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HOW TO GROW PLUMS

Anne K Moore
Photograph Anne K Moore

It will soon be fall, the best time to put trees in the ground.  When you are considering flowering trees, don’t overlook using fruit trees.  Plums in particular come in several sizes well suited to the home landscape.

There are three kinds of plums.  Each has a different characteristic.  Native plums are cold hardy but the fruit is only suited to making jams.  The native plum rootstock is most important for grafting many European and Japanese plums, in order to make these trees hardier in their non-native habitat.

European plums are the cold hardiest, suited to growing in USDA Zones 5-7a.  They do not tolerate high heat and humidity and are prone to more insect and disease problems, the warmer they are grown. 

Japanese plums do not need much in the way of winter chill to bear fruit.  They will stand up to heat and humidity and are healthier with less care in the warmer environments.

Most plums do need a pollinator, so you will need room to plant a pair if you want a good fruit crop. 

There are three heights available to the home fruit gardener; Standard trees are about 15 feet high, dwarf trees are about 7 feet high, and semi-dwarf trees grow to a height in between.

If you want to eat your plums fresh out of hand, then the Japanese plum trees are the best to grow, if your climate will allow it.  The plums they produce are sugary sweet.  They will reward your taste buds with succulent, dripping flesh. 

Since European plums are firmer, they are good for cooking and canning.  You can also eat them fresh.  These plums dry well.  They are the favorite for making thick, sweet prunes.

Check the pH of your soil.  If needed, add lime to acid soil or sulfur to alkaline soil to bring the pH to 6.5.  These soil amendments need to be worked into the planting bed six months in advance of planting.  It does no good to spread this on top of the soil.  Both need to be dug under in order to react with the soil.

Dig a hole large enough to hold the roots and wide enough so that you can spread the roots out in the planting hole.  Dig it just deep enough so that the trunk flares at the soil line.  Planting too deep is the number one killer of trees.  Do not put down fertilizer in the planting area or in the hole at planting time.  Wait until the tree is established and the buds are about to open in the spring before you fertilize.

Be sure to tamp the soil in around the roots, but do not stomp on the planting hole so hard that you compact the soil.  Roots need air to breath!  Lug the hose to the planting area and water the roots thoroughly by filling the planting area with water.  Wait until it drains away and then fill it again.  This should thoroughly wet the root area and wash soil into any air pockets left around the roots.

Put down a one to two inch layer of mulch to keep weeds out of the planting area. 

Your very best resource for which variety to plant in your area and how to care for it through its life is the University Cooperative Extension Service in your state.  Either the Extension agents or Master Gardeners in the office are ready and willing to give you sound gardening advice.

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