Though several varieties of the ornamental plum are sold throughout the United States, most are grown for similar characteristics. Hardy to sunny areas in zones 5 to 8, Prunus cerasifera is a relatively short-lived, small tree, generally not reaching 25 feet high and wide. Flowers and leaf color provide year-round interest and contrast to other garden trees and shrubs. Ornamental plums are somewhat susceptible to wilt and leaf -spot diseases, aphids, caterpillars and other insects that typically attack fruit and nut trees.
The original Purple-leaf plum, 'Atropurpurea' displays ruby-colored new leaves that change to purple, and finally bronze-green by late summer. White to light-pink flowers blossom in late winter to early spring before the leaves emerge. One to 3 inch fruits that attract birds, but drop in summer, follow the flowers.
The leaves of the Black Myrobalan Plum also emerge red, but hold a deep purple color throughout the summer. Spring blooms are pink. Hardy to zone 9 and able to reach heights of 30 feet, 'Nigra' is a larger tree more suited for deeper areas of the south.
The 'Newport' Purple-leaf plum is more widely adapted than other varieties. Hardy to zones 4 to 9, it flourishes in parts of the Northeast and Midwest, as well as the Lower South. White to pale-pink springtime flowers give way to purple-bronze new leaves. Summer foliage color is dark purple. A somewhat shorter tree, it rarely grows taller than 20 feet.
Also hardy to zones 4 to 9, 'Krauter Vesuvius' is similar in growth and habit to 'Newport' but differs in summer leaf color, which is a dark purple to black. Spring flowers are light pink. 'Krauter Vesuvius' is also less likely to produce messy fruit in summer.