Sand plums grow wild in the southern U.S. from Texas and Oklahoma eastward. Also called sand hill plum or chickasaw plum, this tree often forms thickets of plants only a few feet tall. Sand plums bear red-orange plums eaten by many types of wildlife as well as human foragers. The sand plum makes an interesting ornamental hedge or tree anywhere in hardiness zones 5 to 9.
Drought resistant sand plum flourishes in sandy soil or even in heavy clay and naturally forms low ground cover used by many wild animals and birds. Ranchers in Texas, Oklahoma and other states where the chickasaw plum grows often treat the bush as a grassland invader, spraying the wild thickets with herbicide. Sand plum actually provides essential food and shelter for important species like the bobwhite quail. Cattle use the thickets to escape the summer sun and actually gain weight faster when the plum thickets form a usable part of their range.
As a single tree, sand plum sometimes reaches 25 feet in height, with a spreading crown wider than it is tall. The dense spring bloom arrives early and white flowers cover the plant before any foliage appears. Sand plum survives in any well drained acidic soil. Untended the tree expands through numerous sucker shoots emerging from shallow roots. Windfalls of half inch diameter plums could cause problems if the canopy grows over pavement or parking areas.
Chickasaw plums provide higher quality fruit than their northern relative, the wild goose plum. Fruit color marks the obvious difference between the two trees--blue plums for the wild goose and red or yellow orange for the chickasaw. Sand hill plums make good jelly, jam and wine. Sand hill salsa combines these wild plums with chilis, garlic, onion and cilantro seasoned with salt and cumin. Adding sugar or black pepper adjusts the tartness and heat of the mix.
Grown in acid well-drained soil, chickasaw plum survives harsh conditions with little help. Sand plum tolerates drought and recovers from brush fires within a few years. As a landscape tree or hedge, sand plum needs frequent pruning or sucker growth overtakes the yard. No serious diseases threaten this plant, but plum curculio could damage most of the fruit. Better crops require both insecticide and fungicide treatments.
Many nurseries sell sand plum, although in parts of its native range the plants could be dug and transplanted from wild thickets. Planting young nursery grown whips causes fewer injuries to landscapers. Many brittle thorns cover the branches of older plum bushes and mature trees, often breaking off just under the skin of people working with them. Sand plum grows about a foot to a foot and a half in height each year. Cutting back half of the new growth annually forces plants to send up multiple shoots and branches, creating a nearly impassable hedge.