I suppose the story starts when I was about 7 years old. I was given a patch of garden by my Dad in our Hampshire garden; it wasn’t a prime spot being rather shady but it did contain a fairly old, but still fruiting Victoria Plum tree.
Being a rather selfish 7 year old I assumed the plum tree was mine alone – well it was growing in my bit of the garden. I can remember one year lovingly watching the first plum ripen, checking every day that the birds hadn’t got it. It was almost ready to pick when one day we had some visitors. I can’t remember who they were now, but I do remember that there was a little boy who was a diabetic. You have probably guessed the rest . . . without so much as telling me what she was going to do my mother had picked my special plum and given it to the little boy as he couldn’t eat the biscuits the rest of us were having.
I remember this story vividly but whether it is through outrage at what had happened or shame at the way I can only imagine I behaved, I couldn’t possibly say.
Anyway moving forwards about fifty years, I am now living in Scotland . I had no idea how well Victoria Plum trees could do here until our neighbour put one in and without any care or attention it has fruited profusely every year. Of course I coveted that plum tree.
Unlike the 7 year old me, our neighbour has been very good at sharing his fruit, but it is not quite the same as having your own.
Then we got an opportunity.
Last year we needed to take out a large fir tree that was growing too big near the house. This gave us a new South facing border together with new fence. This was an ideal chance to grow a fan-trained plum tree . I read all about the pruning and decided I could just about manage it. I sourced a tree at the local garden centre and picked it up in the van we had at the time. The tree was left it in a sheltered spot while we painted the new fence. Unfortunately then the really cold weather arrived and I didn’t manage to plant the plum tree or even wrap it up before we went away for two weeks. I did make it the first task I did as soon as the ground softened though. I did all the right things: made a very large hole, part filled with manure based compost and kept it watered. I was feeling rather anxious though about having neglected my new plum tree. Rightly so, as not long after planting it started to foam from a scar in its trunk.
I kept hoping and hoping that it wasn’t serious, but reading on the internet it sounded very like a bacteria infection. The foaming got worse and started coming out from places higher up the trunk. and then the branches.
Here is the email I received from the Royal Horticultural Society about the problem
Thank you for your enquiry to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Members’ Advisory Service.
Frothing from scar tissue is often a result of slime flux or bacterial wetwood, which is where the stem becomes colonised by bacteria (and other organisms such as yeast and fungi) that ferments the sugary stem sap as it begins to rise during the spring. Anything leading to the stem tissues being injured, including frost damage to the roots and stem, pest feeding, mechanical damage (i.e. strong winds) and even natural growth cracks, can allow entry of these usually harmless bacteria. Once fermentation begins, gaseous build-up forces out slime and this can further damage the stem tissues leading to splitting.
Unfortunately, there are no control measures and the only means of prevention is to protect plants from the most severe weather conditions, where possible. The extent of the damage caused can vary greatly but branch dieback may occur. It would be worth seeing if your plant is able to recover but if you need to replace it, remove as much as the roots as possible and some of the surrounding soil before replacing with a new plant. Mulching with organic matter such as garden compost or well rotted manure can help to reduce fluctuation of moisture levels thus minimising further root stress.
I hope you find this information helpful, despite the prognosis.
In the end of course I had to take out the tree and dispose of it.
That was a very sad day.
However, not one to give up easily, and also because the garden centre kindly gave me a replacement tree, I started again in October last year. I had the tree delivered this time to avoid any damage to the trunk in transit. (I notice this second tree also had a plastic protector around the trunk). I had to put the tree in the same position as its predecessor, but I removed as much original soil as I could and replaced it with a good mix of manure. When the tree was planted it had lovely glossy leaves and these stayed on until late Autumn. So far so good…
Thankfully I can report there is no signs of froth at all on this new tree so far and I am waiting expectantly for any buds to develop proving it is actually still alive. I suppose the next danger time will be in the Spring when the sap starts to rise.
Meanwhile, thinking positively, I will be reminding myself how to prune fan-trained plum trees – I believe that is done around June up here. I will be buying a new pair of secateurs and keep them very clean.
Next instalment: ‘Victorias at Last’
Next Garden Post: ‘All around the Blooming Heather’