By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
What is a Merryweather damson? Merryweather damsons, originating in England, are a tart, delicious type of plum, sweet enough to be eaten raw, but ideal for jams and jellies. One of the hardiest of all fruit trees, Merryweather damson trees are attractive in the garden, providing showy white flowers in spring and lovely foliage in autumn. Large crops of bluish-black Merryweather damson plums are ready for harvest in late August.
Growing Merryweather damsons isn’t difficult for gardeners in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 7. Read on and we’ll provide tips on how to grow Merryweather damsons.
Merryweather damson plums are self-fertile, but a pollination partner nearby that flowers about the same time may improve quality and yield. Good candidates include Czar, Jubilee, Denniston’s Superb, Avalon, Herman, Jefferson, Farleigh and many others.
Grow damson trees in full sunlight and moist, well-drained soil. Add plenty of compost, chopped leaves or well-rotted manure to the soil prior to planting.
Keep the area free of weeds in at least a 12-inch (30 cm.) radius around the tree. Fruit trees don’t compete well with weeds, which rob moisture and nutrients from the roots of the tree. Apply mulch or compost around the tree in spring, but don’t allow the material to pile up against the trunk.
Water Merryweather damson trees regularly during dry periods, but be careful not to overwater. Fruit trees may rot in soggy, poorly drained conditions.
Check the Merryweather damson trees frequently for aphids, scale and spider mites. Treat them with insecticidal soap spray. Caterpillars can be managed with Bt, a naturally occurring biological control.
It may be necessary to thin large crops of Merryweather damson plums in spring when the fruit is tiny. Thinning produces healthier fruit and prevents branches from breaking under the weight.
Merryweather damson trees requires very little pruning, but old wood, crossing branches and twiggy growth can be removed between spring and early autumn. Never trim Merryweather damson trees during the winter.
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Read more about Plum Trees
Plums, and their closely related damsons and gages, are all easy fruits to grow at home. They produce large (often too large!) reliable crops of fruit, which is available in a range of coloured skins and flesh. Dessert plums and gages produce sweet flesh and can be eaten fresh straight from the tree. The more tart culinary plums and gages, and damsons make delicious jams, preserves, pies and crumbles.
More compact modern varieties and semi-dwarfing rootstocks ensure that even small gardens can have their own tree – and make them perfect for growing in large containers.
Plums, gages and damsons are also highly ornamental, producing lots of gorgeous blossom in spring.
Plums, damsons and particularly gages need a warm, sunny site, which isn’t exposed – strong winds can reduce pollination by bees, leading to a poor crop. As a result, they are often grown as a fan, trained up against a south-facing wall or fence.
Always plant out of frost pockets, which again can affect the flowers and reduce pollination and fruit set.
They prefer a fertile soil enriched with lots of organic matter, which holds plenty of moisture in spring and especially in summer when the fruit is ripening, doesn’t dry out or become waterlogged.
Plums are large, usually soft-fleshed – perfect for eating or cooking, depending on the variety. Gages are small, round and generally very sweet. Damsons are hardy and have a tart flavour, which is excellent when cooked.
If you only want to grow one tree, make sure you choose a variety that is self-fertile. The following are all self-fertile varieties.
Many plum, damson and gage varieties are self-fertile, meaning you only need to grow one tree, rather than having to worry about pollination from another variety that flowers at the same time. So it is a better and easier choice to stick to self-fertile varieties.
Plum, damson and gage trees are available grafted onto different rootstocks, which control the overall size the tree will grow to as well as how early in their life they start fruiting. The eventual size will vary, depending on your soil on heavy clay and fertile soils the trees will grow slightly bigger.
Plant bare-root trees between November and March, and container-grown ones preferably in autumn or spring. Bare-root trees often establish better than container-grown ones.
Dig a hole 60x60cm (2x2ft) and 30cm (12in) deep. Add a layer of organic matter - such as compost or well-rotted manure - to the base of the hole and dig in. Place the roots of the tree in the planting hole and adjust the planting depth so that the old soil mark on the trunk is level with the soil surface.
Now mix in more organic matter to the soil and fill in the planting hole. Stake the tree with a rigid tree stake and two tree ties so that it is fully supported against the prevailing winds. Water in well, apply a granular general feed over the soil around the tree and add a 5cm (2in) deep mulch of well-rotted garden compost or bark chippings around the root area.You can also grow trees in large patio pots (minimum of 40-50cm/16-20in in diameter). Use John Innes No 3 Compost, as its weight will help with stability of the container.
Once established, plum, damson and gage trees are unlikely to need regular watering, except in very dry conditions, but may need watering when the fruit is developing to help ensure a bumper crop.
Trees growing in containers, however, will need regular watering in spring and summer to prevent the compost drying out.
Add a controlled-release granular plant food to the soil surface each spring to ensure the tree is fed throughout the growing season. Because plums and gages produce such heavy crops, they respond well to feeding.
Trees that produce poor crops of fruit will benefit from feeding with sulphate of potash.
Their flowers can be very susceptible to frost damage, so wherever practical cover with horticultural fleece when severe frost is predicted.
Birds will often damage the fruit, so net small trees and fans as the fruit ripens.
If you buy a fully trained tree it will need little in the way of pruning for the first few years at least.
Pruning must always be carried out when the tree is in full growth – usually any time from May to the end of August. Pruning at other times of year risks infections from disease – particularly bacterial canker, which can kill even fully grown trees.
It pays to know what, how and why you’re pruning, as wrong or excessive pruning can lead to crop reduction. Most times all you need to do is remove dead, diseased, dying or damaged branches, branches that rub against each other and those that cross from one side of the tree to another.
If you constantly have to prune the top of the tree to reduce its height, then you’ve probably bought the wrong variety growing on the wrong rootstock!
What and how you prune depends on the way the tree is being grown and trained the 3 commonest are bush, pyramid and fan.
Pruning is mainly limited to removing crossing, weak, vertical and diseased growth. If the tree is still overcrowded, then further pruning and thinning can be done in July.
Shorten the central main stem by around two-thirds early in the tree’s life. Repeat every year until the tree has reached 1.8m (6ft) high on Pixy rootstock and 2.4m (8ft) on St Julien A. After that, shorten it to 2.5cm (1in) or less each May to keep the tree at the same height. Vertical shoots at the top of the tree competing with the central main stem should be removed.
Prune back branches growing away from the support to 3 to 4 leaves. Prune back fruited shoots to a suitable sideshoot to replace the removed shoot.
Once fruit has set, it may need thinning to ease congestion, which can lead to a lot of smaller fruits. Wherever possible, thin to 5-7.5cm (2-3in) apart.
Overly heavy crops one year can lead to small, insignificant crops the next. Also, very heavy crops can weigh down the branches and even snap them. So it pays to support heavily-laden branches with a Y-shaped prop, put in place in early summer.
Pick the fruit once it has developed a good colour, but before it turns too soft, holding it by the stalk if possible, not the fruit itself.
The fruit of dessert varieties is best eaten fresh, but can be stored in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to 7-10 days.
Merryweather damson is a dual purpose freestone damson. Its fruits are nearly as large as a plum with blue black skin and juicy slightly acidic yellow flesh. It has small white blossom in April. Pick in September when it is perfect for culinary use for making pies and jams . If left to hang on the tree will sweeten and will delicious when eaten fresh.
Merryweather damson was introduced by Merryweather Nurseries’ from Nottingham in 1907. It is easy to grow and is self-fertile meaning another damson in the same area is not required to aid in its pollination.
Pruning of Plums and Cherries
Due to the risk of silver leaf in plums and cherries always prune in early spring to mid-summer. Never in the winter like apples and pears
Damsons were first found to have been cultivated in the ancient city of Damascus. They were introduced into England by the Romans.
Damson is often used to describe red wines with a rich acidic plummy flavour.
The damson is a flowering plum tree that grows in the UK's temperate climate. While sometimes mistaken for a standard plum tree, the damson is an ancestor of the European plum and is classified botanically as a separate species.
Damson plum trees can reach a height of 6 metres (20 feet), with dwarf damson plums topping out at 3 metres (10 feet). The damson plum shows fragrant white blossoms in April that give way to delicate purple plums. Damson plums can be sweet or sour and are excellent in pies, jams, tarts and chutneys.
Check the branches of your damson plum tree for signs of dead, diseased or damaged branches. Diseased or damaged branches will display wounds or blotches on the bark, while dead branches will feel hollow to the touch and may have other cosmetic differences from healthy wood.
Cut off all dead, diseased or damaged wood using lopping shears. Remove the wood at the intersection with the main branch or trunk and carry all pieces to a garden waste bin or compost heap far away from the site. Disinfect your pruning tools before continuing.
Remove interior branches that rub up against other branches, since friction will eventually cause one of them to break. Also prune away older wood that no longer bears fruit. Prune away weak, tiny branches that will not support the weight of developing fruit.
Trim off branches that grow at a downward angle. Also trim away upward-growing branches that make a 70 to 90-degree angle with the ground.
Thin out the interior canopy to allow more light and air to circulate. This helps prevent disease and aids in ripening the damson plums.
Thin out the fruit when it reaches the size of a cherry. Remove all but two or three damsons from a cluster of developing fruit so the branches don't snap under the weight of too much fruit. Thinning fruit also improves the flavour of the fruit left on the tree.
Pixy Rootstock Dwarfing bush type tree easily maintained to 8' in height. Also suitable for 18" patio pots. Heavy cropping early in life, the best general purpose rootstock. Plant 8' apart.
St Julian Rootstock Vigorous orchard sized tree of 12-14'. Plant 14' apart.
Supercolumn A simple, elegant columnar type tree. Up to 30 full sized fruits, easy to grow and little pruning involved. Ideal for patio pots, lining a driveway, planted close together as a wonderful fruiting 'hedge' or as an arch. 2-3' is the optimum planting distance or spread around the border as you wish. Crops early in life, often from the first year.[Similar to, but a little more slender than a cordon and on a smaller rootstock]
Stepover Tree Very short tree used for border-edging for the kitchen garden or edge of a lawn.
Fan trained trees for wall training plant 8' apart.
Cordon A single stem tree with short laterals. Heavy cropping, easy to prune. Plant 3' apart.
Once you have made the choice most appropriate to your choice go to the drop down menu accompanying this variety and select to order and add to cart.