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Japanese Plum Varieties

If you enjoy gardening and have room for one or two new trees, you can combine the beauty of a flowering tree with a harvest of sweet, juicy fruit by planting a Japanese plum (Prunus salicina). First cultivated in Asia, this tree blossoms in spring. Its flowers are followed by medium-to-large plums that come in purplish-black, red or other colors, depending on which variety you choose. The trees are deciduous and have an overall rounded or oval shape; they vary in size depending on the cultivar -- from 10 to 30 feet tall and wide. Japanese plums generally grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 or 5 through 9 or 10, again depending on the variety, although some hybrid trees can be more cold tolerant.

Self-Fruitful Trees

Some Japanese plum trees produce fruit when the tree's flowers pollinate themselves. You'll harvest plums from these self-fruitful trees even if you only plant one tree. Self-fruitful trees include:

  • 'Beauty' (_Prunus salicina '_Beauty'), producing plums with reddish yellow skin and amber flesh; grows in USDA zones 4 through 10.
  • 'Burgundy' (Prunus salicina 'Burgundy'), with reddish-purple skin on plums that have red flesh; grows in USDA zones 5 through 9.
  • 'Santa Rosa' (Prunus salicina 'Santa Rosa'), with dark red fruits inside and out; grows in USDA zones 5 through 9.

Trees Needing Cross-Pollination

Japanese plum trees grow well in full sun and produce showy white flowers. But some need another variety of Japanese plum nearby to produce fruit, through a process called cross-pollination. Without another tree, this type of tree might only produce plums from 1 or 2 percent of its flowers.

If you have sufficient garden space to grow two or more types of Japanese plums, you can choose from a number of cultivars that require pollination by another plum variety. Examples of these types of trees include:

  • 'Mariposa' (Prunus salicina 'Mariposa'), with red-fleshed fruits that have extra-small pits; it grows in USDA zones 6 through 10 and is pollinated by 'Santa Rosa' as well as other types.
  • 'Redheart' (Prunus salicina 'Redheart') produces fruit with maroon-to-yellow skin and red flesh that lasts extra-long on the tree. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 9; pollinated by several varieties, including 'Santa Rosa.'
  • 'Elephant Heart' (Prunus salicina 'Elephant Heart'), a heavy-yielding tree with large, heart-shaped plums that have red flesh; grows in USDA zones 5 through 9 and is pollinated by 'Beauty' or 'Santa Rosa.'

Trees for Colder Climates

If you live in a region where winters are too cold for a Japanese plum tree, you can choose a tree that's a cross -- or hybrid -- between a Japanese tree and another type of plum tree. Usually called American hybrids (Prunus spp.), these trees tend to be more cold-hardy. They are sometimes also referred to as "bush plums" because they tend to have a more shrubby shape than other plums. A variety called 'Black Ice' (Prunus hybrid 'Black Ice') is a good example of this type of tree. It has small purple fruits with pits that are easily removed -- called freestone. This tree grows in USDA zones 3 through 8 and bears fruit when cross-pollinated by any other hybrid plum.

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