Japanese dessert plums (Prunus salicina) are one type of plum tree grown for production of sweet fruits. When compared to European and hardy plum types, Japanese dessert plum fruits are larger in size and much juicier and are most often eaten as fresh fruits because of their delicious blend of sweetness and acidity. European plums are more often used for making prunes. Japanese plum trees are best grown where springs are not cool or rainy and where untimely frosts don't occur since they flower in early to mid-spring. The southern United States is best; Japanese plums aren't good in the northern half of the nation.
An important commercial variety grown to supply fresh fruits at American supermarkets, 'Santa Rosa' is a Japanese dessert plum with a rich but pleasantly tart flesh flavor. It is self-fruitful, meaning no additional trees are needed in an orchard to ensure flower pollination and fruit set. The fruits' purplish red skin with a powdery residue (called "bloom") that's blue is attractive and the flesh is yellow but turning red just under the skin. There is also a variety called 'Late Santa Rosa' that is similar but matures its fruits about one month later according to the "Sunset Western Garden Book."
Not needing much chilly winter temperatures to produce springtime flowers, 'Catalina' is a variety that consistently yields large numbers of fruits. This self-fruitful tree ripens its fruits on the branches later than 'Santa Rosa'. 'Catalina' plums are large, juicy, sweet and deep purple in color in both the skin and flesh.
A key feature to 'Burbank' is that it is more cold-hardy than most other Japanese dessert plum trees. It is not self-fruitful and thus needs other plum trees to facilitate pollination. Good companion trees for 'Burbank' are 'Beauty' and 'Santa Rosa'. Its fruits are large with a red skin and amber-colored flesh. The fruits are aromatic when ripe and have a rich flavor.
If you wish to store your plums after harvest, 'Golden Nectar' tends to have a long shelf life when in a cool, dry area. This self-fruitful variety yields large fruits with yellow skin and yellow flesh. The pit in the fruit's core is small, making this variety exceptional as a fresh fruit. Its sweet flavor is excellent.
According to the "Sunset Western Garden Book," the variety 'Satsuma' is preferred for use in making jams and jellies. It is sometimes called the "blood plum" because of the red juice it produces by its solid, meaty flesh. The size of the fruit isn't overly large, but it has a small pit. The dull deep red skin and dark-red, firm flesh have a mild, sweet flavor. 'Satsuma' is not self-fruitful and companion orchard trees like varieties 'Beauty', 'Santa Rosa' or 'Wickson' are needed to ensure flower pollination.
With bright red skin and amber-colored flesh with attractive streaks of scarlet, 'Beauty' is known to produce large crops of fruits. Although it is self-fruitful, the presence of a nearby 'Santa Rosa' plum tree increases the yield. 'Beauty' also doesn't need a lot of winter chill to produce flowers. One drawback is that the red fruits soften quickly and must be harvested in a timely manner.