EVOLUTIONARILY APPROPRIATE INGREDIENTS > GROWING YOUR OWN INGREDIENTS > GROWING FRUIT > PLUM VARIETIES; NEW ZEALAND


Growing Plums in the New Zealand Home Garden
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European plums  Japanese plums  Cherry plums  Plumcots
Along with peaches and nectarines, plums are the defining fruit of the summer season.
In good soil  plum trees will bear fruit in 3-5 years from planting out. If you don't have room to plant two trees that will pollenize each other, then it is best to plant a self fertile cultivar.

Finding the variety you want-With increased urbanisation, vastly increased competition for leisure time activities, tiny backyards, longer and unsociable hours, and breakdown in the post war 'tradition' of home food gardening, the number of fruit trees planted has decreased dramatically. As a result, fruit trees aren't 'big sellers', and the range is restricted accordingly. This means that you may have to try to find the cultivar you want at a specialist nursery, or even graft it yourself (they are easy to graft from winter stored wood, but this is a subject in itself, and not something most of us have the time, knowledge, or inclination to do). Historically, a very large number of plums have been introduced to New Zealand Around 45 varieties were introduced by the then fully taxpayer funded 'DSIR' (now 'HortResearch Ltd, 'a state owned commercial business) between 1980 and 1990. Most were discarded after evaluation. A few varieties of interest to the home garden might have been saved, but if so, they are not available from nurseries. Some worthwhile home varieties may still exist on old farm homesteads, but in today's world there is little interest in finding and evaluating them.

Season - 'Early' is around December to about mid january; 'Mid season' is about mid January to about the middle of February. 'Late season' is any plum ripening after mid February. These rough dates can vary according to where you live, some areas being a little earlier or later than others.

Pollenizers - If pollenizing trees aren't present, fruit set will be either low or non-existant ( although even self infertile trees can sometimes set a few fruit). But even with the best pollenizers, cold wet springs and low bee numbers can cause poor fruit set in some years. Self fertile varieties are best where there is only space for one or two trees - but even then some years may have light crops due to pollination problems. In particular, even in warmer springs, very showery weather at flowering will wash away 'bee-collectable' pollen, reducing set even in self fertile varieties. The pollenizers for a given variety are listed with the variety notes.  'Japanese' plums are pretty much self infertile and require an appropriate pollenizer variety (except for Duffy's early jewel). Some varieties are better pollenizers for a given variety than others. Where known, these are listed first (from table 1, Hopping & Jerram 1979 - 'Pollination of Japanese Plums'). A 'less effective' pollenizer may in some cases result in only half the number of fruit that would have been set if a preferred pollenizer had been used.

Rootstocks -
Mariana (uncertain origin, possibly Prunus cerasifera x P. munsoniana) rootstock is often used in New Zealand for home garden trees as it helps reduce final tree size, (depending on culltivar) to 3 to 4 metres. A  few Japanese varieties are large trees on this stock, but virtually all European plums are held at medium size. It is able to tolerate heavy wet soils better than most rootstocks. Although it is shallow rooted, it performs well even in very sandy soils as long as water is available. It is incompatible with a few varieties (notably 'Damson' and 'President'). It rarely suckers, induces early fruitng, and aids heavy bearing. Possibly the best stock for home garden trees.
Pixie (P. insititia) has been promoted as the answer to producing a truly dwarf plum, as it gives early vigor and therefore early fruiting, but stops the tree at about 2 metres in ultimate height. Sadly, it has compatibility problems with some varieties. 'Duffy's early Jewel', 'Purple King', 'Santa Rosa' and 'Sultan' are recognised by the nursery industry as being compatible on this rootstock. It is also an acceptable fairly early  season dessert plum in its own right.
St.Julian X (Prunus institia) at one stage was used widely because it is compatible with almost any Prunus, whether peach, plum, apricot or nectarine. The rootstock sends up suckers all over the place, not only a nuisance in the lawn, but preventing you from spraying around the trunk to tidy it up. Avoid any tree grown on this stock!
St. Julian A (Prunus institia) also produces medium ('semi dwarfing) to large trees, depending on variety.A few varieties are incompatible with this rootstock.
Myrobalan B (Prunus cerasifera hybrid) produces a medium size tree when used for japanese plums, and full sized trees when used for European plums (except 'Greengage'). A 'cherry plum', this rootstock is also grown for its ability to pollenize European and Japanese plums that flower at the same time. It rarely produces suckers, and tolerates a wide range of soils.
'Brompton', a European plum (Prunus domestica) rootstock selected for its compatibility with all varieties, somewhat reduces the size of Japanese plum cultivars. When used for european plums, it reduces the size of some, but others - notably, 'Italian' and 'Stanley', are unaffected.
Peach (Prunus persica), while some seedling peaches are OK with some varieties, is broadly unsuitable as a rootstock for plums, as it has variable effects on vigor and fruit quality (according to the varying seed sources), and incompatibility with some varieties may cause the death of the tree.
 
European Plums-Prunus domestica The origin of the domestic European plum is thought to be from natural crosses of two wild species, the sloe plum, Prunus spinosa, and the cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera. These are usually, but certainly not always, yellow fleshed blue skinned plums, that are often naturally 'drier' than the Japanese plums, and with a more delicate and refined flavor.
They also encompass prune plums, which are sweet but rather insipid. Many prune plums were introduced by Government agencies in the early 1980's. They were released to the nursery trade in the mid eighties, but are now hard to find.
The Damson plum is also in this group, but is a seperate species, Prunus institia. In contrast to P. domestica, it is very acid, and usually used soley for preserves or flavored gin.
European plums are usually late flowering and have a higher winter chill requirement than Japanese plums. Some European plums, notably the damson, produce prodigously in the warm temperate areas, others hardy at all. As a general rule, they are better adapted to temperate, rather than warm temperate areas.

Cherry plums - very small cherry-like plums, red or yellow, with thin skin, pleasant sweet fruit. Usually small species or hybrids of small species. May be derived from Prunus cerasifera, P. americana P. besseyi or others. Most 'cherry plums' in New Zealand are probably Prunus cerasifera or interspecific hybrids of this species.  'Cherry plums' were sometimes crossed with Japanese plums (Prunus salicina) to obtain better sized early dessert plums. Prunus cerasifera is an excellent pollenizer for 'Japanese' plums, but flowers usually only co-incide with 'Billington'. in some years, they overlap with the start of 'George Wilson's' flowering period.

'Japanese' Plums - Prunus salicina. Some varieties are crosses with various other plum species, but are nevertheless regarded as 'Japanese' plums. This species is actually Chinese, but became known from seedlings introduced from Japan, so the misnomer stuck. This species blooms early, and can be damaged by early spring frosts. This makes them more generally suited to warm temperate rather than temperate areas.

Plumcots-A plumcot is a cross between an apricot and plum (Prunus armeniaca x Prunus domestica). They are probably usually self fertile. They flower early, around September, and over quite a long time. The trees have very showy quite large white flowers, and are an attractive early spring ornamental in their own right.

EUROPEAN PLUMS

ANGELINA BURDETT - Early season. This dark purple skinned, yellow-green fleshed medium sized plum has excellent flavor, but has a fairly high chilling requirement. Pollenizers are 'Greengage' and 'President'.

CACAK EARLY- Early season. Medium sized blue-black prune plum

CACAK BEST - Mid season. Large blue-black prune plum.

TRAGEDY PRUNE - Early season. Originally introduced by an early pioneer days nursery in Northland, this yellow fleshed, purple skinned prune bears reasonably well in warmer parts of New Zealand.

COES GOLDEN DROP - Mid season. Large, oval,  yellow skinned, yellow firm fleshed fruit of sweet and fine flavor if fully ripened on the tree. Requires a sunny aspect to fully ripen the fruit. Pollenizers 'Greengage' and 'President'. C.G.D. bears reasonably well in warm temperate areas.

MANGAMUKA GOLDEN DROP - Mid season. An old cultivar found at Mangamuka, Northland, by Koanga Nursery. Yellow skin tinged green,  yellow flesh,  melting and very sweet. Pollenizers uncertain, Greengage is likely, and perhaps Sugar Prune.

GREEN GAGE (Reine-Claude Dorée) - Mid season.The original greengage, introduced in France in the sixteenth century, and named 'Reine-Claude' in honour of the King of France's wife. The small to medium sized fruit are green, or in some variants, greenish yellow. The flesh is a transluscent greenish yellow, and the taste is pure nectar, with brix (sugar) levels approaching 30 when well ripened. It is one of the most refined and exquisitely flavored plums there is. Unfortuneately, like most gages, most variants have a fairly high winter chilling requirement, and fruit poorly if at all in warm temperate areas. Not really self fertile, use Stanley, Coe's Golden Drop or Angelina Burdett as pollenizer.

GROSS GRUNE RENEKLODE-syn. 'Greengage'. Mid season. A small round greenish yellow prune plum.

WANGENHEIM- Mid season. The small fruit have dark red skin. A prune plum.

MARAHEMO PRUNE - Mid season. A small, mottled skinned plum found at Marahemo by Koanga Nursery, Northland. Adapted to bearing in warmer areas. It is said to be self fertile.

LUISA - Mid season (presumed chance seedling from the Waikato) a large yellow skinned and yellow fleshed plum that is almost freestone. Aromatic, fine flesh, juicy, sweet if well ripened on the tree. Relatively disease resistant in more humid parts of New Zealand. Self fertile.

ITALIAN-syn.'Fellenburg' - Late season. A very well known prune plum in the Western United States, 'Italian' is large, dark blue with a heavy bloom, and is a freestone. It has a better flavor than 'Stanley' prune plum. It bears extremely heavily, but often drops a lot of fruit in summer. The greenish yellow flesh turns dark wine when cooked, making it very attractive when canned/bottled. Partially self fertile.

D'AGEN 707 - Late season. A small, red skinned, clingstone prune plum.

DAMSON - Late season. These small, round, blue-black plums are covered in a heavy bloom (like many blue European plums) and have amber-green flesh. They are acid, and are usually used for jelly/jams or for damson gin (!), but if the fruit are left on the tree very late they become of acceptable eating quality, if rather 'sharp'. The trees are vigorous and bear prodigously, with some selections ('damson' tends to be a generic term for many similar varieties) bearing very well in the warm temperate areas. Disease resistant. Self fertile.

HAUSZWETSCHE - Late season. A small fruited blue black prune plum, which altho' semi-clingstone is self fertile.

REINE CLAUDE de BAVAY - Late season. One of the greengage type plums. Yellowish green skin and flesh when fully ripe. The flesh is a little firmer than the true greengage, and flavour not quite as good, but still superb dessert quality.

STANLEY - Late season. The large purplish-blue freestone fruit have greenish-yellow flesh which is juicy and sweet, but somewhat insipid. It does not require a pollenizer, and is itself a useful pollenizer for other varieties. The tree is large and spreading, and starts into fruiting young. It crops heavily. Stanley is very suceptible to brown rot, so it will need to be sprayed with fungicide in wet areas.The fruit are also susceptible to splitting after rain.

VICTORY - late season. A large, firm fleshed, blue prune-plum ripening a few days after Stanley. Its eating quality is rated particularly good for a prune plum. It starts fruiting early, and is very productive. Pollinized by 'Italian Prune' and 'Stanley'.

Prune plum JJJ A report on 21 prune plum cultivars imported by the 'HortResearch' State owned business for trial as a commercial crop. The information is commercially orientated, and reflects Central Otago experience primarily, but is useful nevertheless. Several good photos.

CHERRY PLUMS

HEARD – early, suitable for jam rather than fresh eating, said to pollenize 'Black Doris', 'Omega' and 'Fortune'.

PERNEL – another small early plum only suitable for jam making, probably named from a Hawkes Bay orchard, said to pollenize 'Black Doris' and 'Omega'.
 

JAPANESE PLUMS

WILSON'S EARLY - Possibly 'Burbank' x 'Cherry plum'. Early season (pre - Christmas). One of the earliest plums to ripen, but the bright red yellow fleshed fruit are relatively small and tend to biennial bearing. Fruit size can be increased by fruit thinning. 'Doris'  and 'Mariposa' are likely to have the best flowering overlap with this cultivar ('Duffy's Early Jewel' and 'Santa Rosa' also have compatible pollen, but their flowering period doesn't usually overlap enough)..

BILLINGTON - 'Billington Early' (chance seedling, possibly Cherry plum X Satsuma). Early season. Billington is a small meaty plum with dark red skin and firm, light red, very good flavored flesh. When cooked, bottled, or used to make jam, it has no bitterness. It retains its bright red flesh color when poached ("when cooked resembles a dish of blood" according to Hayward Wright, who introduced it!). It crops very heavily, hangs on the tree well, and is notably resistant to bacterial diseases. Its chief claim to fame is that it is the first fully red fleshed plum to ripen - about, or just after, Christmas. Self infertile (Hopping & Jerram 1979), pollenized by 'cherry plum'.

DUFFY'S EARLY JEWEL - 'Duffs Early Jewel'. Early season (follows 'Wilsons Early'). DEJ is also a small fruit, but a bit larger than 'Wilson's Early, and also has red skin and yellow flesh.' DEJ has the advantage of being self fertile. In addition it is a useful pollenizer for other cultivars. Although it does not actually need a pollenizer, 'Santa Rosa' and 'Doris' have compatible pollen.

BLACK AMBER - Early season, about 2 weeks after 'Wilsons Early'. A handsome, very dark skinned, very firm fleshed plum with little flavor and only moderate sweetness. The flesh is pinky suffused over light amber yellow. Trees crop heavily. Suceptible to bacterial diseases. .Freestone.

BLACK DIAMOND®- 'Suplumeleven' Early season. A cross between 'Angelano' and an unknown plum. (Confusingly, the 'Black Diamond' name is a trademark, and is used in USA for 4 dark skinned early plum cultivars, including Suplumeleven.). This patented cultivar may not be available to home gardeners (distribution limited to contracting orchardists). A semi-spreading, vigorous tree. Another  handsome, very dark skinned, very firm fleshed plum with very little flavor and only moderate sweetness. The flesh is pinky-red sometimes suffused with pale yellow. Clingstone. Pollenized by 'Fortune'.

FORTUNE - Early season. Breeding is Laroda x [Queen Anne x Late Santa Rosa], introduced 1988. Medium to large fruit with bright red and yellow skin, and yellow very firm flesh suffused with pink. Flavour is perfumed, sweetness is moderate to good. It is semi-freestone. The tree is adaptable, vigorous and upright. Pollenized by 'Santa Rosa'.
 
QUEEN ROSA - Early season. Derived from  Santa Rosa. The fruit is very similar to 'Santa Rosa', but ripens about a week earlier. Somewhat prone to bacterial diseases.Altho, like 'Santa Rosa', it is prone to fruit drop, 'Queen Rosa' may be overall a heavier and more consistant cropper than 'Santa Rosa'. Probably self fertile, the pollenizers should be those for 'Santa Rosa'.
 
SANTA ROSA - (complex hybrid of P. salicina, P. simonii, and P. americana)  Early season. S.R. is a medium large, crimson to purplish red, lightly freckled plum with yellow flesh slightly suffused with pink especially near the pit. The fruit is firm, sweet, juicy, and aromatic, except near the pit, where it is quite acid. The tree is widely adapted. Although noted by Hopping & Jerram 1979 as self infertile, it is generally regarded as at least partly self fertile (sets some fruit without a pollenizer, but sets a lot more with one). The tree is hardy, upright and vigorous, and highly productive. Its only fault is that it sometimes drops fruit before they are completely ripe. S.R. is a very important commercial cultivar and readily available in the supermarket. Nevertheless, it is a very good choice for the home garden. Pollenizers are 'Duffys Early Jewel' and 'Alpha' (this variety is rarely available). 'Mariposa' is a less effective pollenizer.
 
BURBANK - syn. 'Wright's Early'. Early mid season. Burbank plums are medium sized, roundish, bright red mottled yellow skin, and have deep yellow flesh of very good flavor. The trees are partially self fertile, and often set extremely heavily, which can lead to fungal disease such as brown rot spreading quickly, and can cause biennial bearing. The trees are low growing, flat topped, and with drooping limbs. Burbank trees tolerate more cold than some of the other Japanese cultivars, but also need relatively little winter chill for flowering. 'Beauty', 'Methley', 'Santa Rosa' and 'Duffy's Early Jewel' act as pollenizers.
 
HAWERA - Early mid season. A chance seedling from the roadside in Hawera. Possibly a 'Sultan' or 'Satsuma' seedling. Large dark red fruit with very firm dark red flesh. Very good flavor. Probably self fertile, but 'Santa Rosa' or 'Duffy's Early Jewel' might act as pollenizers to increase set.

SULTAN - Early mid season. Similar to 'Satsuma', a medium to large, oval, red fleshed, deep red skinned plum that is soft and juicy and has good flavor. It bears heavily on a rather low, spreading tree. This naturally small size tree, when combined with the dwarfing 'pixie' rootstock, may cause this variety to be very early to come into bearing, and very small in ultimate tree size. Time will tell. ('Pixie' rootstock is relatively new to New Zealand). Pollenizers are 'Santa Rosa' and 'Elephant Heart'. 'Black Doris', Red Doris, and 'Duff'y's Early Jewel' are less effective pollenizers.

DORIS - Mid season.(Seedling selection of 'Satsuma') Doris is a medium sized red skinned yellow fleshed plum that is sweet, juicy, and with good flavor. Doris crops extremely heavily. It is pollenized by 'Duffy's Early Jewel' and Santa Rosa. A rarely available variety, 'Mariposa', is a less effective pollenizer
 
SATSUMA -Syn. 'blood plum'. Mid season. A very large fruit with solid deep red skin and firm flesh. The small pit is semi freestone. Satsuma is juicy, and it has a particularly good flavor. The tree is an upright grower. 'Santa Rosa' and 'Beauty' will pollenize Satsuma.
 
BLACK DORIS - ('Doris' seedling selection) Mid-Late season. Medium to large very dark black-purple freestone fruit with dark red very firm flesh. Good for bottling (and jam) because of it's firmness and deep color. B.D. is a vigorous, upright tree, and a heavy cropper. Best pollenizers are 'Duffy's Early Jewel' and 'Elephant Heart'. 'Santa Rosa' and 'Red Doris' are less effective

PURPLE KING - Mid-late season.('Hale" x 'Doris') This large fruit has purplish red skin covered with a heavy bloom, and excellent flavored, yellow flesh (tinged wine red near the stone). P.K. is a very vigorous tree. Pollenizers - 'Sultan', 'Doris', or 'Duffy's Early Jewel'. 'Elephant Heart' may also pollenize ths variety. It is well suited to warmer, more humid areas, as it has some resistance to bacterial diseases.
 
ELEPHANT HEART - Late season. Introduced by Luther Burbank in 1929, unknown parentage. A large, dark reddish purple conic fruit with purple-red sweet, juicy flesh. It is a freestone, and useful for fresh eating and canning/bottling. The tree is vigorous and healthy, but crops are poor in absence of the right pollenizer. Heavy bearing when the right pollinizer variety is available, and hangs well on the tree for an extended harvest period. Pollenizers are 'Santa Rosa', 'Burbank' 'Redheart', and 'Laroda' (introduced, but possibly not now in NZ).
 
GEORGE WILSON - syn. 'Omega'. - Late season. A large, dark port wine red skinned, firm crimson red fleshed plum of good flavor, very good storage ability (will keep for 3 weeks or more after picking), and regular heavy crops. Somewhat prone to baterial diseases. Pollenizers are 'Elephant Heart' and 'Duffy's Early Jewel'. Less effective pollinizer varieties are 'Santa Rosa' and 'Red Doris'.
 
BLACK PRINCE ('Heirloom' variety from Kohukohu, Northland, name uncertain. Found by Koanga Nurseries) Late season. Ripens early through to late april. A large plum with rather unattractive blotchy black purple tinged green skin, with reddish black flesh and very good flavor. Freestone. Pollinizer unknown, 'Santa Rosa' would be a good bet, possibly 'Duffs Early Jewel'.
 
TORWICK - late season. (Selected by a Mr. Torwick, possibly an 'Ox-Heart' ('Burbank' X 'Methley') seedling). Not available to home gardeners yet, but most desirable if it ever appears. This is a medium sized, almost round fruit, with an even purple skin. This is a typical 'blood' plum, with firm, dark red and juicy flesh. It is semi-clingstone. Torwick matures in March, with some fruit going on into late March, making it, one of the very latest plums. Pollenizer is 'Santa Rosa'.
 
PLUMCOTS

KERBY-actually the true cultivar name - if it has ever been recognised as a cultivar as such - is unknown. This is a tree that has been in NZ for a very long time, and whether it is a local seedling or a variety introduced by Hayward Wright (father of the Kiwifruit) in the 30's is unknown. The original tree from which buds were taken was in Northland, possibly Kawakawa.  Certainly, Wright sold plumcots at that time -"These will fruit whereas the apricot is [a] shy [bearer]. We have them in 3 varieties, viz,: White Flesh, Red Flesh and Yellow Flesh". One of Wrights catalogues also lists the cultivar 'Apex', described as a "Ripens with the earliest plums...very large...globular...deep pink [skin]...freestone; flesh honey-yellow, firm, rich, aromatic, apricot-like"

Kerby is a very early variety with light yellow flesh, freestone variety. The fruit are pinkish red skinned, juicy, mild, delicately flavored, with a hint of bitterness. They resist splitting. They are early to flower, and might possibly be pollinized by or pollinize apricots. They have an extended flowering period, which takes in the flowering period of 'Pixie' plum. One nursery says 'Duffs early jewel' and 'Santa Rosa' will also pollinize plumcots.
 
LOST VARIETIES
 
Varieties introduced to New Zealand by the then DSIR at Havelock North between about 1980 and 1990 which are not listed in NZ home garden nursery lists - Spring Beaut, Red Beaut, Dorado,  AU-Producer,  46-G-280, Black Beaut, Homeside, Mariposa, Friar, Laroda, Nubiana, Reubennel, Dolly, Queen Ann, Redgold, Freedom, El Dorado, Simka, Frontier, Casselman, Plumcrimson, Roysum, Autumn Giant.

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