Don’t let the green skin fool you. Greengages are sugary sweet dessert plums.
While most plums tend to be purple to black, and sometimes yellow, with an edge of tang to their flavor, greengage plums are green, and as sweet as candy!
Greengages were first brought to Europe from Iran in the 1700s. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew greengages on their farms, but greengages seem to have fallen out of favor since the 1800s. I do not know why, but I like to think that they are on their way back.
Botanically, all plums (Prunus domestica) are members of the rose family. If you want a cultivar that is descended from the original green Iranian plum, you will need to look for a label that reads Prunus domestica subsp. italica var. claudiana.
Greengages are round or oval pale green to yellowish fruits with smooth-textured, pale green flesh. Greengages are freestone fruits. You may see some varieties with a pale blue blush. Greengages are smaller than mirabelle prune, or cherry plums, but larger than most other palm varieties. There are also some crossbred greengages that may be reddish-purple.
How to grow greengages
Unlike most modern fruits, greengages grow true from seed. This means, if you can find one, you can plant a tree of your own. The original cultivar, now called Reine Claude Verte, remains nearly unchanged from its ancestor. Not all greengages are self-fertile, so you may need to plant two trees to get fruit, spending on the variety. You can grow greengages outside in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9. Like other plums, greengages love our hot, California summers, and cool, moist winters. You can start a seed indoors any time of year, but bare root trees should be planted January through March. If you don’t have a lot of room, greengages can also be espaliered along a fence.
Caring for greengages
Greengages should be given nitrogen in spring and fall. Amounts vary, depending on tree age, health, and soil. Trees should be pruned while they are dormant, in winter, and again just after fruit is harvested. Thin fruits to 4 to 6 inches apart, for the best quality and to reduce the chances of pest damage or disease.
Greengage pests and disease
Aphids and scale insects are the most common plum pests. Brown rot and shot hole fungus are the most common diseases.
Fruit is ready for harvest June through October, depending on the variety. It in not uncommon to have a bumper crop year followed by a more sparse crop, similar to many citrus trees. They simply do not have the energy or resources to crank out huge crops every year.
See if you can make room for these delicious fruits in your foodscape!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!