RHS Growing Guides

How to grow plums

Our detailed growing guide will help you with each step in successfully growing Plums.

  1. Getting Started
  2. Choosing
  3. Planting
  4. Plant Care
  5. Pruning and Training
  6. Harvesting
  7. Problems

Getting Started

Getting Started
Section 1 of 7

Plum trees fruit best in a warm, sheltered location in full sun
Plum trees (Prunus domestica) are easy to grow and a must for any garden, offering heavy crops of fruit in mid- to late summer, as well as pretty spring blossom that attracts bees and other pollinators. There are lots of delicious types of plum to choose from, including classic rosy-yellow ‘Victoria’ plums, small juicy gages, sweet golden mirabelles and dusky purple damsons, ideal for jam.

Plum trees are simple to plant and like a warm, sunny spot with fertile soil that doesn’t get waterlogged. If you don’t have space for a free-standing tree, you can grow a fan-trained tree flat against a wall or fence, or a dwarf tree in a large container. They need little maintenance apart from annual pruning to keep them in good shape, and will reward you with plentiful harvests for years to come.

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Plums ripen from mid- to late summer, with different varieties producing various colours and flavours
There are many different plum varieties to choose from, with fruits of various colours, sizes, flavours, textures, and levels of sweetness and juiciness, for eating fresh and/or cooking. Dual-purpose varieties are a good option if you only have room for one tree, so you can get maximum use from your crop. Crop sizes and ripening times vary too. In colder locations, consider a late-flowering variety such as ‘Blue Tit’ or ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’, 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. If you visit any of the RHS gardens, you’ll find many fruit trees, including plums, grown in various ways, so you can easily compare different varieties and pick up useful growing tips.

It’s also worth looking for traditional local varieties that would be suited to your individual growing conditions, such as ‘Dittisham Ploughman’ from Devon, ‘Dunster Plum’ from Somerset, ‘Blaisdon Red’ from Gloucestershire or ‘Warwickshire Drooper’. Some plums also have characterful old names that add an extra element to your choice – who could resist ‘Coe’s Golden Drop’, ‘Giant Prune’, ‘Hilperton Eggor’ or ‘Laxton’s Delight’?

Many plum varieties are self-fertile, so you only need one tree, but do check before buying. Trees that aren’t self-fertile need a compatible ‘pollination partner’ nearby – another plum that flowers at a similar time (in a similar ‘pollination group’) – to ensure a good crop. Partly self-fertile varieties can also produce decent crops. For more details, see our guide to fruit pollination.

Also see our guide to choosing plum varieties.

Plum trees are grafted onto the roots (rootstock) 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: 

  • For smaller/trained trees: ‘Pixy’ (semi-dwarfing, for cordon or semi-dwarf bush tree, up to 3–4m/10–12ft tall) and ‘VVA-1’ (semi-dwarfing, 3–4m/10–12ft) tall
  • For medium-sized trees: ‘St Julian A’ (semi-vigorous, 4.5–5m/14–15ft tall) and ‘Wavit’ (semi-vigorous, 4–4.5m/12–14ft tall)
  • For large trees: ‘Brompton’ (vigorous, for large free-standing trees over 4.5m/15ft tall)

What and where to buy

Plum trees are sold either bare-root (without soil around the roots) or in containers. Bare-root trees are only available while dormant, from late autumn to late winter, for immediate planting. Containerised trees are available all year round. Specialist fruit nurseries offer the widest choice of varieties, usually by mail order. Bare-root trees are mainly available from specialist suppliers. Plum trees in containers are also available in garden centres and from other online plant suppliers.

Choose a young tree 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 and Training, below. Partially trained trees are also available from specialist nurseries.

Recommended Varieties

Showing 3 out of 6 varieties


Plum trees crop best in a warm, sheltered site in full sun. They’re among the earliest fruit to flower and although the trees are hardy, the blossom can easily be killed by frost. So avoid planting in sites prone to heavy frosts or strong winds, which can damage the blossom and deter pollinators. In colder sites, it’s best to train plums against a south-, south-west or west-facing wall or fence – see our tips on positioning fruit. Plums like fertile soil, ideally slightly acidic, with a pH of 6–6.5, but they’re tolerant of a wide range of soils. They don’t like to dry out, especially when the fruit is forming, so generally prefer a loamy or clay soil, as long as it doesn’t get waterlogged.

Plum trees are best planted during the dormant season, before growth starts in late winter or early spring. Bare-root trees are only available while dormant, but containerised trees are available all year round – they can potentially be planted at any time, but will settle in best from late autumn to spring. 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.

Plum trees are easy to plant and will settle in quickly, although they may take a few years to start fruiting. See our guides below for full details.

Planting against a wall

If your plum 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 and Training, below.

Planting in a container

Plum trees crop best in the ground, but if you don’t have suitable soil or an available site, you can plant a compact variety (such as ‘Blue Tit’, ‘Opal’ and ‘Victoria’) 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 pot that the tree is in when you buy it will usually be too small, so repot as soon as possible. Choose a container about 60cm (2ft) wide and deep – terracotta pots or half-barrels are suitably heavy and stable. Use peat-free soil-based compost and position the tree at the same depth it was previously growing. See our video guide below for more tips.


Plant Care

Plum trees 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 plum trees 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 can cause the tree to shed young fruit. Mulching (see below) will help to stop the soil drying out.

To get a successful crop from plum trees in containers, they must be watered on a regular basis throughout the growing season, and even daily in hot weather. Equally importantly, don’t leave potted trees sitting in water, especially over winter, as the roots will rot. It’s best to raise containers onto ‘pot feet’ or bricks to keep the drainage holes clear and avoid waterlogged compost.


Apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost in mid-spring to help retain soil moisture, keep down weeds and provide nutrients. Leave a gap around the base of the trunk to prevent rotting.


In late winter, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 or blood, fish and bonemeal. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around plum trees growing in bare soil, and two and a half around those in grass.

Trees in pots should be given a high potassium liquid feed every couple of weeks in spring and summer. Also, repot them every few years in spring, into a slightly larger container, once their roots fill the current container. Use peat-free loam-based potting compost.

Also see our guide to feeding and mulching fruit.

Protecting from frost 

If frost is forecast while plums are in blossom, cover with fleece overnight 
Plum trees flower very 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 or into a sheltered spot if frosts are due during flowering.

Fruit thinning 

Plums have a tendency to over-crop and their heavily laden 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.

If your tree ends up carrying a particularly heavy crop, be prepared to prop up the branches in mid- and late summer, otherwise the weight of fruit could snap them.

Related RHS Guides
Fruit thinning


The best way to propagate plums 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 plum stones or cuttings will grow much larger than those grafted onto a chosen rootstock and will be slower to start fruiting. Named cultivars may not come true when grown from stones.


Pruning and Training

Plums should be pruned annually to keep them in good shape, healthy and productive:  

  • Young trees should be pruned after the buds open in early spring

  • Established trees should be pruned in summer

Avoid pruning plum trees during the dormant season or in mid- to late autumn, to minimise the risk of infection from silver leaf disease and bacterial canker.

Free-standing plum trees are best pruned into either of the following:

  • Bush trees – with 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 – similar to bush trees, but with their central shoot (leader) intact, so they don’t have an open centre. The branches start lower down, 40–50cm (15–20in) from the ground, and get gradually shorter further up the tree, to create a pyramid shape

Plum trees can also be trained into more space-saving shapes, ideal for small gardens or if you want to grow several fruit trees. The two best shapes for plums are: 

  • Fans – a short trunk topped with a flat fan of radiating branches, trained against a wall or fence. Prune twice a year, in early summer and after fruiting – see initial pruning of fans and pruning established fans

  • Cordons – these are very compact, single-stemmed trees with short side-shoots, ideal for small spaces and containers. Support with a sturdy stake or horizontal wires. As there are no truly dwarfing plum rootstocks, this method is less successful with plums than with apples and pears. However, it can work with less vigorous varieties such as ‘Early Laxton’, ‘Czar’ and ‘Blue Tit’, grafted on semi-dwarfing ‘Pixy’ or ‘VVA-1’ rootstock. See training plums as cordons

Plum trees can be bought ready-trained, partly trained or untrained, depending on how much work you want to do. Plums aren’t suitable for training as espaliers.

Related RHS Guides
Pruning plums

Pruning overgrown plums

If a plum tree 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.



Plums develop their best flavour if left to ripen on the tree. If they feel soft when gently squeezed, they are ripe. Trees will generally need picking over several times, as fruits ripen gradually over time. Harvest plums carefully as they are easily bruised, then eat them fresh, or de-stone and freeze them, or make them into jams, preserves and desserts. 

Related RHS Guides
Guide to harvesting fruit



Guide Start
Section 7 of 7

Plum trees are generally hardy, healthy and easy to grow, but the following problems may affect cropping:

  • Frost damage to blossomcover 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

  • 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. Plum 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

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