If you enjoy gardening and have room for one or two new trees, you can combine the beauty of a flowering tree with a harvest of sweet, juicy fruit by planting a Japanese plum (Prunus salicina). First cultivated in Asia, this tree blossoms in spring. Its flowers are followed by medium-to-large plums that come in purplish-black, red or other colors, depending on which variety you choose. The trees are deciduous and have an overall rounded or oval shape; they vary in size depending on the cultivar -- from 10 to 30 feet tall and wide. Japanese plums generally grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 or 5 through 9 or 10, again depending on the variety, although some hybrid trees can be more cold tolerant.
Some Japanese plum trees produce fruit when the tree's flowers pollinate themselves. You'll harvest plums from these self-fruitful trees even if you only plant one tree. Self-fruitful trees include:
- 'Beauty' (_Prunus salicina '_Beauty'), producing plums with reddish yellow skin and amber flesh; grows in USDA zones 4 through 10.
- 'Burgundy' (Prunus salicina 'Burgundy'), with reddish-purple skin on plums that have red flesh; grows in USDA zones 5 through 9.
- 'Santa Rosa' (Prunus salicina 'Santa Rosa'), with dark red fruits inside and out; grows in USDA zones 5 through 9.
Trees Needing Cross-Pollination
Japanese plum trees grow well in full sun and produce showy white flowers. But some need another variety of Japanese plum nearby to produce fruit, through a process called cross-pollination. Without another tree, this type of tree might only produce plums from 1 or 2 percent of its flowers.
If you have sufficient garden space to grow two or more types of Japanese plums, you can choose from a number of cultivars that require pollination by another plum variety. Examples of these types of trees include:
- 'Mariposa' (Prunus salicina 'Mariposa'), with red-fleshed fruits that have extra-small pits; it grows in USDA zones 6 through 10 and is pollinated by 'Santa Rosa' as well as other types.
- 'Redheart' (Prunus salicina 'Redheart') produces fruit with maroon-to-yellow skin and red flesh that lasts extra-long on the tree. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 9; pollinated by several varieties, including 'Santa Rosa.'
- 'Elephant Heart' (Prunus salicina 'Elephant Heart'), a heavy-yielding tree with large, heart-shaped plums that have red flesh; grows in USDA zones 5 through 9 and is pollinated by 'Beauty' or 'Santa Rosa.'
Trees for Colder Climates
If you live in a region where winters are too cold for a Japanese plum tree, you can choose a tree that's a cross -- or hybrid -- between a Japanese tree and another type of plum tree. Usually called American hybrids (Prunus spp.), these trees tend to be more cold-hardy. They are sometimes also referred to as "bush plums" because they tend to have a more shrubby shape than other plums. A variety called 'Black Ice' (Prunus hybrid 'Black Ice') is a good example of this type of tree. It has small purple fruits with pits that are easily removed -- called freestone. This tree grows in USDA zones 3 through 8 and bears fruit when cross-pollinated by any other hybrid plum.