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Stone Fruits 1 (Plums, Gages, Damsons, Sweet Cherries, Apricots)

The following information applies to plums, gages, damsons, sweet cherries & apricots.  For guidance on peaches, nectarines and sour cherries, refer to ‘Stone Fruits 2


Plums, gages, damsons, sweet cherries and apricots need a sunny site and a neutral soil to crop well, a pH of 6.5-7.5 is ideal.
Plant your trees as soon as possible after receipt, allowing sufficient space for them to grow. Bush trees will grow 3.6-4.6m (12-15ft) in height and spread. Cordons should be restricted to 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) in height and can be spaced 90cm (3ft) apart.
Should weather conditions be adverse (i.e. if the ground is frozen or too wet to plant), then the trees should be temporarily heeled in until conditions improve. Dig a hole or shallow trench, lay the trees at an oblique angle and cover the roots loosely with sufficient soil or compost so that no roots are exposed to the air.
Improve the soil structure by thorough digging before planting, ideally to a depth of about 45cm (18in) - two spades deep. Mix in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost.
Soak the root system in water for 1-2 hours. Dig a hole comfortably large enough to take the root system (so the roots can be evenly spread out), ensuring the top of the root system is level with the surrounding soil or up to 2.5cm (1in) deeper. Apply rootgrow™ mycorrhizal fungi directly to the roots before planting - this will help the tree to establish quickly. Tread firmly and water-in thoroughly. Stake the tree and secure with tree ties to prevent rocking whilst the roots establish.
TO GROW IN A POT – Cordons and patio trees (such as Sibley’s Patio Cherry 'Stella', Sibley’s Patio Apricot 'Tomcot', Sibley’s Patio Plum 'Victoria', dwarf cherry ‘Garden Bing’ and dwarf apricot ‘Aprigold) can be grown in pots. Initially pot your tree up into a container that is approximately 30-40cm (12-15in) in diameter using a good quality free draining loam based compost such as John Innes No. 3. The pH. should be relatively high (between 5.5 and 7).


Keep the soil around the tree moist throughout the first growing season. In later years only water during prolonged dry spells, drenching thoroughly no more than once a week.
IF GROWING IN A POT – Your tree will need daily watering during the growing season, in extremely hot dry weather maybe even twice a day.  Aim to keep the compost moist at all times, but do NOT leave it standing in water or you risk drowning the roots.

Weeding & Mulching

Keep the area around the tree free of weeds, particularly during the first year. An annual mulch of well rotted compost will greatly improve moisture retention and soil structure, and help suppress unwanted weeds.


Stone fruits should only be pruned between late April and late August. Paint any open wounds with tree or canker paint to minimise the risk of silver-leaf or canker infection.
FOR A BUSH TREE – Following planting, in late April, prune back the leading shoot to the height at which you want the head to form. Over the next two years, in April, cut back all shoots to form a balanced ‘bush’ framework. In later years prune in late summer immediately after harvesting: remove any broken, crossing or tangled branches, keeping the centre of your tree open to sun and air.
FOR A CORDON – If you have taken receipt of a cordon, then no pruning will be required until  summer. When the new growth on the leader reaches 30-40cm (12-15in), pinch out the growing tip to encourage side growths. Repeat this process as necessary. When the new side shoots reach 15cm (6in), cut back by half to just beyond a leaf. Repeat the same process  on all  other new shoots. In the second and subsequent years carry out pruning as in the first year until the desired height is reached after which time any excessive growth above this point should regularly be cut back to a leaf just above that point. Any new side shoots should be trimmed back regularly to 8cm (3in) spurs.  Every few years the spurs will need to be shortened back and thinned out to retain a columnar shape.
FOR  A FAN – Plant your tree 45cm (18in) from a wall or fence, cut back to about 60cm (2ft) high. Then in summer tie out 8-10 strong shoots (leaders) in a fan. Each year thereafter in late July trim back all new side shoots to 15cm (6in) spurs and shorten each leader by a third.
FOR  PATIO TREES – Dwarf varieties such as cherry ‘Garden Bing’ and  apricot ‘Aprigold’ require only minimal pruning, just remove any dead, diseased, crossing, crowded or broken branches and trim the tree to shape if required. Sibley’s pot-grown patio trees have their top growth naturally restricted by the limited root-run available in the pot. They therefore need virtually no pruning, just trim back any vigorous wayward shoots to shape the tree as desired. We recommend aiming for an open-centred goblet-shaped tree. This will aid both cropping and the tree’s natural resistance to pests and diseases.


Most garden soils contain sufficient nutrients for a tree to grow healthily, though a high potash top-dressing such as Fruit Feed during the spring can be beneficial. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers (such as chicken manure) which stimulate shoot growth rather than flower bud and fruit formation.
IF GROWING IN A POT – Your tree will need regular feeding during spring and early summer with a high potash (low nitrogen) feed. For application rates follow the instructions on the packaging. To keep the tree growing healthily it will also need fresh compost to root into each year.  In the early years this is best done by potting the tree on into progressively larger pots. Once the final pot size has been reached (we would recommend a pot that is 45-50cm [18-20in] in diameter), remove the tree from the pot in late winter each year, cut or chop away about a third of the rootball from the bottom, part fill the pot with fresh compost and re-pot.

Pests & Diseases

In a garden setting, a regular spray program may not be necessary but watch out for signs of pests and diseases. As well as providing a general boost of trace elements a copper spray applied in autumn may help toughen up your tree ready for winter and also help control many infections such as bacterial canker.  It may also be beneficial in any prolonged wet periods in summer.  Any chemicals should be used strictly as per the manufacturers instructions.

Further Information

For further information refer to RHS Growing Fruit by Harry Baker. Useful information can also be found on the RHS website.