Plums in the Home Orchard

There are two types of plums that are commonly grown and they have different origins. European Plums originally came from Central Asia, in the area around the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. They were introduced into Europe during Roman times and, like most fruit trees, they were brought to America very early in our country’s development.

Japanese Plums probably originated in China and were introduced to Japan in the 16th century. It was one of the last fruit species to arrive in the United States, and was only introduced into California about 1870. Most of the Japanese plums currently grown in California are either the direct or indirect result of work done by Luther Burbank.

European plums can be used either fresh or as prunes. Prunes are simply plums that develop enough sugar to be dried to the pit without fermenting. They may either be dried (as is the bulk of the California prune crop) or sold fresh. Fresh market European plums cannot be dried and are eaten the same way as all Japanese plums.

Both European and Japanese plums can be grown here. Japanese plums generally bloom earlier than European plums, but both may need frost protection in the spring. Prunes require a long, warm summer to obtain the right level of sugars, so plant them in a warm, sunny location.

Of the prune-plums, French is most widely grown in California, and accounts for the dried fruit in the markets. Sugar and Italian prunes can be used either fresh or dried. Green Gage is a European plum which is a large green fruit that is eaten fresh.

Santa Rosa is the best known Japanese plum with its purple skin and amber flesh. Elephant Heart is very large with sweet, juicy red flesh. Emerald Beaut has a light green skin and yellowish flesh. It is very highly rated in taste tests.

Most plums need a pollenizer: a different plum tree to cross-pollinate. Santa Rosa is one of the few self-fruitful Japanese plums. Of the European plums, Green Gage, Italian and Sugar are self-fruitful. French is partially self-fruitful and will bear a larger crop with another plum nearby.

Plum trees will not crop every year in this area, but they are easy to grow and generally pest-free so they should be included in your home orchard to enjoy when the crop comes in.

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