Growing Damson Plums


Firstly what are damsons? Well, they are a sort of plum but not one you would want to pluck from the tree and eat. They are tart rather than sweet. They need to be cooked and are perfect for jams, pies, wine and Damson Gin (like Sloe Gin only nicer!)

So why bother with them and not plump for a nice Victoria Plum? The answer is that they are a hardy tree and so will fruit in situations where a plum tree may struggle. You can even choose a dwarf damson which will allow you to have the tree in a small garden. Or even grow it in a container such as the Vigoroot Potato / Tomato planter. The trouble with growing trees in pots is that the tree will eventually become pot bound. Once fruit trees become pot bound they produce less fruit. The advantage of growing in Vigoroot is that the roots are air pruned, so the tree will never get pot bound and the improved root structure encourages the tree to produce more fruit. So, provided it is given enough food and water it should produce a bumper crop every year.

Now, lets move on to how to grow damsons.  

When to plant damsons

Damson trees often come "bare-rooted" which means that there is no soil around the roots. Plant them from late autumn to early winter as trees generally shut down and become dormant in winter. So this is the best time for them to be planted as it means that their growth is not interrupted. Pot grown (with soil around the roots) can be planted at any time.

Where to Plant Damson Trees

Most trees like full sunlight, south facing perfection. Damsons are less fussy so provided you can shelter it from being too wind blown and get the soil right it will give you fruit.

Growing Damsons

Damsons need a good, nitrogen rich soil with a high pH of above 6. So it is worth testing your soil with a simple kit from the garden centre before you plant.

Planting Damsons

If your soil needs adjustment then dig a big hole, if not then just big enough for your roots to fit in without being cramped. If your soil needs adjustment then you may need to add bonemeal to the base of your hole and mix in compost as you are refilling the hole. Test again and if your pH is still below 6 then mix in some lime to get the conditions just right. In early spring scatter 75 grams per square yard of general purpose fertilser such as blood, fish & bone around your tree. For best results its a good idea to retest your soil every 3 to 4 years and add some lime around the plant if needed to keep the pH up to around 6.

Caring for your Damson Tree

Watering Young Trees

Damson Trees need to be kept moist. Especially bareroot trees as they may suffer a little root damage when they are lifted. To help with this place a Tree Mat around the base of the tree to reduce water loss and to protect the tree from weeds. In dry weather water well, especially in the early years until it has become fully established.

How long will it take a damson tree to fruit?

A new tree will not produce fruit for the first 2 to 3 years until it has become established. 

How to Prune Damson Trees

Damson trees need little pruning. They will generate some twiggy growth which can be cut back when the tree becomes too congested but it doesn't have to be done every year. Like other plums, damsons should only be pruned from late spring to early autumn (April to September). Pruning during the winter increases the chance of the tree becoming infected with silver leaf fungus. 

Pollination of Damson trees

People ask if damson trees need to be pollinated.  Well luckily, Damsons are self-fertile, so you don’t need to plant more than one. However, like all self-fertile trees it is likely to produce a much better crop if cross-pollinated by another tree. So if you want to add a plum tree then this will help your damson crop. Make sure you choose one that flowers at the same time though.

When to Harvest Damsons

Harvest in late August – September. The fruits quickly become soft when picked so make sure you have your plans in place for how you will use them before you pick. 

Common Damson Tree Problems

Silver Leaf Fungus - The fungus infects the wood through wounds - mainly caused by pruning - and causes a silvering of the leaves followed by death of the branch. Avoid it by pruning only in summer when there are far less spores around and wounds will heal quicker. Remove any infected branches and leaves as soon as you see them.

Frost & Wind damage - losing blossom to frost or high winds will severely affect the crop. You can prevent this by using a Fruit Tree Net When bad weather is forecast, fit the net over the tree and wrap any excess around the trunk. Remove it once the blossom has set in Spring, to allow for pollination. You can then put it on again to provide chemical free pest protection until your crop is ready to pick.

Trunk damage - Another common problem for young trees is damage to the trunk from mowers and strimmers. This can be prevented by using the Tree Mat as detailed above to suppress plant growth close to the tree. You can also use a StrimGuard to wrap around the tree whilst you are strimming or mowing. 

Sarah Talbot