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Damson plum, a sweet European plum: planting, care, harvest

Damson plum

Damson is a delicious type of plum native to Great Britain and Europe.

Damson plum tree facts

NamePrunus domestica subsp. insititia
Typefruit tree

Height – 16→20 feet (5→6 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – at least a bit rich

Foliage: deciduous – Flowering: early spring – Harvest: early summer → early fall

Most varieties of damson originated in the British isles, but a few are native to central Europe. Planting and care will ensure a tasty harvest!

Planting a Damson plum tree

damson plantingAs with most fruit trees, fall is the best season since it helps roots settle in. But spring is also an option if you water during the first summer.

Best locations are those with lots of sunlight. Note that your tree will grow a bit large, even with pruning, so give it space.

Pruning and care for Damson plum

Plum, like its cousin the cherry tree, doesn’t like pruning: wounds take a long time to heal and new growth is more brittle at the joint than a natural-grown branch.

Nonetheless, you’ll have to prune regularly to control growth and promote fruit formation.

  • Apply pruning paste on wounds to protect them from fungus and other diseases.

How to prune damson

In the first year, you’ll have to shape the tree. This is called “directional pruning”. Instead of letting the tree shoot straight up in the sky, you want to train it into a bowl or cup shape.

  • Select 3 or 4 of the side branches, one for each quarter of the tree (12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock)
  • Cut the main trunk above the higher of the 4 branches
  • Each of the side branches will start arching upwards, they will become the structural branches.

In the following years, try to keep these structural branches intact, pruning secondary branches back to them at the end of the season.

Indeed, damson plum trees should be pruned at the end of summer or early fall (after the harvest).

  • After the harvest, also remove dead wood and suckers (branches that jut out from the trunk, but aren’t your structural branches).
  • Remove fruits that won’t fall off on their own: they’re likely carrying fruit rot disease and should be burned.

Damson plum diseases

On top of fruit rot mentioned above, you’ll likely have to battle rust, aphids or scale, and scab.

Learn more about damson plums

damson fruitTechnically, damsons are a sub-species of the common plum. They share a common ancestor, and damson evolved in the mild climates of the British Isles.

This makes it hardy enough to grow in most of Britain and temperate Europe. A further variety is the quetsche (or Alsace damson), which grows in Easter France and Germany.

In the United States, this matches hardiness zones 7-8 and warmer.

Damson plums are ancient varieties, often savored raw and also cooked into delicious jams, pies, and many recipes.

Images: CC BY 2.0: Julia, CC BY-SA 2.0: Karl Sinfield, Pixabay: Pete
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