How to Grow Stone Fruit Trees
Stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines require no pollinators, but cherries and plums are in a different category. So farconditions have not been mentioned but generally speaking apples and pears will do well anywhere hawthorns and wild thrive, but as you go further north there are areas where the springs are cold and wet and here pollination can be patchy. In the case of stone fruits such as cherries and plums, if the soil is not naturally alkaline (limey) then lime must be added. A good natural indicator to the presence of lime in the soil is the wild sloe.
There is no real dwarfing rootstock for the plum, peach, nectarine, apricot or sweet cherry, although experiments on the latter are promising. Cherry trees can get quite large, particularly in the warmer parts of the country where they can grow to 30 or 40 ft high with a very wide spread. Not only is the size of the cherry tree inconvenient but there is very little that you can do to protect the ripening fruits from the ravages of birds. Therefore, if you are thinking of cherries, then a wall-trained tree is your best bet.
Most plum trees vary in size from medium to large and as they grow fairly slowly, and even slower as you go further north, one or more could be accommodated in gardens of moderate size. Here again in the north the choicer plums should be grown against a wall. Incidentally when choosing the wall, length is more important than height as the older the trees grow the more productive they are on the new extension wood.
Plums and cherries bloom early in the year. This means that the further north you go the more dangerous a mild winter becomes because the blossoms may open early only to be followed by cold winds which inhibit pollinating insects and then frosty winds damage the embryo fruit, if you are lucky enough to get them set. The damson and kindred varieties of plums are hardier but may not always set. It must always be remembered that the actual time during which theare open is very short, maybe only ten days, and as half of this period can be cold and wet the time during which the flowers can be pollinated and fertilised is very short. In cold districts late-flowering varieties of plums, such as Belle de Louvain and Belgian Purple, should be used.
My own two favourite plums are the old English Greengage and the Victoria. Fortunately Victoria is self fertile, producing marvellous fruits even in the north on a sheltered wall and the greengage can be fertilised by Victoria. The Giant Prune is also another marvellous plum for training on a wall. Incidentally, most top fruit can be grown very satisfactorily in large plastic tubs, especially if you can accommodate them in a plastic tunnel or . My own peaches spend most of the time outdoors, being brought under a glass-covered verandah when the flower buds start to show pink, kept there until the fruit has been gathered and then stood outdoors again to ripen off the new growths.
Perhaps one of the biggest cultural problems with the plum family, is that they will produce suckers and these should be removed carefully, not just chopped off with a hoe. Growing anything, including trees, against a wall means that provision should be made for watering.
Years ago the cherry stone fruit used to be a much more popular fruit than it is today. All the same they have been with us for somewhere around 3,500 years and if only people would realise that a ripe cherry plucked off a tree bears no relation to the often miserable things you buy in shops there would be many more grown. So if you have a sunny wall facing from east through south-west grow sweet cherries and on a north wall, which never gets any sun, you can plant the Morello or sour cherry.
Incidentally, single-stem cordons take up very little room and are easily protected. They produce ropes of cherries on fruiting spurs on the older wood and also on buds formed at the base or along the greater part of the shoots of the previous year’s growth. The Morello cherry is slightly different and fruits more like the peach, that is along the length of the new wood. However, not every variety grows well as a fan or cordon, but here are a few: Frogmore Early, Early Rivers, Governor Wood, May Duke, Late Duke, Bigarreau, Waterloo and in the case of sour cherries, just Morello. One or two of the cherry varieties are partially self-fertile, but fortunately all can be fertilised by the Morello provided they all bloom at the same time.
I did mention that a long low wall was suitable for plums, however in the case of cherries, a high wall is necessary, especially for some of the more vigorous varieties. Many are very suitable for the gable end of a house, always remembering to use the north end for the Morello and the warmer end for the sweet cherries.