One bite into a juicy, sweet Japanese plum makes it easy to see why gardeners work so hard to grow these tasty fruits. The trees also offer form and interest to any garden or landscape, especially since they tend to be an early-spring bloomer, producing beautiful fragrant flowers. In mid-to-late summer, the trees produce fruit that can be eaten right off the tree, serving as a juicy reminder of plum trees are so popular.
Plum trees have existed for centuries with Japanese plum trees originating in China before they were brought to Japan. The trees thrived and have become an important part of Japanese culture. In the early 1800s, the trees were introduced in America where they've become well established in mild climate gardens across the country.
Plum trees sport narrow green leaves with fragrant white to dark pink flowers that bloom in early spring. Trees that receive proper pruning only grow to about 5 feet in height. This makes it easy to harvest the fruits from the upper branches. Depending on the variety, the 2- to 3-inch fruits ripen anywhere from July through August. The skin of mature fruits may be red, yellow, white or a combination of those colors with red or pale flesh. Most plum trees must grow for at least five years before they bear fruit for the first time.
Dozens of varieties of Japanese plums are available to gardeners. The most popular, the Santa Rosa plum, features purple skin and pale, sweet flesh. Satsuma, a red-fleshed plum, also remains a popular plum tree. Another favorite is the Burbank plum tree--this firm, meaty plum works well for fresh eating and canning. Some plums offer unique flavors such as the Howard Miracle; this plum resembles a peach in color while the flavor resembles ripened pineapple.
Planting and Care
Plum trees grow in almost any type of soil as long as they are planted in well-drained soil in full sun. Most plum trees are self-sterile meaning they require another plum tree with which to pollinate. Otherwise, the tree cannot bear fruit. Plum trees require pruning in the first year to set the shape of the tree. Heavy pruning is also required each year thereafter to encourage outward growth of branches that can bear fruit.
Ripe plums may be eaten fresh right off the tree. They also work well for jams and jellies or may be stewed or made into sauces. The fruit also works well in a variety of desserts such as puddings, pies and cakes. Since Japanese plums contain less sugar content than European plums, drying the fruit to make prunes doesn't work very well.