Green fingered Mefites, how close should I plant a plum tree to my house?
November 20, 2011 4:20 AM   Subscribe

We bought a plum tree, originally to keep in a pot in a patio, that location didn't work out, and now we think that if we take it out of the pot and plant it in the ground it will do better next year. How close to our house can we plant it?

The plum tree has been, still in it's large pot, next to our house in the back garden. Despite it being already a 2m tree it only managed to grow successfully one plum this summer, we think that if we take it out of the pot and plant it in the ground it will do better next year. Now it has lost all its leaves and is dormant seems the right time to plant it, only we are afraid of planting it too close to our house as the roots could eventually mess up the house foundations.
I have seen advice which suggest a 6m distance, which is not possible in our small back garden.. however it says that the distance is only necessary in clay soils, ours is a loam type soil ( according to this test). Our garden is a sunken garden (3.5 x 5 m) with the house to the north at one of the 3.5m ends, a high wall to the west, decking to the east covering soil and also plumbing going out to a laundry in the SE corner, to the south we have a short wall making a step to to a lawn sloping upwards. I think our prefered option would be to plant it where its pot is now in the NW corner, but we are concerned about the roots damaging the house or high wall foundations. Another option would be the SE corner but that could mess up the decking and plumbing?
posted by foleypt to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You shouldn't have to worry about the roots from a plum tree damaging your foundation-more of a concern would be the spread of the branches as it matures, as they could rub against the house and potentially cause problems. (easily fixed by judicious pruning, btw). The final spread of the branches will be determined by the type of plum- dwarf, semi-dwarf, or standard.
You mentioned your tree is but 2m high at this point, which suggests a rather young specimen. That may be the reason for the lack of fruit. Another reason may be that your tree needs another plum as a pollinator - not all plums are self-fertile. If you know the variety I can probably tell you if it is or not. Yet another reason may be lack of nutrients - fruit trees are very heavy feeders, and often don't get the nutrients they need from the soil in a pot (or the ground for that matter ;). Again, easily remedied. Finally, it may not be getting enough sun in it's current location. Almost all fruit trees need full sun (6+hours) to produce adequately.
Hope this helps! :)
posted by PlantGoddess at 5:21 AM on November 20, 2011

You should remember that bees will be attracted to it when it blossoms. So, especially if you have kids, you don't want to create a bee gauntlet by placing the tree too close to an entry door. And in the fall some fruit will fall and you won't be out to pick it up right away. It will start to rot and attract more bees in the fall.

Do you have a window above the kitchen sink? Because it is nice to wash dishes and watch the tree in changing seasons.
posted by cda at 5:46 AM on November 20, 2011

Thanks for your reply. I think the variety is Mirabelle judging by the flower and fruit colour. It is rather young, I think it was three years old when we got it, so that would make it around 4 years old. I think I remember the person in the garden center saying it didn't need another tree to pollinate and that they had already some fruit off it. We had quite a lot of small fruit appear but then only one developed and the rest died off. I did try to give the tree more nutrients by putting some composting on top of the pot, but that just meant we had tomatoes starting to grow in the tree pot! One other question if you don't mind, the pot sits in a dish, is it bad to leave the dish full of water in the winter or should be try to cover the tree partially so as to not let the roots water-log?
posted by foleypt at 5:47 AM on November 20, 2011

Full Disclosure: I posess the black thumbs only, so take anythign I have to say with a grain of salt regarding growing. However, given the size of your garden I was wondering if making an espaliered tree might be a good answer for you. According to my research (a hasty search on wikipedia) the time to do this is when the tree is dormant, and then you prune the thing and train the branches until they are set to grow close to the wall. According to the article the tree will benefit from the reflected heat in the wall and this action can effectively extend the growing season to enable to tree to bear more fruit.

Most importantly, it would look really neat if you were successfull. And you would have plums, always a benefit.

If this doesn't work for you as an option then I can at least give anecdotal support for planting suggestions; we had a plum tree in the back yard growing up that gave plentiful plums every year and was planted perhaps 3 - 4 feet from the wall. So there's that.

best of luck.
posted by ottergrrl at 7:14 AM on November 20, 2011

Aside from bees, I can attest from personal experience that fallen fruit also has a tendency to attract rodents. If you're doing a trained, espalier-type of planting against the wall (more), too much windfall fruit may not be an issue. Otherwise, make sure the ground stays as clear possible.
posted by jquinby at 8:00 AM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have a few cherry plum trees in our backyard, two that the previous owner tried to espalier onto our chainlink fence. From experience, I can say "yes, you can espalier a plum tree" and "whatever you choose to espalier with must be very, very sturdy." At some points, the biggest tree is starting to take the fence apart. If you do plant next to your house, they don't have a lot of surface subsidence, so I don't think you have to worry about damaging the structure of your house UNLESS you decide to use it to espalier against. You do have to worry about it dropping leaves and fruit onto the roof of your house, and it has a pretty significant spread when it's mature.

I have regular size trees, so dwarf and semidwarf varieties may be different. I know that cherry, plum and cherry-plum trees don't dwarf as much as apple trees, so even your dwarf mirabelle can top out at 10 feet.

As for why you might not be getting any fruit, even at 4 years old you should see blossoms but maybe not fruit. Squirrels love our cherry plums and apples, so they could have run off with your plums before you noticed them.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:27 AM on November 20, 2011

The general rule of thumb is that the roots will get as big as the tree branches. I didn't see a size on the wikipedia page, though.
posted by annsunny at 10:25 AM on November 20, 2011

Ask a nursery near you, to get advice from experts relevant to your climate.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:05 AM on November 20, 2011

The answer depends a lot on the type of maintenance you are willing to do. I wouldn't plant any fruit tree over a deck, because of the mess from fruit drop and the potential difficulty of harvest (is it a part of a deck you can put a ladder on? Fruit trees need pruning and spraying and picking). Rule of thumb for any tree is 10 feet from a house, with exceptions for patio trees or espaliers. This is partly due to roots, partly due to the need to get around trees for maintenance, partly because trees planted closer will lean away from buildings and look unsightly, and partly because trees are often wider than twenty feet before they have grown above the roofline of a house (also, if you have overhead electrical lines, be sure your tree is not going under them). Could you plant this particular tree closer to your house? I think if you are willing to prune it heavily to keep it small you might be fine. It is bound to do better in the ground than in a pot. No, it should not be sitting in a water-filled saucer over the winter. Ideally it would be planted where it receives full sun- at least 8 hours a day in summer.

Root problems from trees are more prevalent if you water shallowly than if you water deeply.

I think Mirabelle is only partially self-fertile. You may need to graft another plum onto it for pollination.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:33 PM on November 20, 2011

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