Plum trees are a smart choice for the home garden. There are varieties to fit most conditions anywhere in the US. Plums are one of the first trees to bloom in the spring, providing a welcome display in the otherwise dead landscape. The fruit that follows is popular and nutritious for eating and cooking. Proper pruning and removal of suckers will keep the plum from taking over your garden and give you many years of pleasure.
Choose the right plum tree variety for your needs. Plum trees come in a variety of sizes, taste profiles, and tolerance of weather conditions. Choose a variety that fits your needs and location. Determine whether your variety requires two trees for cross-pollination (some varieties are capable of self-pollination).
Choose a well-drained location that receives plenty of sun and affords some protection from cold winds. Mix a layer of organic compost into the soil. If planting two trees, allow about 20 feet between them.
Plant plum trees in the late fall or early spring. Fall is best, while the soil is still warm and moist. If your plum tree is a bare-root tree, soak the roots for an hour before planting. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the tree with its roots spread out. Place the tree in the hole and spread the roots. Place the tree in the hole at the same depth that it was previously planted. Fill the hole with soil, tamping it down lightly. Water the newly planted tree.
Mulch the area around the base of plum trees with organic mulch, but do not let the mulch touch the tree trunk. Water the tree regularly during dry weather.
Stake plum trees during the first few years until they are well established. Plum trees are susceptible to damage from strong winds. Tie the tree to the stake with cotton twine. Adjust the ties each fall.
Apply 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every year of age to established trees in the early spring and mid-summer. Alternately, apply 1 cup of bone meal in the fall.
Protect plum trees from frost after flower buds appear. Cover the tree with a layer of fabric or plastic when frost is expected. Plum trees can withstand the frost, but the tree will not produce fruit if the flowers are damaged by frost.
Prune plum trees to establish a desirable shape. Remove suckers that sprout from the tree roots. Prune plums in June to prevent infection with silver leaf disease. Use pruning shears or a hand saw to create clean cuts and avoid damage. Remove all damaged and diseased wood. Apply sealing compound to the cuts.
When the tree is about 4 years old it will begin to produce fruit. Restrict pruning to new growth that is not producing fruit.
Thin plums when the fruit begin to form. Thinning the fruit will encourage larger fruit development and help protect the branches from breaking. If branches appear overloaded as the fruit begins to grow, you may need to prop up branches for extra support.
Pick plums by hand when they are ripe and ready to eat. Plum trees will continue to produce for about a month. Remove diseased or damaged fruit immediately. If animals are eating your crop, you can place netting over the tree to protect your plums.