How to be proficient with plums!

The shortest day has just flown by – thank goodness, we hear you gasp - but there is still plenty of the cold stuff to come. Make the most of it; put dreams into action and plant that orchard or the couple of fruit trees you've been hankering after.

Winter is the ideal time to buy and bed them in. Nurseries have an abundant supply; trees are dormant at this time of year, which increases their long-term survival rate because there's less chance of stressing them; and they have plenty of time to establish before summer's big dry blows in.

Plums are a very versatile option. They lend themselves to a wide variety of cakes and desserts, work well in savoury dishes and sauces and, of course, delicious straight from the tree.

When choosing your specimens, however, be aware some varieties require a companion: another type of plum to ensure cross pollination. Labels, nursery staff and, of course, Mr Google will be able to help with the correct variety for your particular choice.

Plant your plum in a sunny position, ensuring it will have enough room for growth, in well-drained soil. Dig a hole about twice the depth and width of your plant's root ball, loosen the plant's root system and position the tree on top of a mound of soil just high enough to that will bring the bottom of the tree's trunk level with the ground. Back fill the hole adding compost and sheep pellets.

Ongoing care: remove any fruit that sets during the first year after planting. This practice helps ensures the tree's establishment and better fruiting in ensuing seasons.

Pruning in summer is recommended for stone fruit – there's less chance of the tree contracting disease or infection. But shaping the tree is a lot easier in winter and doing that after planting will get the tree's shape right from the get-go.

Prune to create a vase shape, choosing three branches evenly spaced around the tree's perimeter. Remove the trunk back to the highest branch of the vase and prune out all other branches.


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