By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
There’s an old farmer’s adage which states, “stone fruit hate the knife.” In short, this means that stone fruit, like plums or cherries, do not handle pruning very well. However, when you’re staring up at the overgrown gnarled branches of your once small and tidy Prunus cerasifera, you may find yourself wondering, should I cut back Myrobalan plum? While frequent or excessively trimming a cherry plum is not recommended, it may be necessary at times. Continue reading to learn when and how to prune Myrobalan cherry plums.
Myrobalan cherry plums can grow up to 20 feet (6 m.). These large shrubs or small trees can produce an abundance of branches which can become over crowded. With age, cherry plum trees may also stop producing flowers and fruit. Pruning Myrobalan plum trees can help keep them looking full and healthy. However, it is important that Myrobalan plum pruning be timed right.
Unlike other fruit trees, which are pruned while they are dormant, winter is the worst time for trimming a cherry plum because this is when it is the most susceptible to diseases, like bacterial canker or silver leaf disease. Both are fungal diseases which are more virulent in winter. Dormant plum trees have no defenses against these pathogens. In spring, plums infected by silver leaf disease will turn a silver color, and shortly thereafter the branches will die back. Ultimately, pruning Myrobalan plum trees in winter can cause death to the tree.
Cherry plum trees should be pruned from spring to midsummer. Experts recommend pruning young Myrobalan cherry plum trees in early spring and mature trees in late spring to early summer.
When trimming a cherry plum, remove any suckers growing from the rootstock. You should also remove any crossing or rubbing branches, and dead or damaged branches. Branches from the center of the tree can be thinned out to create better air circulation throughout the tree. Many people use chalk to mark the branches that will need to be pruned.
Old, neglected cherry plums can be rejuvenated over the course of several seasons, through proper pruning. When doing hard, rejuvenation pruning, cut full branches back to their base. It is important, however, to not remove more than 1/3 of the branches in one season. This is why a good rejuvenating pruning can take several seasons.
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The majority of our plum offerings are Japanese varieties, which include many different colors, shapes and flavors. The most familiar and popular is Santa Rosa with its tart purple skin and sweet, juicy, amber flesh. The tree is usually very productive and, if the plums are picked when still firm, they are more useful for cooking and baking. When soft ripe, it is best to eat them out of hand.
Plum trees are usually vigorous growers and they have few diseases in our area, considered to be the dry West. If fungal diseases and insects such as scale occur in your area, a spray of copper sulfate combined with horticultural oil should be applied during the dormant season. When plum leaves start to curl, many people suspect that their trees have been infected with peach leaf curl, the fungal disease of peaches and nectarines. However, curled plum leaves generally indicate the presence of aphids. This problem can be handled with a spray of insecticidal soap, or, if available in your area, a package of live lady bugs.
Because the Japanese plums are so vigorous, strong pruning is recommended. You can prune in the dormant season and again in the summer months. These trees are often pruned into a vase shape. For the first ten years, the long, whip-like branches should be trimmed to 2/3 to of their length. After that, most of the new growth should be removed, only replacing very old limbs with new ones. It is also important to thin the fruit when it is very young to insure larger fruit and also to prevent the limbs from breaking under too heavy a load. European plum trees are usually trained with a central leader since they do not branch as freely as the Japanese trees and will thus need less overall pruning.
Two popular old European varieties (which we invariably sell out of early in the season) are Blue Damson and Bavay's Green Gage. Blue Damson is most widely used for jams and jellies. It is late blooming and hardier than most of the other plums - hardy to Zone 5. The other European varieties we sell are French Prune, Italian Prune, Stanley and Sugar Prune. These plums are also more cold hardy than the Japanese varieties and they have a much higher sugar content which make them excellent for drying.
The Santa Rosa plum has the advantage of being an excellent pollenizer for other plums and Pluots. It grows in many diverse climates due to its low chilling requirements. A close relative of the Santa Rosa is the Weeping Santa Rosa. This is a wonderful landscape tree with the added bonus of flavorful fruit that is similar to its relative, but ripens approximately two weeks later. Japanese plums with dark flesh and no tartness in the skin include Satsuma, Burgundy and Mariposa. For something unique, there is Emerald Beaut, a green skinned plum with great flavor that can remain on the tree through early October.
Plums make wonderful desserts, but they have other delightful uses as well. The following is a recipe for a Chinese sauce that is excellent served with chicken, turkey or pork.
Chinese Plum Sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup vinegar
¾ cup sugar
2 lbs. fresh plums, cut in quarters
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
Making The Sauce:
Peaches and nectarines dwarfed to 8-14 ft. apricots and plums dwarfed to 12-18 ft. Very tolerant of wet soil not drought tolerant (induces early dormancy in dry soil) so needs very regular water in hot climates. A top dressing of mulch can help maintain soil moisture. Resists root knot nematodes. Induces heavy bearing at a young age. Very winter hardy. Strong and well anchored. Pat. No. 5112 (Zaiger).
MARIANNA 26-24 (Mari.)
Standard rootstock for apricots, plums, prunes, most almonds. Mature trees comparatively small, 15-20 ft. if unpruned can be kept smaller with summer pruning. Shallow root system, much more tolerant of wet soils than Lovell or Nemaguard. Not tolerant of hot soils. Has tendency to sucker. Resistant to oak root fungus, root knot nematodes, root rot.
MYROBALAN 29C (Myro.)
Excellent, all-around rootstock for apricots, plums, almonds. Shallow but vigorous root system tolerates wet soils and is widely adapted is more deeply rooted than Marianna. Resistant to root knot nematodes and has some resistance to oak root fungus. Unpruned tree height of standard varieties 15-25 ft., but can control size further with summer pruning. Winter hardy in Michigan.
Standard rootstock for nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums, prunes, almonds. Vigorous, resists root knot nematodes. Excellent for well drained soils. In heavy or poorly drained soil, plant on mound or hill. May not be winter hardy below 5°F. Unpruned tree height of standard varieties 15-25 ft., but size can be controlled further with summer pruning.
Prunus mexicana, commonly known as the Mexican plum tree, is a small fruit tree that is part of the rose family and is native to northern Mexico and the south, central United states. It particularly thrives in Texas. Isolated native range strands have been found as far north as southern Minnesota and as far east as Georgia.
The Mexican plum tree is among the native, non-hybridized plum tree variants referred to as Wild Plums. These Wild Plums were cultivated by indigenous North American people, and do best in full sun to dappled shade. In the wild, they are often found along river bottoms.
Prunus mexicana was named by Sereno Watson, who likely identified it during an 1867 expedition of the 40 th parallel in the western half of the United States.
When buying fruit trees online you will often see a rootstock described by a name or code such as M27. This can be particularly important when deciding what sized tree is most suitable for the space available. Take a look at our table of fruit trees to check that you have the right fruit rootstock for your garden.
|Fruit Rootstock||Rootstock name||Rootstock type||Ultimate Height|
|Apple||M27 (Similar to: P9)||Extreme dwarf||1.2m (48")|
|M9 (Similar to: Pajam 2, Pajam 9, P2)||Dwarfing||1.8-2.4m (6-8ft)|
|M6||Semi Dwarfing||3m (10ft)|
|M106||Semi Dwarfing||3-4m (10-13ft)|
|Cherry||Gisella 5||Semi Dwarfing||2.4-3m (8-10ft)|
|Gisella 6||Semi Vigorous||3-4m (10-13ft)|
|Colt||Semi Vigorous||5m (16ft)|
|Peach, Plum, Apricot and Nectarine||St. Julien||Semi Vigorous||4.5 (14ft)|
|VVA1||Semi Dwarfing||2.5m (8ft)|
|Torrinel 24||Semi Dwarfing||2.4-3m (6-10ft)|
|Myrobalan||Semi Vigorous||5m (16ft)|
|Ferlenain||Semi Dwarfing||3m (10ft)|
|Mont Clare||Semi Dwarfing||3m (10ft)|
|Pear||Quince A||Semi vigorous||3-4m (10-13ft)|
|Quince C||Semi Dwarfing||2.4-3m (8-10ft)|
|Quince Adams||Semi Dwarfing||2.4-3m (8-10ft)|
|Walnut||Juglans regia||Vigorous||Over 6m (over 20ft)|
The various Flowering Plum Trees come from all around the world. Some grow wild in Europe or the Middle East, some in China or Japan, and some right here in America. Many are the result of careful breeding and selection, and a number of the very best date back over a hundred years, to a time of great American plant breeders, including the famous Luther Burbank.
There is a lot of confusing, contradictory and even incorrect information around about these trees, so let’s take a look at the most important ones, and discover some fascinating and often neglected flowering trees that will bring beauty to every garden, anywhere in the country.
The Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) is also called the myrobalan plum, and it grows wild from Britain through most of Europe and into Turkey, Iraq and the Middle East. It is one of the very first trees to bloom in spring, flowering as early as the middle of February in milder areas. The blooms are usually white, or pale-pink, and the fruits are small plums, an inch or two in diameter. In Europe, it is often grown as hedges, because with regular clipping it becomes dense and impenetrable, while still flowering.
Special forms have been selected for their value in gardens, usually for the color of their leaves, and a number exist with red or purple foliage, which hold that color from spring through the summer. Because of the red pigment in the leaves, this is passed on into the fruit, so that the flesh has a rich red color, which is carried into jams made from them, creating very beautiful and tasty, rich-red plum jams.
Perhaps the best form is the Newport Flowering Plum, whose leaves begin in spring, fresh and new, colored a light bronzy-purple, but quickly turn purple-red for the summer. The flowers come early, and they are a clear pale pink, lighting up the garden at the very beginning of spring. After a few years of development, trees produce a good crop of small plums, with purple skin and flesh, one to three inches across. These ripen in the early fall, and they can be harvested for the kitchen, making delicious pies and jams of a beautiful deep red color.
The tree itself grows to around 20 feet, a little more or a little less, depending on the soil and climate. The Newport Flowering Plum is a stand-out variety also for its cold-hardiness, growing well through zone 4, where flowering cherries fail. It will even grow in a sheltered spot in zone 3, so this is a top choice for cold regions. It is also remarkable for growing well throughout the south, in hot conditions, so its versatility is well-established.
Use this tree for its powerful color, as an accent or focal point. One placed on a lawn across the garden will attract the eye, both in flower and in leaf, and its strongly colored foliage is always a real hit. This variety was introduced to gardeners in 1923, the result of a breeding program at the University of Minnesota, looking for hardy ornamental and fruiting plum trees suitable for cold parts of the country.
Most knowledgeable gardeners consider the Newport Plum to be the top choice for most situations, but there are other attractive Flowering Plums from this group worth considering. There is a variety derived from the Newport Plum, called the Mt. St. Helens Plum. It performs in a similar way, it is just as hardy, but it has a shorter, thicker trunk, and leafs out very early.
If you garden in a hot, dry region, like southern California for example, then the Krauter Vesuvius Plum is similar, and very suitable for that kind of climate. It grows into a narrow tree, perhaps 20 feet tall, but only 15 feet wide. Another interesting choice, but only hardy to zone 5, is the Thundercloud Plum. Similar in appearance to the Newport Plum, it grows fast, but often does not live longer than 10 or 15 years.
Another old variety is the Pissard Plum. This may well be the original form with purple leaves, but they usually turn greenish before the summer is over. The fruits are very small.
This tree grows wild in China, but it has been cultivated in Japan for centuries, and the relatively large plums of this tree are eaten fresh when fully ripe, used for liqueurs when still green, and preserved, either with sugar or salt. Known to botanists as Prunus salicina, it is a medium-sized tree growing to around 30 feet, with white flowers. In Japan improvements were made to produce larger, sweeter fruit, and twelve of those trees arrived in California in 1885. These ‘blood plums’ were brought over by the famous American plant breeder, Luther Burbank, who at his nursery in Santa Rosa had made it his life’s mission to develop improved fruit for the new California fruit-growing industry.
He named one of his imported trees of the Japanese plum ‘Satsuma’, from that area of Japan, where it had come from, and used it in breeding to develop new varieties. In 1906 he released the Santa Rosa Plum, which was widely adopted by growers, and in the middle of the 20 th century accounted for almost half of the commercial production of plums in California. It is still widely grown, and is far and away the best variety for home gardens, having large, delicious fruit with red skin and flesh.
In all, Burbank developed 113 new plums, some derived from the Japanese plum, and other from the European plum (Prunus domestica). Although many of these have today been lost, some are still cultivated, and the Santa Rosa Plum stands as the pinnacle of his great achievements. While in Europe most plums sold in stores are forms of the European plum, many of those sold in America are forms of this Japanese plum, and some American improved varieties have even been sent back to Japan, and are grown there commercially today.
A traditional symbol of spring in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, this is another Asian plum that is grown more for its flowers than its fruit, which is small. They are however used for the salted Japanese plums called umeboshi. In both China and Japan many cultivated forms of Prunus mume exist, grown for their flowers and the shape of the tree. Some have white flowers, others pink, and flowers can be single or double. The trees themselves may be upright or weeping, and they are all perfect additions in creating and ‘accurate’ Asian-themed Garden.
Besides existing in Europe and Asian, there are wild plum trees growing in America – 17 different species. Currently there is a lot of interest in them, because the European plum is poorly adapted to the harsher conditions in many areas, such as cold, heat, and drought. If new varieties could be produced from the American species, by selection or by hybridizing them with existing European plum varieties, then new possibilities would open up for fruit production in unused areas of the country.
As well as their potential value as crops, a number of these species are attractive ornamental plants, especially in areas where other flowering plums will not grow well. All these plants are useful and effective in gardens, especially if there is a desire to grow native species, rather than exotic species, in keeping with ecological gardening principles.
The American plum, Prunus americana (which has close relatives, the Canada plum, P.nigra and the chickasaw plum, P. angustifolia) grows wild across all of eastern and central America. It has attractive, long, wand-like shoots, covered in spring with sparkling white flowers, and it has dense foliage and large crops of attractive and edible plums. It is often grown as windbreaks, and many forms were developed in the past. The beach plum, Prunus maritima, which grows along the east coast up into Maine, has also been selected and improved for its purple fruit, which makes excellent jam. It is tolerant of coastal conditions.
The Flatwoods Plum, Prunus umbellata, grows further south, from Virginia, into Florida and Texas. It grows into a 20-foot tree, covered with a cloud of small white flowers, which develop into small purple plums. In the west, we find the Pacific plum, Prunus subcordata, which forms a shrub or tree with white flowers and small, edible fruit. It is suitable for hotter, drier places, and could be grown much more through the western states.