating the plum tree, and looking at some of the varieties you might like to add to your garden.

Prune d'agen plums - perfect for drying
Prune d’agen plums – perfect for drying

Which plum tree will suit you best?

There are hundreds of different varieties of plum. While they have a lot in common, they are so different to each other that most gardens deserve a number of plum trees of different types.

This will spread your harvest and give you access to home grown fresh fruit for longer. It will also give you more variety in your diet and more scope to preserve and cook them in different ways.

Ooray, or Davidson's plums (photo John Moss)
Ooray, or Davidson’s plums (photo John Moss)

Native Australian plums

There are two main types of plum trees you may be familiar with – European-type plums and Japanese-type plums.

But have you heard of any native Australian plums, like the Davidson Plum? Their native name is Ooray, and they are a great tree to consider for your garden if you live in the right climate.

Oorays are not very well known or often planted in Australian gardens. This is typical of the way we’ve learned how to grow food in Australia. Our colonial past means that many of our delicious and nutritious native foods are under valued.

Prune d'Agen plums - a sweet plum that is easily preserved by drying
Prune d’Agen plums – a sweet plum that is easily preserved by drying

European-type plums

European plums are the more familiar and “old fashioned” looking plums that were common in early Australian gardens. Prune d’Agen plums (above) are a common teardrop European shape.

But the Greengage and President plums (below) are also European-type plums. While Greengage are more rounded, Presidents have the classic “egg” shape that many people associate with the most common European-type plums.

There are dozens of European plums, including lots of others in the ‘gage’ and ‘prune’ families. They include plums like:

  • Coe’s Golden Drop
  • Purple Gage
  • Mirabelle
  • Damson
  • King Billy
  • Victoria

European-type plums typically have a dusty ‘bloom’ on the skin. This is nothing to worry about. It’s just the naturally occurring microbiome that includes bacteria, yeasts, and fungi.

In fact, the bloom on the skin is one of the reasons that plums naturally ferment so well. This is why they’re used around the world to make hundreds of local types of plum wine or liqueur.

An Angelina plum in a hand, this one is large for the variety
An Angelina plum in a hand, this one is large for the variety

Another well known European plum favourite is the Angelina (above). This plum never gets very large but is prized for being very sweet. It’s the classic plum used in many Eastern European countries to make plum dumplings.

Classic European plum dumplings
Classic European plum dumplings made with Angelina plums

Japanese-type plum trees

Most blood plums, of which there are dozens of different ones, are in the Japanese-type plum category.

Mariposa is one of our favourites because it’s a very regular cropper, grows to a good size, and is very sweet and juicy.

Mariposa blood plum with juice dripping
Mariposa blood plum dripping with sweet juice

The more old-fashioned Satsuma blood plum is far more prized than the Mariposa.

These lovely heritage plums are best known for their dense and almost ‘meaty’ flesh and their dark red juice (whereas the Mariposa has clear juice with pink flecks).

Satsuma blood plums on the tree
Satsuma blood plums on the tree

Satsuma plum trees were a common feature of many early gardens. They have the wonderful characteristic of having a good crop most years whether they’re thinned or not. However, they can sometimes fall back into the ‘biennial bearing’ pattern common to most fruit trees and start having a year off. Unless they’re thinned hard, they do tend to be one of the smaller plums.

There are also lots of different yellow fleshed Japanese-type plums like these lovely Amber Jewel (below).

Amber Jewel plums - sweet, and will hang on the tree without dropping
Amber Jewel plums – sweet, and will hang on the tree without dropping

Amber Jewel is a favourite because they become sweet quite early in the season but continue to hang well and sweeten for several more weeks. One of the stranger things about these plums is that the tip of the stone often breaks off within the fruit. This creates a small ‘floating’ bit of stone that forms an unexpected tooth-crunching trap for the eater.

Other Japanese-type plums

This is a huge category and probably includes hundreds of different varieties if you tracked them all down. We’ll stick with some of our favourites, and the ones that are easier to actually find in Australian nurseries.

  • Angelino (as opposed to the European Angelina)
  • Black Amber
  • Donsworth blood plum
  • Elephant Heart has a pale red flesh
  • Narrabeen
  • Queen Rosa
  • Ruby Blood
  • Santa Rosa
  • Tegan Blue

How to look after your plum tree

Plums are rare in the fruit world in that they don’t have any particular pests or diseases that target them every season. However, they can fall prey to aphids or brown rot if the conditions are right (or wrong!).

Despite their relative hardiness, your plum tree still needs the right care. You’ll find the full list of jobs here and the summary here:

  1. Most plum trees need to be thinned most years. Otherwise, they can become biennial bearing. Also, branches may break from excessive weight if you don’t remove some of the fruit.
  2. Trees need pruning every year. However, once your trees are established in a good shape, you may be able to get away with pruning them every second year if they are calm and fruitful.
  3. It’s important to tree-ripen plums to get the best flavour. They will continue to ripen a bit off the tree but the flavour is never quite as good as tree-ripened.
  4. As long as they are not over-ripe when picked, and stored at cool temperatures, plums should last in good condition for a few weeks after picking. If you want them to last longer pick them slightly greener.
Mariposa blood plums on the deyhdrator
Mariposa blood plums on the deyhdrator

Cooking with plums

Another reason to include a plum tree in your garden is that they are very versatile in the kitchen.

Plums lend themselves to preserving in a huge number of ways. Jam, chutney, preserving in alcohol, bottling, and drying are just the beginning. They also make the most wonderful array of desserts.

You can also use plums as a filler, for example, to make more exotic fruits like berries go further. One of our favourite desserts is this absolutely delicious plum and raspberry pie. The recipe is included in the Precious Plums short course.

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