When we look at the wide diversity of fruit available at the farm stand and grocery store, it seems to me plums do not get as much attention as some of the other stone fruits like peaches and cherries.
So, today, I thought I would take a closer look at them.
Plums are grown in many regions throughout the world, and commonly cultivated plums include a few different species. We are probably most familiar with the European prune plum.
These are from Prunus domestica, and are native to Europe. These tend to be very sweet, making them good choices for drying into prunes.
European plums are cold-tolerant depending on the variety, often down to zone 4, so many varieties can be grown in our region. These also tend to be self-fertile, so you only need to plant one variety to get adequate pollination and fruit set.
Mont Royal is a common variety grown in our region. Keep in mind though, these plums are often very susceptible to black knot and brown rot diseases, so a disease management program would need to be followed.
Another commercially cultivated species is Prunus salicina, which is commonly known as the Japanese plum.
These are native to eastern Asia. We typically see these sold fresh in the grocery store. These tend to have a more sprightly taste, are more variable in their cold-hardiness, and tend to bloom earlier in the spring than European varieties, making them less adapted for growing in the North Country.
Though not commonly grown for commercial production, there are a few American plum species that can grow in our region. Many have an astringent taste, making them poorly suited for fresh eating. Thankfully, American plums can be hybridized with the Japanese plums, and there are a number of hybrid varieties that have the improved flavor of Japanese plums along with the cold hardiness and disease tolerance of the native species.
These hybrids are not self-fertile, so you would need to plant at least two varieties to cross-pollinate each other. In our region, some varieties to try in a home planting would include Alderman, Waneta, Toka, and Obilnaja.
I have had Toka fresh from the orchard before, and it is also known as the bubblegum plum. This is a well-deserved name, because it has the very distinct smell of bubblegum when fully ripe.
Overall, like most fruit trees, plums can be difficult to grow at home, requiring regular maintenance and pest management.
They can be quite susceptible to diseases like black knot and brown rot, so are not well-suited for the more laissaiz-faire home gardener.
So, that is just a quick look into the world of plums. Japanese plums are most available mid-summer, and the European varieties begin to ripen late summer into the fall.
I recommended picking some up this summer from the farm stand or grocery store … at least until we are back into apple season.
Mike Basedow is a regional tree fruit specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org