Plum trees are a special addition to any backyard orchard. The ripe fruits can be eaten fresh or easily dried for storage. The plums store better than other stone fruits and are very versatile in how you can use them. If you are thinking of adding a plum tree to your backyard, there is a proper way to do it to minimalize any potential damage to the tree.
Water the tree, if at all possible, for the two days before you plan on transplanting it. This is especially important if you are digging up what is called a field-grown red plum tree, in that it is not already in a container. Transplanting will stress the plum tree and a lack of water will only exacerbate the stress. The best time for transplanting a red plum tree is first thing in the spring, before growth starts, or in the fall about four weeks before the ground freezes.
Prepare the tree for moving by digging it at least 12 inches out from the trunk and down closer to 18 inches. You will hit some roots and either cut them with the blade of the shovel or by reaching in and using pruning shears. The less roots you have to cut, the less shock to the plant.
Place the red plum tree's root ball on a tarp or canvas and wrap it up. This will prevent any more dirt from falling away from the roots and will conserve moisture around the roots. If you are not planting it immediately, water the tree at least once a day and keep it out of the direct sun.
Dig the new hole about 6 inches deeper all around and deeper than the root ball. Save the removed dirt on a tarp or piece of plywood to use later. Scrape the sides of the hole so that the roots won't be hitting a hard wall. Place a few shovelfuls of well-rotted compost into the center of the hole and then set your red plum tree down on it. Make sure it is sitting securely in the hole, having one person hold it straight if possible.
Add the dirt you set aside in Step 4 back into the hole, one layer at a time. Each layer must be tamped into place with the heel of your boot so that there are no air pockets in the soil. Water each layer lightly with water so that it is moistened but not soggy. Continue until the hole is filled and the tree is standing straight with its trunk still at the original soil line (not lower or higher).
Trim the branches on the tree so that the size of the top resembles the size of the root mass in width. Make your cuts at 45-degree angles so that water does not have a chance to accumulate. Try to cut just after the leaf buds if possible so you don't have empty sections of branch sticking out when the leaves come in.
Water the tree often so that the soil never dries out. If you are transplanting in the fall, make sure the soil stays moist right up until the ground freezes. In the spring, water every week for the first growing season, unless you have a decent rainfall of 1 or more inches.