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Plums, gages and damsons: choosing cultivars

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last updated Mar 12, 2013
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Prunus domestica (plum). Credit: RHS Advisory.

Plums, gages and damsons are all stone fruits that thrive in sheltered, warm gardens. Although they all bear the same basic type of fruit, their taste varies from tart and spicy, to sweet and perfumed. All these have their uses, so the final choice is usually a personal one.

Practical considerations Back to top

Site: Plums need a warm and sheltered position to set fruit and crop well. Choose a south- or west-facing spot out of the wind, if you can. Alternatively, try fan training.

Garden size: If size is no restriction, choose a standard tree. However, a pyramid-trained tree usually proves the most economical on space and crops well. Alternatively, train as fans flat against a sunny wall or fence.  Unlike some other fruits very dwarfing rootstocks are not available.

Dessert (eating) or culinary (cooking): Plum and gages are either dessert or culinary, although some are dual-purpose. Damsons are usually cooked or turned into jam.

Storage: Plums develop their best flavour if left to ripen on the tree. Unfortunately, the fruit does not store for long, so must be eaten or preserved.

Taste: Flavour is one of the important consideration for most gardeners. There is a guide to taste under the ‘quality’ category listed below for each cultivar. However, you may be able to try plums for yourself at fruit events.

Disease resistance: Resistance to disease is another consideration which varies between cultivars, with modern types often having higher levels of resistance than traditional ones.

Pollination group: It is generally much easier to get good pollination with plums, gages and damsons than with apples and pears. This is because many are self-fertile and, as a result, it is possible to grow just one tree. However, they will benefit from cross pollination of another tree in the same pollination group, or an adjacent one.

Partly self-fertile and self incompatible cultivars need cross-pollination with another tree in the same pollination group, or adjacent groups.

Rootstocks: Most tree fruits are grafted onto rootstocks. It is the rootstock, more than anything else, which controls the size of the tree. Pixy is a useful rootstock for pyramid-grown cultivars as it has a certain amount of dwarfing effect.   St Julian A is vigorous, but is more reliable option where conditions are not optimal.

Cultivar selection Back to top

Plums, gages and damsons are closely related. Plums are large, usually soft-fleshed – perfect for eating or cooking (depending on the cultivar). Gages are small, round and sweet, but grow best in a sunny spot. Damsons are especially hardy and have a spicy, tart flavour and are good cooked and jammed. The most useful cultivars to grow in a garden are listed below.

Cultivars marked partly self-fertile and self incompatible need cross-pollination with another tree in the same pollination group, or adjacent groups.

Dessert (eating) cultivars

Name: Blue Tit AGM
Group: Plum
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Mid-August
Quality: Good, but not especially sweet
Comments: Greenish-yellow fruits; reliable, compact.

Name: Cambridge Gage
Group: Gage
Pollination group: Partly self-fertile
Season of use: Late August to early September
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Green fruits, sweet; most reliable of the gages, but vigorous and needs a warm garden.

Name: Imperial Gage (Denniston’s Superb) AGM
Group: Gage
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Late August
Quality: Good
Comments: Greenish-yellow fruits; reliable.

Name: Jefferson AGM
Group: Gage
Pollination group: Self incompatible
Season of use: Late August to early September
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Yellow-green fruits with fibrous flesh.

Name: Opal AGM
Group: Plum
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Early August
Quality: Good
Comments: Orange-red fruits; very reliable.

Name: Oullins Gage AGM
Group: Gage
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Mid-August
Quality: Fair
Comments: Greenish-yellow fruits.

Name: Victoria AGM
Group: Plum
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Late August to early September
Quality: Good (dual-purpose as can be cooked)
Comments: Orange-red fruits.

Culinary (cooking) cultivars

Name: Belle de Louvain
Group: Plum
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Late August
Quality: Good
Comments: Compact tree; very large red fruits.

Name: Czar AGM
Group: Plum
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Early August
Quality: Good
Comments: Compact tree; reliable; blue fruits.

Name: Marjorie’s Seedling AGM
Group: Plum
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: September
Quality: Fair (Dual purpose – culinary and dessert)
Comments: Heavy cropping; blue fruits.

Name: Pershore AGM
Group: Plum
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Mid-August
Quality: Fair
Comments: Compact tree; canary yellow medium size fruits.

Damson cultivars

Name: Farleigh
Group: Damson
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: Mid-September
Quality: Good
Comments: Compact tree; blue-black fruits.

Name: Prune Damson AGM
Group: Damson
Pollination group: Self-fertile 
Season of use: September to October 
Quality: Good
Comments: Long, oval blue-black fruits; vigorous but neat tree.

Links

RHS AGM Fruit (Adobe Acrobat pdf)
RHS Plant Finder

Quick facts

  • Plums grow best in sunny, sheltered spots
  • Only one tree is usually needed for a good crop
  • Choose from culinary and dessert cultivars
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