Updated: Aug 3
Prunus domestica, the European plum is a species of flowering plant in the family Rosaceae. A deciduous tree, it includes many varieties of the fruit trees known as plums in English, though not all plums belong to this species. The greengages and damsons also belong to subspecies of P. domestica.
Plums are closely related to peaches and cherries and are widely eaten fresh. They first grew in China thousands of years ago. Then plums made their way to Japan, parts of Europe, and America. Plums are widely cultivated throughout the world, and many varieties are adapted to a range of soils and climatic conditions.
Table of Contents
20 - 33 feet
15 - 25 feet
5.5 - 6.5
Growth Nutrition of Plum Tree
Plum trees thrive when macronutrients like Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) are present. Nitrogen helps encourage vegetative growth (leaves and branches). Phosphorus encourages root and blossom development.
Types of Plum Tree
Plum tree types vary and the type you choose depends largely on where you live because each type works best in certain climates. As a general rule, there are three main types of plum trees: American, Japanese, and European.
European plums are very hardy while Japanese plums tend to be more delicate. American plums are usually hybrids that combine the European tree’s hardiness with the great taste of the Japanese plums. These hybrids have even been known to survive extra-cold winters.
Japanese Plum Trees
Japanese plum trees actually originated in China and have very juicy flesh, although their taste isn’t as sweet as the European variety. If you’re interested in canning plums or eating them fresh off the tree, the best types to choose are the:
Satsuma plum, a large, sweet, dark red plum
Santa Rosa, a large plum with purple flesh and a red-crimson skin
Japanese plum trees get up to 30 feet in height and have evergreen leaves. They produce fruit in late winter to early spring.
European Plum Trees
One of the biggest advantages of European plums is their versatility as they can grow well in both cold and hot temperatures. They are high-quality plums that are extra sweet. Two of the most popular types include the:
Stanley, which is medium to large in size and perfect for canning, cooking, or eating fresh
Seneca, a very large purple plum that is oblong and extra sweet
American Hybrid Plum Trees
Also known as bush plums, American plums are winter-hardy but still do well when planted in areas of the Deep South, such as Florida. The plums usually have a flat stone and a red or yellow color and they are quite small with a diameter of only three-quarters of an inch.
There is also a beach plum that is great for preserves and whose tree can be pruned to a shrub shape. Beach plums also do well in poor, sandy soils.
The Satsuma plum is a variety that began in mainland China before spreading to Japan. From there, it spread to the rest of the world and is classified as a Japanese plum to this day.
Satsuma plums are deliciously sweet and perfect for fresh eating or preserving. This white-flowered, fragrant tree is a great choice for smaller gardens or yards, as it usually only reaches about 12 feet tall.
This plum variety needs a good cross-pollinator, so this is the perfect opportunity to plant another Japanese sweet plum tree, such as the Toka, Shiro, or Santa Rosa.
One of the best-known types of plum trees, this popular variety has heavy, regular crops. The pink, medium-sized fruits are ready in late summer. This variety is self-fertile and does not require a pollination partner.
They're good for making jam and pies, and they're also nice to eat straight from the tree in late August. They reach an ultimate height of up to 4.5 meters (14.8ft).
This is a European variety of plum with dark skin and tart-flavored skin and flesh. Although damsons are high in sugar content, they taste a bit bitter and are acidic.
Their skin is purplish-blue in color and the flesh is often yellowish-green and has a sour taste which makes them a great addition to sweet and savory dishes.
Damson plums are usually harvested from late August to October and come in multiple cultivar sub-species like Prunus domestica insititia.
These plum types appear in a shade of pale yellow-green to bright lime and have red specks on the surface. But that's their natural color even after the fruits mature.
If you expect them to taste a little sour like other green fruits, you'll be pleasantly surprised by their sweetness. In fact, greengage plums have the most sugar content of all the types of plums.
Greengage plums come from small to medium sizes, depending on the variety and have a dense and juicy flesh with a great balance of sweetness and the acidity of citrus fruits.
These plums are sold in the summer as Imperial Gage, Reine Claude, Bryanston, Golden Transparent, Laxton’s Gage and Cambridge Gage.
Each of these varieties has a different skin and flesh color and flavor. This variety of plums is versatile and is used in making pies, ice creams, cakes, and jams. Greengage plums can also be paired with savory foods like ricotta, basil, chili, and seafood.
This is a fresh European-style plum variety that's great when dried to make prunes. It's a stone fruit that's oblong in shape, looks like a small pear, and is the size of a large walnut.
It has dark and smokey skin that comes in purples and light blue hues and the flesh is dark amber. The tree is ready for harvesting in late summer and its variety called the Improved French prune is quite popular in the US. It's deliciously sweet when it's soft and similarly tart when firm.
These pretty pink and gold fruits, known as cherry plums, look a lot like oversized cherries. Also known as Mirabelle prunes, these delectable European heirloom plums are heavy cropping and deliver a high sugar content so they're delightful in jams, jellies and brandies. But, they can also be enjoyed fresh from the tree, which will grow up to 4 meters (13.1ft) in your garden.
Other Mirabelles include 'Plum de Metz', 'Golden Sphere' and 'Ruby'. Harvest the fruit from late July. Mirabelle plums are one of the rarest kinds of plums and aren’t found in many parts of the world. They're also difficult to import to other countries from France because of quality control.
The Kelsey plum is a unique plum variety mainly because of its unusual green skin. It got its earliest start in China before moving to Japan and finally to the United States.
The Kelsey plum was further developed on American soil to become the small green fruit that we know today. They are extremely quick-fruiting trees. In the right conditions and in the presence of a pollinator, they can produce fruit in their second year.
The fruit is mild and sweet, with a firm consistency and a freestone, making the Kelsey plum delicious for raw eating or cooking.
The June plum is a delicious, fast-growing variety that produces extremely large green fruit. Farmers and gardeners love this plum tree because, despite its demanding nature and exacting needs, its large crop yield makes it worth it.
June plums began in the South Pacific before spreading to the Americas. While they were originally large in their native habitat (and still are to this day!) modern June plums grown in the United States are much smaller.
Because they have evolved to live in tropical climates, June plum trees don’t do well in cooler regions. These plums definitely need heat and sun as much as possible.
Purple Leaf Plum
The Purple Leaf plum tree is popular among landscapers because it is a beautiful sight to behold. With vibrant purple flowers, this plum tree variety is just as lovely an ornamental tree as a fruit tree.
The Purple Leaf plum tree is smaller than most plum tree varieties, almost qualifying as a shrub. The flowers, when they bloom in the spring, are extremely fragrant and will draw plenty of pollinators to your garden.
Although the Purple Leaf plum is edible, it is not very palatable to humans. This variety works much better as a beautiful ornamental in your garden.
Elephant Heart Plum
Unsurprisingly, this variety of plums is a large stone fruit that comes in the shape of a heart. Its skin ranges from dark red to purple and has a firm texture.
The flesh of the fruit is sweet and juicy red to the point where some say it feels like drinking juice. It's classified as a Japanese plum and is delicious while it is still fresh.
This variety also strikes a wonderful balance between sweetness and tartness, which is a defining feature of the flesh while the skin tastes like berries. The elephant heart plum is typically picked between September and October.
This one is considered to be one of the best European variety and best types of plums, period. It's longer and hence less round than the other plums.
Luckily, these are often freshly available and have a pleasant flavor. But if you let them dry out, they can be added to many dry dishes. They're still impeccably sweet though which is why they're called sugar plums.
This crop is best planted with other European plums like the brooks plum. The best thing about moyer plums is that they don't get affected by pests, though you'll want to watch out for bacterial attacks. This variety is also sold as Italian plums or prunes.
This is another of the types of plums from Japan that has a skin that’s a lighter tone of amber. That usually ranges from dark violet to a bright black color and is round in shape.
Their flesh is usually in an orangey-amber shade. They're sweet and juicy with a small pit. They're available in late season and take about three weeks to mature after the Black Ruby.
Its firm flesh makes Friar a popular plum variety to be eaten fresh. These trees have a long harvesting time as this bumper crop is ready only in late August.
These are also sometimes referred to as cherry plums because they look like small, round, red or yellow cherries. They come in many cultivar forms and their taste ranges from sweet to tart.
They're delicious if you get them fresh but they’re also used in baking and the making of jelly. These trees are popularly grown in backyard farms as ornamental fruit trees.
While the fruit itself is small and round, the plant grows to the size of shrubs in a small garden. This variety is also known to be one of the first trees to produce flowers in the spring season.
Black Beauty Plum
This is another variety of Japanese plums that has a bright yellow flesh and a dark purple-red skin. It's an extremely juicy stone fruit with firm flesh and grows from medium to large sizes.
This is also a plum that must be consumed when it's still fresh. The best way to figure out which of these is fresh is to gently squeeze the fruit and see if it is slightly soft.
If the plum is hard and unripe, store them at room temperature and wait for the magic to unravel. Black beauty is also a plum variety with a great balance of sweetness and tartness.
These are an early hybrid of plums and apricots with more qualities from the former than the latter. They have a yellowish-green skin and a bold pinkish red flesh.
They're oval shaped and are firm and crisp. This makes them an excellent choice to use in the making of mint salsa. But you can also use them to make jams, chutneys, and plum crumbles.
These plums are ready for harvest in late July and August and can be exported without the fear of damage.
While they are often grouped with plucots, these fruits have a smooth reddish skin with their flesh in a tinge of yellow. There are a variety of pluots that are sold as Dapple Dandy, Flavor Grenade, Flavorglo, or Dinosaur Egg.
This hybrid is also best consumed fresh while they are fragrant, firm, and vibrant in appearance. If you find them in a soggy form, that means they're still unripe and must be kept at room temperature for three days or in a refrigerator for about a week.
The Golden plum tree is a delightful late-blooming plum variety. It produces bright golden fruit that is exceptionally sweet and juicy, making it perfect for a late summer snack.
This plum variety is ready to harvest in mid-July and into August, long after most other plums have been picked. One benefit to Golden plums is that they are self-fertile, so you can expect a crop of fruit even with a single tree. However, you can significantly increase your harvest with two trees!
These delicious fruits are perfect for eating raw or preserving, thanks to their deep flavor and high juice content.
The Brooks plum is a lovely tree that is excellent for both fruit and aesthetic value. Bursting into bloom with vibrant white flowers, it produces small fruits that are almost blue in color.
The inner flesh is a warm yellow color. The Brooks plum is extremely sweet and juicy, and many people eat them straight off the tree. Their small size means that you might find yourself eating one after the other.
The Brooks plum is fairly cold hardy and is significantly smaller than many other plum varieties, making it ideal for smaller yards or gardens where there is less space.
Pershore also known as the 'Yellow Egg Plum', is one of the best types of plum trees to grow if you're looking for a traditional, old-fashioned cooking variety. The heavy and reliable crops of large fruits have a sweet and delicious flavor.
Perfect for cooking in desserts as well as an ideal plum for bottling, they're also tasty when fully ripe and picked and eaten straight from the tree.
An easy grower, it has good disease resistance and is very hardy, which makes it an ideal choice for beginners. It grows to an eventual height of between 2.5–4 meters (8.2–13.1ft).
The Flatwood plum, also called a Hog or Sloe plum, isn’t well known among home gardeners. That’s because it usually grows in the wild. But this one-of-a-kind fruit tree is a pleasure to grow, so there is no reason why you can’t plant it in your yard.
Flatwood plum trees reach a maximum height of about 15 feet. They have beautiful flowers in the spring, followed by a good crop of fruit.
The trees are hardy and thrive even in cold climates. Though Flatwood plums are very acidic, they are perfect for cooking and preserving.
The Java plum is known by many names, including the black plum, Malabar plum, or jambolan. This fascinating evergreen in native to India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, where it is used both as food and medicine.
This unusual plum tree loves tropical climates. In its native habitat, it grows enormously tall, reaching as high as 100 feet — in just a few decades. When cultivated in other parts of the world, it is about half that size.
Java plums are unlike any plum variety— deep purple with white flesh and ranging from sweet to extremely sour.
Planting Plum Tree
When to Plant Plum Trees
Plant plum trees in late winter or early spring while the trees are dormant.
Selecting a Planting Site
Plums should really only be planted in a prime location featuring all of the following characteristics. Otherwise, they may not perform well.
Plant plum trees in loamy, well-drained soil. Plums do not do well when planted in clay-heavy soils or in locations where their roots will be constantly wet.
Choose a planting location that receives full sun—6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight at the very least.
Avoid planting in low areas where frost may settle, as the frost can damage your trees. Because they flower so early, plums are especially vulnerable to spring frosts, which can damage blooms and result in sub-par fruiting.
If possible, find a sheltered location, such as a south- or west-facing spot out of the wind. This will help the plum tree set fruit.
How to Plant a Plum Tree
Space standard-size trees 20 to 25 feet apart and dwarf trees 10 to 15 feet apart.
Set bare-root trees atop a small mound of soil in the center of the planting hole, and spread the roots down and away without unduly bending them.
To prepare a container-grown tree for planting, remove the tree from its pot and get rid of any tightly circling roots by laying the root ball on its side and using shears to trim off these roots. Do your best to untangle roots without damaging roots, but if the root ball is particularly pot-bound, you can loosen it by scraping up and down the sides with a knife or hand fork.
When planting grafted trees, it’s important to keep the graft union 1 to 2 inches above the soil line. This is especially true for dwarf varieties, as roots may start to grow from above the graft if the tree is planted too deep, bypassing the rootstock that keeps the tree dwarf-size.
Dig a hole that’s a few inches deeper and wider than the spread of the roots.
For bare-root trees, set the tree on top of a small mound of soil in the middle of the hole and spread the roots away from the trunk without excessively bending them.
For container-grown trees, simply place the root ball in the middle of the hole.
Fill in the hole, stopping periodically to make sure that the roots are thoroughly covered and no air pockets remain around the tree.
Water the tree thoroughly at the time of planting; this helps the soil to settle around the roots. Keep the tree well watered for the first few weeks after planting.
For bare-root trees, it’s often recommended to stake the tree for at least one year, until the tree is stable enough to stand on its own.
Care for Palm Tree
Be sure to water the young trees heavily every week during the first growing season to help promote growth. Then, water regularly. It’s best to water the plant deeply at the soil line, then let the soil dry out (though not completely) and water again.
If rain is lacking, water your tree well into mid-October to give it plenty of moisture through the winter months.
Do not fertilize young fruit trees until they have set a crop.
Once established, fruit production requires regular fertilizing all year long. If there’s good fruit set, fertilize with one pound calcium nitrate per tree or 1½ lb. 10-10-10. Cut back the nitrogen in fall and winter to avoid encouraging new growth in those seasons.
Are you having pest issues? Talk to your local cooperative extension for natural solutions that work in your area.
To help control pests and diseases, remember to prune your trees to keep them open. You can also mulch around the trees in the spring to help control weeds, but be sure to remove the mulch in the late fall so that no pests use it over the winter. You can also lightly cultivate the soil around your trees in late spring to eliminate any pests in the soil.
In the fall, rake away all debris and fallen trees.
To prevent winter injury: Consider a tree wrap or guard around the lower trunk, especially for a young plum tree.
Keep an eye on the lower bark and branches for mouse or rabbit damage; if this could be a problem, you may need to install tree guards or fence in young trees with chicken wire for the winter.
Pruning Plum Trees
When to Prune
Prune in early spring or mid-summer to avoid infection. The best time for pruning is usually spring for young trees and mid-summer for established ones.
Do NOT prune in the fall. Winter injury and infection may occur.
“Thinning” is the process of removing developing fruit from a tree in order to increase the overall quality of the produced fruit and to prevent damage to the tree.
Thinning is usually done about a month after blooming ends in the spring.
Leave 2-4 inches between each fruit, removing those in between.
Thinning helps to prevent branches from breaking under the weight of the fruit. If branches do break, prune them back to undamaged wood, ideally cutting back to a natural fork to avoid leaving stubs.
Pruning: Japanese Plum Trees
If you have a Japanese variety, the best pruning method is to create an “open center” shape, where the central trunk is cut short and several large branches radiate outwards from it’s tip. In the summer of the first year, cut the vigorous shoots that form on the top of the tree by two or three buds. After about a month, check the tree. As soon as you have three wide-angled branches, spaced equally apart, cut back any other branches so that these three are the main branches. In the early summer of the second year, cut back the branches in the middle of the tree to short stubs and prune any shoots developing below the three main branches. After the third year, remove any shoots in the center of the tree to keep its shape.
Japanese types require heavy pruning to help keep them in shape and to produce better fruit. It is also good to thin out the fruit on these types of trees. You should space the plums about 3 to 4 inches apart on each branch.
Pruning: European Plum Trees
If you have a European variety, the best pruning method is to create a central leader. This shape features a central trunk with branches that spiral out every 5 to 8 inches, making sure that no branch is directly above another. The training for such a system begins in the early summer of the first year, during which time you should remove any shoots that form within 18 inches of the ground. The end result should resemble a Christmas tree.
European types do not typically require fruit thinning because they do not produce as much fruit as Japanese types. However, the fruit on these types should be spaced about 2 inches apart on each branch.
Harvesting and Storing Plums
When to Harvest Plums
Plums are ready to be harvested from late summer into fall, depending on your area.
European plums have the best flavor when left to ripen on the tree. You can tell when plums are ripe by applying gentle pressure with your fingers. If the skin of the fruit feels soft, then it is ready to be picked. Plums should come off the tree easily with just a slight twist of the fruit.
Japanese plums are picked slightly earlier; allow them to ripen in a cool place.
Plums will not sweeten much after harvest, so be sure to pick them when they’re mature. (Try one before you pick them all!)
How to Store Plums
Unfortunately, the fruit does not store for long, so must be eaten or preserved. Alternatively, you can pick the fruits when they are still slightly firm and store them in a cool place to fully ripen.
The best place to store plums is in the refrigerator. The best temperature for storing plums is about 31° to 32°F with relative humidity around 90–95%; if kept at this temperature, plums may last for 2 to 4 weeks.
Pests and Diseases
Several kinds of insect pests attack plum trees and fruits. Many, including scale insects, plum sawflies, spider mites, and aphids can be controlled by spraying the trees with dormant oil or neem oil in late winter. Both products are accepted organic pesticides, and work by smothering overwintering insects and their eggs. In late winter before new leaves emerge, spray stems and twig infected branches with horticultural dormant oil. As always, follow the manufacturer’s label directions. You may also encounter fungal diseases like brown rot, black knot, or leaf spot where the leaves turn yellow.
Benefits of Plum
Heart disease: Phytochemicals and nutrients in plums lower the inflammation that triggers heart disease.
Anxiety: A plum a day may keep anxiety away. When your antioxidants are low, anxiety can be high.
Constipation Relief: Plums, like prunes, can also help keep things moving through your system. They have a lot of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that acts as a natural laxative.
High blood pressure and stroke: The potassium in plums is good for blood pressure control in two ways. It helps your body get rid of sodium when you pee, and it lessens tension in the walls of your blood vessels. When your blood pressure is lower, your odds of getting a stroke go down.
Rich in antioxidants: These substances protect the body against the cell and tissue damage that can lead to diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and cancer.
Reduce blood sugar: Plums are chock full of fiber, which helps slow down a blood sugar spike after you eat carbs. They can also boost your body’s production of adiponectin, a hormone that helps regulate your blood sugar levels.
Bone health: Research on animals shows prunes (dried plums) may help reduce bone loss, and may even reverse it.
Improves circulation of blood: Plums improve the body’s ability to absorb iron. The fruit also contains iron, which is required for the production of blood cells. Eating plums will improve the circulation of blood.
Good for your skin: Consuming plum firms your skin and clears your skin texture. The fruit reduces wrinkles and rejuvenates your skin. Drink plum juice for younger looking skin.
Treats hair fall and promotes hair growth: Plums stop hair fall by reversing the adrenal gland fatigue. It also promotes hair growth as it has high content of iron and it improves blood circulation. Eat plums if you want to have thicker and stronger hair.
Improves immunity: Eating plums will keep cold and flu at bay by improving your immunity. The fruit boosts your immunity and promotes development of healthy tissues.
Plum fruits are commonly consumed fresh or used to make jams or jellies.
Plums may be dried to produce prunes.
Dried, salted plums are used as a snack, sometimes known as saladito or salao.
Plum juice can be fermented into plum wine.
Plum is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera, including November moth, willow beauty and short-cloaked moth.
The Japanese variety, called umeboshi, is often used for rice balls, called onigiri or omusubi.
In Romania, 80% of the plum production is used to create a similar brandy, called țuică.
Prune kernel oil is made from the fleshy inner part of the pit of the plum.
The wood of plum trees is used by hobbyists and other private woodworkers for musical instruments, knife handles, inlays, and similar small projects.