Gages are a type of plum, popular for their deliciously honey-sweet fruits, usually pale dusky green or golden. Gages – and plums generally – are easy to grow and a delight in any garden. They produce heavy crops of sweet, juicy green or yellow fruits in late summer, as well as pretty blossom in early spring, which attracts bees and other pollinators. There are lots of delicious varieties of gage to choose from, including traditional varieties local to several regions of the UK.
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Gages are usually either green or yellow – both are deliciously sweet and juicy, but the latter are highly ornamental too. There are many varieties to choose from, most providing excellent levels of sweetness and juiciness, and bountiful harvests, ripening either early, mid- or late season. In colder or northern locations, consider a late-flowering variety such as ‘Guthrie’s Late Green’ or ‘Oullins Gage’, to avoid damage to the blossom, which can reduce the crop. Varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) are recommended by our RHS fruit experts, as they performed well in trials – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.
A few varieties are dual purpose (dessert and culinary), such as ‘Brandy Gage’, which is ideal if you only have room for one tree, so you can get maximum use from your crop. It’s also worth looking for traditional local varieties that would be suited to your individual growing conditions, such as ‘Cambridge Gage’, ‘Merton Gage’ (from London) or ‘Guthrie’s Late Green’ (from Scotland). Many gages also have characterful old names that add an extra element to your choice – who could resist ‘Coe’s Golden Drop’ or ‘Ingall’s Grimoldby Greengage’?
If you visit any of the RHS gardens, you’ll find many fruit trees, including plums and gages, grown in various ways. So you can compare different varieties and pick up useful growing tips.
Gage trees are grafted onto the roots (root stock) of a different type of plum, to limit their size and encourage earlier fruiting. So as well as choosing a variety, you also need to choose a suitable rootstock, which depends on the size and style of tree you want (free-standing or trained). The widely available plum rootstocks are:
‘Pixy’ – semi-dwarfing, suitable for cordon or semi-dwarf bush tree, up to 3–4m (10–12ft) tall
‘VVA-1’ – semi-dwarfing, good winter hardiness, improved fruit size and crop size, 3–4m (10–12ft) tall
‘St Julian A’ – semi-vigorous, widely used, suited to a wide range of soil conditions, 4.5–5m (14–15ft) tall
‘Wavit’ – semi-vigorous, suits most soil conditions, some chalk tolerance, 4–4.5m (12–14ft) tall
‘Brompton’ – vigorous, for large free-standing trees over 4.5m (15ft) tall
What and where to buy
Specialist fruit nurseries offer the widest choice of varieties, usually by mail order. Bare-root trees are mainly available from specialist suppliers. Trees in containers may also be available in garden centres and from larger online plant suppliers.
If you want to grow a trained tree, such as a fan trained, decide if you want to train it yourself from scratch starting with a one year old tree (maiden) or buy a (more expensive) partially trained tree. These are mainly available from specialist nurseries.
When buying a tree in person, choose one with a well-balanced shape and three to five good shoots growing from the central stem (leader). You can then train and prune it into any of the popular tree forms if you wish – see Pruning & training, below.
Prepare your tree for planting by giving it a good watering if it’s in a container or by standing it in a bucket of water for half an hour if it’s a bare-root tree.
If planting in a lawn, remove a circle of grass at least 1m (3¼ft) in diameter, so the tree’s roots don’t have to compete with the grass for water and nutrients as they get established.
Gage trees are easy to plant and will settle in quickly, although they may take a few years to start fruiting. See our selection of tree-planting guides for full instructions:
Planting against a wall
If your tree is going to be trained against a wall, prepare the planting site particularly well, as the soil at the base of walls is usually poor and dry. Dig in lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost, then plant the tree 25–35cm (10–14in) away from the wall. You’ll also need to attach horizontal wires to the wall to support the branches – see Pruning & training, below.
Planting in a container
Gages crop best in the ground, but if you don’t have suitable soil or an available site, you can plant a compact variety on a dwarfing rootstock (either ‘Pixy’ or ‘VVA-1’) in a large container. Trees in containers need more maintenance than those in the ground, so be prepared to water and feed across the growing season to get a good crop.
The container should be ideally 60cm (2ft) wide and deep – terracotta pots or half-barrels are suitably heavy and stable. Use soil-based compost, such as John Innes No. 3. Then plant in the same way as planting in the ground – see above.
Like all plums, gages need little maintenance to produce a reliable crop, but you can greatly increase your harvest by watering and feeding at the right times. Protect blossom from late frosts if possible and thin out heavy crops to avoid branches breaking under the weight.
Newly planted gages should be watered regularly for at least their first growing season. Once established, they usually only need watering during dry spells, especially in early to mid-summer when the fruit is swelling. Lack of water may cause the tree to shed young fruit. Mulching (see below) will help to stop the soil drying out.
To get a successful crop from containerised trees, they must be watered on a regular basis throughout the growing season. The relatively small amount of potting compost will dry out quickly, especially in warm weather.
Apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost in mid-spring to help retain soil moisture, keep down weeds and provide nutrients.
In late winter, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 or fish, blood and bone. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around trees growing in bare soil, and two and a half around those in grass.
Protecting from frost
Gages flower early, so the blossom is vulnerable to frost damage. With smaller trained trees, if frost is forecast during flowering, cover them temporarily in a tent of horticultural fleece or hessian, holding it away from the flowers with canes. Remove it during the day, to allow pollinators access.
If possible, move potted trees indoors for the night or into a sheltered spot if frosts are due during flowering.
Gages often produce a heavy crop and their branches can break under the weight. To avoid this, thin out the young fruits in early summer after the natural ‘June drop’ – reduce them to one fruit every 5-8cm (2-3in) or a pair every 15cm (6in). This is easiest to do on smaller trained trees, but is worth doing on larger trees too if you can reach.
The best way to propagate gages is by grafting or budding, which do require some skill but are well worth a try – see our guide to grafting fruit trees, our guide to chip budding and our guide to T-budding.
Trees grown from gage stones or cuttings will grow much larger than those grafted onto a chosen root stock and will be slower to start fruiting. Named cultivars may not come true from seed.
Pruning and Training
Gages should be pruned annually to keep them in good shape, healthy and productive:
Young trees should be pruned after buds open in early spring
Established trees should be pruned in summer
See our guide to pruning plums for full details of how to train and prune trees into the shapes described below.
Free-standing trees are best pruned to form either an open-centred bush tree or a smaller pyramid tree:
Bush trees have a trunk about 75cm (2½ft) tall, then three or four branches radiating out at the top to create an open-centred goblet shape
Pyramid trees are similar to bush trees, but retain their central shoot (leader), so they don’t have the open centre of bush trees. The branches start lower down, only 40–50cm (15–20in) from the ground, and get gradually shorter further up the tree, to create a pyramid shape
Gages can also be trained flat against a wall or fence. This is a good option if space is tight or if you want to grow several fruit trees. Trees can be bought ready-trained, partly trained or untrained, depending on how much work you want to do. The two most suitable shapes for gages are:
Fans – both attractive and productive, these have a short trunk topped with a flat fan of radiating branches. Fans need regular pruning twice a year, in early summer and after fruiting, which is relatively straightforward.
Cordons – these are very compact, single-stemmed trees with short side-shoots, ideal for small spaces and containers. As there are no truly dwarfing rootstocks for gages or plums, this method is less successful than with apples and pears. However, it can work with less vigorous varieties on semi-dwarfing ‘Pixy’ or ‘VVA-1’ rootstock.
Pruning overgrown and neglected trees
If a gage hasn’t been pruned for several years, its branches can get congested. Thinning them out should be staged over several years in summer. Aim to gradually create a well-balanced framework with an open centre to allow in plenty of light and air. Heavy pruning is best avoided, as larger cuts may not heal well. For more tips, see our guide to pruning plums.
Harvest gages carefully as they’re easily bruised, then eat them fresh when they’re irresistibly sweet, juicy and delicious. The are suitable for cooking to make desserts and jams.
Both gages and plums are generally hardy, healthy and easy to grow, but several pests, diseases and weather conditions can cause problems, including:
Frost damage to blossom – cover smaller trees with fleece if late frost is forecast when in blossom, or bring containerised trees indoors. Avoid planting in sites prone to late frosts. See our guide to protecting fruit from frost
Poor harvests – late frosts (see above) and spring storms can damage blossom and deter pollinators. Lack of water can cause young fruits to be shed. Trees may also crop more lightly in alternate years – see our advice on biennial bearing. Fruits may be eaten by birds and wasps – it may be possible protect fruit with bird netting on smaller, trained trees, but larger trees usually produce such generous crops that there should be plenty for wildlife too
Rotting fruit – brown rot is widespread in wet summers. Remove rotting fruit to prevent spores spreading
Mis-shapen and/or maggoty fruits – small pinkish caterpillars of the plum moth may be found in the centre of some early ripening fruits, which may look slightly distorted. Later fruits are less likely to be affected
Damaged leaves – silver leaf causes silvery leaves and dieback of branches. Remove affected branches as soon as possible. Brown spots or small holes in leaves are a sign of bacterial canker, along with dieback of shoots – remove affected growth.
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