By Katie Marks, Networx
Around the world, the first sign of spring after the appearance of delicate crocuses poking their way through a crust of snow is plum blossoms, which burst out earlier than every other fruit tree for a showy display in late winter. Of course, that's rapidly followed by a rain of blossoms that stick to the roofs and sides of every vehicle in sight, but for fans of these beautiful flowers, that's an acceptable price to pay for these beautiful blooms.
Plums also feature distinctive deep red to purple foliage which emerges after the flowers -- making these trees absolutely stunning well into summer, when those flowers will eventually set fruit, if you've got a fertile tree. Plums are fantastic eaten out of hand, dried, or used in jams and jellies. Interested in growing one of your own? It's super easy -- so much so, in fact, that a plum pit tossed into the yard often volunteers all on its own. (But you're better off getting a sapling from the nursery, for reasons we'll explain shortly.)
First thing's first: if you're planning on planting a plum, you need to know that there are lots of different types, known as cultivars. Some plum cultivars were developed specifically for their flowers, but they've been bred to be sterile, so they won't set fruit. Most of these were created for urban areas where cities want plums in their landscaping, but don't want to deal with fallen fruit in the summer time. Some are self-fertile and can fertilize themselves, while others rely on another tree for fertilization (and many self-fertilizing varieties do better when they're fertilized by another tree). You can also find dwarf varieties that will fit comfortably even into small gardens and modest landscaping schemes.
Various cultivars have been bred to thrive in warmer or cooler climates, and can cope with different amounts of water. You'll need to select a good tree for your needs on the basis of whether you want fruit or not, and where you live. Staff at your local nursery can help you select the best tree for your needs. Here's why you might want to consider buying from a nursery instead of growing from a pit: nurseries offer trees bred and grown for vigor, with very sturdy, healthy root stock. Plums grown from pits might not perform as well because they don't necessarily breed true, which could be disappointing for you!
The best time to plant is late winter or early spring, though you may miss the first year's flowering. Your plum tree should be planted in a deep hole with ample fertilizer and rich soil -- use soil testing to determine exactly what your baby tree will need. Mulch around the roots to help the seedling retain water, and water well to get your tree well-established. In the first year, it's important to give your plum sufficient water as it develops a root system.
Select a south or west-facing wall (north-facing if you're in the Southern Hemisphere) for your young plum tree. Because the flowers are vulnerable to frost, it's important that your tree be sheltered in cool weather (if you need to, put your Houston carpentry skills to work to build a supportive frame for a frost cloth). If you do get an unexpected late cold snap, wrap your plum tree to protect the blooms. Furthermore, be assertive when it comes to pruning; you want a strong central branch and a nice, evenly-branched form. Because plums produce flowers so early, make sure to prune accordingly, as you don't want to disrupt the tree while it's putting energy into flowering.