Plum Trees

Published January 31, 2019
Plum trees in a row

A blossoming Plum tree will take your breath away. Regarded as one of the most beautiful trees on the planet, the Plum's annual explosion of exquisite flowers is a glorious sight to see. What's more, the stunning specimen bears plump, edible fruit that can be eaten raw or added to a myriad of delicious recipes. With so much to love, it's no surprise that the tree is highly prized by professional landscapers and amateur growers alike.

Appearance of the Tree

Plum trees are typically broken into two categories: fruiting and ornamental. The former bears the edible fruit that we find in the grocery store, while the latter is bred primarily for its colorful foliage and breathtaking blossoms.

While their output may differ, they share some common characteristics:

  • Leaves: Plum leaves are oblong with a pointed tip, though some tree types feature ovate leaves with serrated edges. Each leaf ranges in size from two to four inches. The color of the leaves differs between tree types, though most are green or purple during the spring and yellow, red, orange or purple in the fall.
Leaves and plums on tree
  • Fruit: The tree produces a purple stone fruit called a plum. The plum features smooth, purplish-red skin with a thin, white wax-like coating. The fruit's flesh ranges from red to yellow. Plums can be eaten raw, pickled, cooked or preserved.
  • Bark: The bark of a young Plum tree is dark and smooth. As the tree ages, the bark becomes slightly furrowed.
Closeup of plum tree bark
  • Flowers: Fruiting Plum trees bear tiny white flowers, while the Flowering Plum tree features multiple bursts of pink and white blooms that resemble Japanese cherry blossoms. In the spring, Flowering Plum trees are covered with thick clusters of dazzling flowers that can be seen for miles.

Most Plum trees do not survive beyond their 30th growing season. Their mature height tops out at about 20 feet, though most grow to around 10 to 15 feet and sport a wide oval-shaped canopy.

Plum Tree Types

There are more than 200 different types of Plum trees growing around the world. Selecting the specimen that best fits your property may be challenging. To start, you must decide if you want to grow a flowering or fruiting variety or both. Most growers opt for the fruiting variety so they have access to fresh plums without having to drive to the store to get them.

There are two main types of fruiting Plum trees: European and Japanese. The latter bears bigger fruit than the former, though the European variety has higher sugar content. European plums ripen later in the season than Japanese plums; however, both share the same skin color: yellow, red or purple.

Top Japanese Plum types include:

  • Early Golden
  • Methley
  • Shiro
  • Au Rosa
  • Santa Rosa
  • Black Amber
  • Wickson
  • Friar
Two ripe Japanese plum on branch

Top European Plum types include:

  • Damson
  • Green Gage
  • Castleton
  • Stanley
  • Long John
  • Valor

Expect to practice patience when planting a Plum tree. The tree requires time to mature before it bears fruit. On average, it takes three to five years before a Plum tree will produce fruit.

The Many Looks of the Plum Tree

Plum blossoms on branches
Closeup of plum blossom
Pink plum blossoms on branches
Purple plum fruits on branches
Dying plum tree in winter
Old plum orchard before flowering

Where the Plum Grows

Plum trees grow in a variety of climates, though the majority of the fruit that is commercially produced hails from Europe, Asia, and North America. China leads the way in Plum production while most of the fruit produced in the United States comes from California. Germany, Romania, and Chile also grow the edible fruit in large numbers.

If you are wondering where to grow a Plum tree, consider that the specimen needs moist, well-drained soil and full sunlight to thrive. In addition, the tree should be placed in an area where it has room for its canopy to spread without limitations.

Large plum trees in garden

Popular Uses

Undoubtedly the most popular use of the Plum tree is its delicious and nutritious fruit. Plums can be eaten right off the tree or used in a variety of recipes, including:

  • Pies
  • Tarts
  • Jam
  • Sauces
  • Salads
  • Pudding
  • Dumplings

Plums also offer a number of health benefits. The fruit is low in fat and calories, and high in dietary fiber, which improves digestion. In addition, the fruit contains Vitamin C, calcium, and potassium.

While prunes are excellent eaten raw, they are equally tasty when dried and turned into prunes. The sweet fruit can also be pickled, preserved and pressed to create plum wine or plum brandy.

baked plum tart on a plate

Interesting Facts

In Serbia, the national drink is slivovitz or plum brandy. The country produces more than 420,000 tons of fresh plums each year and distributes the popular alcoholic beverage throughout the world.

China is another huge producer of plums. In fact, the plum blossom is the floral emblem of the Asian country. Chinese cooks try to incorporate the fruit into as many dishes as possible, including savory sauces served with duck and pickled plums served with rice.

Plums with glass of plum brandy

Plum Diseases

Spring is prime time for Plum trees to contract a disease. The first season of the year is ripe with spores traveling through the air.

If you are planning to add a Plum tree to your property, be extra vigilant about protecting your specimen from the following diseases:

  • Black Knot: This serious fungal disease causes black knots to form on the tree's branches. If left untreated the fungus will stunt the tree and eventually kill it.
  • Brown Rot: This fungus infects the Plum tree's fruit and flowers. Symptoms include cankers, spotted fruit and powdery gray hairs that envelop the tree's blossoms and twigs.
  • Plum Pox: This virus is caused by aphids that attack the fruit. Once infected, the tree will produce irregular or deformed fruit. In severe cases, the plums will also develop a yellow or brown ring or blotch on their skin. If left untreated the tree will eventually die.

Verticillium Wilt and Powdery Mildew are other diseases to keep an eye out for, though they don't attack the Plum tree as aggressively as other infections.

Plum on branch with insect damage

Plum Care

Diligent care of your Plum tree will pay off in spades. Healthy trees yield gorgeous blooms and juicy plums.

Following these simple tips will allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor:

  • Test your soil's pH level. Whereas plum trees are rather tolerant of different soil types, they prefer dirt that is slightly acidic.
  • Plant the tree in an area that's exposed to full sunlight.
  • Spring is the best time of the year to add a Plum tree to your property. Extreme temperatures in the summer and winter are hard on immature trees.
  • Water the Plum tree on a regular basis, especially if you live in a dry region or the specimen has endured a dry spell during the summer months.
  • Spread fertilizer at the base of the Plum tree in early spring before it flowers.
  • Prune any dead or damaged branches from the tree in the spring. Trimming the tree in the heat of the summer can stunt its growth and potentially damage the fruit.
Plum tree in bloom

Plum Trees for Color and Fruit

The beautiful blooms of plum trees can add splashes of color to your landscape. The delicious fruits are a wonderful reason to include a couple of plum trees in your yard design.

Plum Trees