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Plums don’t get nearly the press that apples, cherries, and peaches get, but they are delicious. Like peaches, nectarines, and apricots, plums are stone fruits, also called drupes, and they work wonderfully as fresh fruit. They can also add something surprising to savory recipes, and they make nice jams and desserts. And, of course, prunes are a great snack.
So, when putting together a backyard orchard or food forest or even just choosing a couple of fruit trees for the yard, plums should be on the list of considerations. They are one of the easier fruit trees to grow at home, and they come in tons of different varieties, something to fit just about every climate in the US.
They are small, highly productive trees, usually pruned to about 15-20 feet. They have beautiful white and pink flowers in spring, and in late summer/early autumn, they put out sweet colorful fruits. In other words, what’s not to like?
Source: Weird Explorer/YouTube
Types of Plums
Generally, the dozens of plum varieties come from one of four different types: Japanese, European, American, or hybrids. Each of these types has its own recognizable characteristics, both with advantages and disadvantages.
- Japanese plums are better suited to warmer climates, where peaches grow, and they are renowned for use in savory dishes and fresh eating.
- European plums are somewhat cold-tolerant and can tolerate clay soils. They also are disease-resistant.
- American plums are usually wild and are cold-tolerant, have nice flowers and foliage, and function as great pollinators for other plums. The fruits are subpar.
- Hybrid plums are a cross between Asian and American plums, taking desirable qualities from each.
Source: Raintree Nursery/YouTube
What Plums Need
Plums, like many fruit trees, like to have full sun exposure, at six hours a day. They like well-drained, slightly acidic soil with lots of nutrients. A plum of some variety can be found for growing in USDA Zones 3-10.
A full-sized plum tree might require 20 feet of spacing between the trees, while a dwarf variety might only need 10 feet. They appreciate a little bit of shelter (a windbreak of sorts) and prefer a south-facing space where the sun can get to them well.
Planting a Plum Tree
For the most part, this is simply good practice for planting any fruit tree. The hole should be dug twice as wide as the root ball of the plum tree, allowing plenty of room for the young roots to begin spreading out. It only needs to be as deep as the roots are, and the graft union must be about an inch above the soil.
Because plum trees are relatively hungry trees, after lots of nutrients, it might not be horrible to mix a little mature compost into the hole. The space around the plum tree, out to its dripline, should be mulched about four inches deep, with care taken to keep the mulch from touching the tree trunk.
Source: Byron Herbalist/YouTube
Caring for Plum Trees and Harvesting Plums
It normally takes plum trees four or five years to begin bearing fruit. Their production goes up notable when planting in clusters to aid with pollination, when fertilized annually with a thick layer of compost, and when pruned during dormancy. And attracting native bees will, of course, help to pollinate the plum trees, too.
When it comes time to start harvesting the plums, they are best harvested a few days before they are completely ripe. The skin color will get to its mature coloring, but the fruit itself will be a little firmer than ideal. The plum will ripen off the tree. For prunes, the plum should be ripened fully on the tree until it drops off.
Source: Marion’s Kitchen/YouTube
Using Plums (Recipes!)
By all means, it would be a tragedy not to make the most of having fresh plums around. As they are, plums are a sweet and delicious fruit, particularly with a slight chill. And prunes—dehydrated plums—are great when storing for later. However, plums work well in lots of different recipes:
- Plum and Radicchio Salad with Tahini Yogurt Dressing
- Blueberry Plum Crumble
- Apple Plum Crisp
- Pickled Plum Noodle Soup
- Sugar-Free Cinnamon Cardamom Plum Jam
- Nutty Plum Brownies
- Spicy Plum and Apple Chutney
- Kakadu Plums: The Superfood Known to Have the Highest Vitamin C Content of Any Fruit
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- 7 Trees That Fruit in Winter
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