You wouldn’t think to look at it, but that small, green ball in the produce bin isn’t a Granny Smith apple, but a plum. We think of plums as deep red and even black, but the green plum is also popular and prized, especially by plum aficionados. Known as the greengage plum (Prunus domestica), it came to the United States via France and England, where Sir Thomas Gage introduced it to British kitchens in the 15th century. Yet its ancestral history finds that it's a product of Armenia. Growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 9, the greengage plum likes its days sunny and nights cool.

    The Greengage Plum in America

    Thomas Jefferson, once our ambassador to France, probably tasted the sweet ambrosia of the greengage while serving in that country. He brought several trees back with him and planted an orchard at Monticello where their growing habits were studied.

    Greengages are not cultivated commercially in great numbers in the United States because of the difficulty in growing them and the inability of the fruit to survive transport. David Karp of Andy’s Orchard in California suggests there may be only three or four greengage-producing orchards in the United States.

    Characteristics of the Green Plum

    Biting into a greengage plum is like tasting the nectar of the gods. The sweetness of a true greengage registers off the scale and puts other fruit to shame. Perhaps it’s because it takes a greengage tree nearly seven years to reach fruit-bearing maturity.

    The fruit itself is small and round, like a golf ball, with sublimely sweet flesh. It has a freestone, meaning the stone isn’t connected to the flesh through fiber, which is common in many other plums.

    The crops are erratic, with some years producing a bumper crop and others with nothing of note to report. And they are harvested late in the season, making them susceptible to rainy weather, which forces the fruit off its branches to lie on the ground. When that happens, farmers’ wives pull out the canning materials, knowing they’re facing many days of making green plum jam!

    Planting the Green Plum

    The green plum tree is dormant in winter, which is the best time to plant it. Since greengages are not self-pollinating, be sure to plant other fruit trees nearby. If you’re growing your tree in a container, any time of year is good for planting. If possible, locate the tree near a brick or cement wall as it needs the warmth radiating out from that wall during the tree’s chilly season, when temperatures dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Protecting the tree from wind and rain is also recommended. You don’t want your plums to end up on the ground. A bumper crop of greengage one year or thinning out a profuse tree may result in very little production the following year.

    If possible, gather falling leaves in the fall and use them as compost in the bottom of the deep hole in which you plant the tree. Be sure the soil is well watered and keep at least 15 feet between trees. The branches need space to spread out as they grow.

    Greengage Plum’s Season

    As your plum tree starts to bud and fruit forms in mid-spring, pruning is necessary to control the tree’s production and to make room for healthy plums to form.

    Late spring and early summer are the times to watch your tree carefully and observe which branches are overpopulating. You want just enough fruit on each branch to produce a bountiful crop, but not so much that the branches droop due to the heavy weight. Check the tree for any fruit that appears damaged or blighted and remove it. Also trim back crowded plums, allowing at least 3–4 inches between each fruit.

    Harvest in late summer and early fall when the fruit is at its peak and the sweetness inside is beyond description.

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