The Italian plum tree (Prunus domestica) produces a versatile fruit that can be canned, frozen or made into jellies and preserves. It is especially good for drying. The Italian plum or prune tree, also called "Fellenberg," grows to 15 to 20 feet high with a slightly larger spread. Because they are late bloomers and have a long growing season, Italian plum trees do best when planted in areas with a later frost date. They also respond well in areas with cold, wet springs. The pink or white blossoms appear in mid-spring.
The Italian plum tree bears sweet purplish-black fruit of medium size. The flesh of the fruit is yellow-greenish. You can expect the tree to begin setting fruit three to five years after planting. It will reach full production at about 10 years of age, and you can expect it to provide fruit until the age of 15 to 20 years. Each tree will produce up to 3 to 5 bushels per year.
Plant plum trees in the early spring. Space them at least 20 feet apart in fertile, well-drained soil. When buying nursery stock, look for trees 3 to 6 feet tall with a trunk three-eighths-to-three-fourths-inch in diameter.
Training and Pruning
Trees need early training and yearly pruning to stay healthy and productive. Prune and train using what is called the modified central leader system. This means several lateral branches should be allowed to develop from the main trunk. When the tree reaches the desired height, cut the main trunk to a short lateral branch.
For best results, fertilize your plum tree annually. Apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the early spring. A mulch of straw or wood chips will keep weeds under control and help conserve soil moisture. Watch for potential pest problems. Plums can be bothered by plum curculio, European red mite, brown rot, leaf spot and black knot.
Harvesting and Storing
Watch for color changes as the plums approach ripeness. The fruit will also feel softer as it ripens. A spot with a temperature of 31 to 32 degrees or a refrigerator is best for storage of plum fruit. Any stored fruit that is not used within two to four weeks will need to be preserved by canning, freezing or drying.