Plum trees are a good choice for the home gardener because they require less maintenance than most fruit trees. Their fruit makes tasty jams, jellies, sauces and butters. This fruit can be eaten fresh from the tree or added to coffee cakes and pies. There are three varieties of plum trees: Japanese plum trees, European plum trees, and American hybrids. The type of plum tree that you plant will depend somewhat on your location and climate.
Japanese Plums vs. European Plums
When it comes to the taste of the fruit, the Japanese plum is not as sweet as the European plum, but it is juicier. One well-known Japanese plum is the "Satsuma," which is dark red in color and the fruit is on the large side. Climate is one of the top considerations when choosing a plum tree, and the European plum tree grows in climates where the temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold. One such European plum tree cultivar, "Stanley," is grown in the eastern regions as well as some of the northwest regions of the United States. ("Seneca" is a cultivar that is similar to "Stanley.")
American Hybrid -- American Bush Plums
You may want to consider one of the American hybrids--American plums or bush plums, or the beach or shore plum. They are extremely winter hardy. The fruit of the American plum is ¾ inches or larger in diameter, and they can be red or yellow. The beach or shore plum is grown along the eastern shore of the United States from Maine to Delaware. It can be grown as a shrub or a tree, and does well in sandy soils.
Characteristics to Consider
There are several characteristics to consider when choosing a plum tree: climate, maintenance (pruning), and cross-pollination. For instance, when it comes to climate, the National Gardening Association states, "American hybrid trees are a good choice for regional extremes." For pruning, Japanese plum trees require more pruning than the European plum tree. As far as cross-pollination, European plum trees, including the Stanley, are generally self-fertile. This means that you could plant a single tree and have it produce fruit. Japanese plum trees are not self-fertile--they will require another Japanese, American or Japanese/American plum tree nearby to produce fruit.
Plum trees require a location that receives full sun. The soil should be loamy and well drained. Pick a site that is not in a low-lying area. Low-lying areas are where frost settles and that could damage the tree and or the fruit. Should you have any wild plum trees growing in the same area, they should be removed as they could spread disease to the newly planted plum trees.
The Plum Curculio
The plum curculio is a 1/2-inch-long beetle that can attack the plum tree. It is a common pest that attacks the plum, peach, apple, cherry, pear and apricot tree. The larvae of the curculio beetle tunnel into the fruit of the plum tree. The fruit eventually rots and falls off the tree. The beetle is most active in the spring season. To control the plum curculio, set and maintain a regular schedule of spraying the tree with a low-toxicity spray. The National Gardening Association recommends contacting your county Extension Service office for advice on such a schedule.
Good gardening practices are also essential in controlling pests. The plum tree should be pruned so that it remains open-- this keeps shaded areas to a minimum. The plum curculio does the most harm in shady areas of the tree. Wormy fruit should be gathered and burned. The curculio remains in the soil over the winter season, so lightly till the ground under the tree in late spring/early summer. This should kill the larvae that are in the soil. Curculios tend to hibernate under dead fall foliage, so rake up all fallen leaves under the tree.