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Growing Natal Plums: Carissa macrocarpa

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A member of the Dogbane family. Not related to true Plums, which belong to the Rose family.

Form: Shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: 3-10' high and 3-10' wide, depending on cultivar. In native region, grows 18-20' high.
Flowers: White, five narrow, thick waxy petals, 2" diameter, fragrance similar to orange blossoms.
Bloom: Spring and summer. In some regions, plants will bloom and display fruit most of the year.
Self-fruitful: Yes. May need hand pollination.
Years before fruiting: 2.
Fruit: Red, plum-shaped, 1-3" diameter, 6-16 small seeds, entire fruit edible when ripe, tasting like sweet cranberries, strawberries or raspberries, depending on degree of ripeness.
Months for fruit to ripen: 3. Fruit is ripe when pink or red, not green, and slightly soft to touch. The fruits ripen individually and not all at once. They remain on plant after ripening.
Storage after harvest: One day at room temperature, no more than one week refrigerated. Fruit does not ripen further once picked.
Leaves: Glossy dark green, thick, oval, smooth margins, overlapping.
Stems: Thornless or Y-shaped double spines, milky latex sap if broken or cut.
Roots: Non-invasive.
Wildlife: Attracts insects.
Toxic / Danger: All parts, except ripe fruit, are mildly toxic; spines on some cultivars.
Origin: Natal region of South Africa.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 9-11. Young plants need protection below 25°F.
Sunset climate zones: H2, 16-24.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Water after becoming established: Monthly to weekly depending on size of fruit crop and temperature.
Soil: Well drained, tolerant otherwise, pH 6.1-7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral). Tolerant of salinity. Subject to root rot in wet soil.
Fertilize: In soil with low organic content, after first year, apply a general purpose fertilizer mid to late winter before new growth begins.
Mulch: 1-2" organic material to shade roots from summer heat.
Planting: Can be grown in a container.
First Year Care: Water every day or two to establish an extensive root system. Do not overwater.
Prune: Often pruned into narrow hedge to make fruit more accessible. After last frost, remove any dead or damaged branches. Flowers appear on new growth.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Cuttings, layering, seed. Seeds are variable in germination times and may not breed true.
Uses: Ornamental, barrier hedge if thorny, edible fruit: raw in salads or cooked into jams and pies. Do not cook in aluminum cookware because of latex particles in fruit.

Former botanical name: Carissa grandiflora. The most common cultivars sold in nurseries are low shrubs and groundcover plants, both with small thorns. Spined cultivars should be kept away from walkways.

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