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Growing Plums and Pluots: Prunus salicina

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Botanical Overview

Plums, members of the Prunus genus and the Rose family, are related to cherries, peaches, and apricots. While up to 40 species can be called plums, only three are grown commercially.


Form: Tree.
Lifespan: 15-25 productive years.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: The rootstock and cultivar will determine the size. It will often be 20' high and wide.
Flowers: White to pink, five petals. Japanese plum flowers are more clustered and numerous than those of the European plum.
Bloom: Late winter or spring. Japanese plums bloom earlier than European ones and are more frost-prone.
Self-fruitful: Most cultivars, but not all, need a different cultivar nearby to provide pollen.
Years before fruiting: 3.
Fruit: Round to oval in shape, smooth skin can be dark blue, purple, red or yellow. Juicy flesh. The single seed is enclosed in a hard woody shell.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2.5 - 6.
Storage after harvest: Unripe (hard) plums should be left at room temperature in a bowl for several days until ripe. After that, they can be placed in a crisper drawer of a refrigerator up to one week. Eat as soon as possible. Slice, remove the pit, and freeze for longer storage.
Leaves: Green, oval to lance-shaped.
Stems: Some cultivars may have thorns.
Roots: Cuttings are grafted onto a compatible Prunus rootstock. Some rootstocks reduce the size of the tree, some are disease resistant.
Species of Note:
Prunus domestica: European Plum - grown for dried plums (prunes).
Prunus salicina: Japanese Plum - produce the largest fruit and are grown for the fresh plum market in the United States.
'Beauty' 250 chill hours, self-fruitful.
'Burgundy' 100-300 chill hours, self-fruitful.
'Methley' 250 chill hours, self-fruitful, very cold hardy.
'Santa Rosa' 300 chill hours, self-fruitful.
Prunus insititia: Damson Plum - the smallest fruit, grown for jams and jellies.
Prunus domestica x armeniaca: Pluot - three-quarters European Plum and one-quarter Apricot. These trees have the same characteristics as plums and are grown the same way. Dozens of cultivars have been developed.
'Flavor Grenade' 200-300 chill hours, cross-pollinate with another plum or pluot.
Wildlife: Attracts bees.
Toxic / Danger: Seeds and leaves contain small amounts of cyanide.
Origin: P. domestica originated in Western Asia. P. salicina originated in China. P. insititia existed as a wild species in Europe before the arrival of the 'European Plum'.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 4-9.
Chill hours: Look for trees with chill hours of 300 or less.
Heat tolerant: Yes for many low-chill cultivars.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Yes for some cultivars.
Water after becoming established: Deep water at least monthly in warm months to increase resistance to insect predation. Regions with minimal summer rainfall and low humidity experience fewer fungal disease problems.
Soil: Well drained, deep, moderate organic content, pH 5.6-6.5 (acidic to slightly acidic). Plums are more tolerant of soil types than most Prunus species.
Fertilize: Apply an organic fertilizer, such as compost with composted manure, once in early spring. Spread the fertilizer evenly out to the drip line and one foot away from the trunk. Water immediately.
Mulch: Pull weeds and mulch every spring to reduce weeds and retain soil moisture. Remove mulch in the fall so pests cannot use it to over winter. Shredded bark or wood chips are often recommended as mulch for fruit trees, but they can result in nitrogen deficiency in the soil.
Planting: Space trees based on mature width, often 18-22'.
Prune: In late winter or early spring, remove dead, crossing or damaged branches. Remove unwanted, excess new growth. Flowers bloom on one-year and older wood. Remove excess marble-sized young fruit so that only one is present every 6-8" along a branch to avoid branch breakage.
Litter: Leaves and fruit, if not harvested, in fall.
Propagation: Cuttings grafted on special rootstock. Seed does not come true and the quality of the resulting fruit is uncertain.
Uses: Edible fruit.

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Plums and Pluots: Prunus domestica / Prunus salicina - flowers

Plums and Pluots: Prunus domestica / Prunus salicina fruit

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Latest update: January, 2019