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Plums for Georgia Home Gardens (C 881)

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Kathryn C. Taylor, Former Stone Fruit Horticulturist

Plums are not only popular for cooking and jam making, they’re enjoyed fresh as well. The sweeter varieties are among the more delicious dessert fruits.

The gardener can choose from among several varieties. ‘Methley,’ a small but sweet early season variety, is self-fertile and crops reliably. ‘Methley,’ however, crops better when planted with another variety. ‘Morris’ is a commercial plum that is productive and firmer. Two Auburn releases, ‘AU Rubrum’ and ‘AU Producer,’ produce reliably. Several Georgia releases like ‘Spring Satin’ (plum-apricot hybrid), the yellow-fleshed ‘Byrongold’ or the tasty ‘Rubysweet,’ are good for fresh eating. Many gardeners prefer plums that are best when eaten green, like ‘Bruce,’ ‘Six Weeks,’ ‘Robusto’ or ‘Segundo.’ Whatever you choose, you’ll need at least two varieties for pollination and fruitfulness, since plums are generally not self-fertile. When considering other varieties, choose trees recommended for zones 7 or 8. A good central web site that lists fruit tree nurseries is ssfruit.cas.psu.edu/. Several Tennessee nurseries sell plum trees appropriate to the southeast as well.

Plums will grow all over the country but often flower early, making them vulnerable to spring frosts. In the home garden or landscape, proper placement can reduce the vulnerability of fruit and flowers to frost. Placement next to a wall that is not facing north can protect against cold winds, mitigate temperature inversions, and allow heat storage. Alternatively, placing plum trees on a grade that allows drainage of cold air to lower areas of the yard or home orchard will provide protection on frosty nights. Another trick some gardeners use is to keep outdoor Christmas lights on fruit trees to protect them on cold nights.

A well-drained sandy loam soil at a pH of 6.5 is ideal for growing plums. Have the soil tested before planting. Contact your county extension office to make arrangements to have your soil tested. The test will determine how much lime and phosphorus you should add to the soil before planting. Work these amendments into the soil throughout the rooting depth, generally 18-24 inches. Do not add fertilizer to the planting hole. Apply 1 pound of 10-10-10 in March of the first and second years, as well as 1 and 1½ cups of calcium nitrate in May and July of the first and second years, respectively. Thereafter, apply ⅔ cup of calcium nitrate each March and August, being careful not to place the fertilizer against the tree’s bark.

Immediately after planting a 3-foot, one-year-old tree in February or March, cut it off at 18-24 inches to force bud break of lower buds. Then, during the summer, select about four shoots that are at a 25-30 degree angle from the vertical, forming the framework for a “bowl” or “vase.” The ultimate shape of the tree depends on its growth habit. Plum trees have forms ranging from spreading to upright and need to be pruned with the natural shape in mind. Prune the upright type to spreading limbs and the spreading type to more up-right limbs. These will become the scaffolds that will bear fruit close to the trunk, keeping it in easy reach for harvest.

The table below summarizes plums for home use in Georgia.

Table 1. Summary of Japanese plums for home use in Georgia
Cultivar Fertility Skin/Flesh Color Ripening Date Cropping
  Dessert/Preserve Quality  
Methley Self* Red-purple/Blood 6/03 Reliable
Morris Not Dark red/Red 6/16 Productive
AU Rubrum Not Dark red/Red 6/15 Reliable
AU Producer Not Dark red/Red 6/20 Very Productive
Spring Satin Not Red-black/Yellow 6/02 Productive
Byrongold Not Yellow/Yellow 6/30  
Rubysweet Not Red-bronze/Blood 6/15 Productive
  Preferred as Green Plums  
Bruce Not Orange-red/Yellow 5/31 Reliable
Six Weeks Not Red/Yellow-red 5/25  
Robusto Not Bright red/Red 6/05 Productive
Segundo Not Yellow-red/Yellow-red 6/11 Productive
* Though self-fertile, the provision of a different variety in the garden will improve pollination and production. Conditions that are not harmful to bees improve production.

Reviewed on Feb 9, 2012