The Top Recommended Varieties of Plums

Japanese Plum (Prunus salicina 'Santa Rosa')

I bought a "Santa Rosa Semi Dwarf" plum from Lowes store in spring of 2011. Beware, semi dwarf seems not meant to be small- despite chopped off roots it took off and grew like crazy. It's about 20 feet tall now. Don't be lazy on pruning, you don't get much of a chance to fix that later. After a couple years we had blooms and fruit. One year we collected a number of freshly fallen fruit and got to eat some small tasty plums. Other years we have been overrun by brown rot. I haven't pruned much and have not sprayed for disease control. It blooms very early, briefly, in spring so I consider it a help to pollinators. It's a nicely shaped tree, got that lollipop feel of Callery pear. The falling fruit in summer makes for a mess for several weeks. It also suckers, and has been a problem for the asparagus that I planted it too close to. Sited at a distance, it might be useful for insects and wildlife and not unattractive, but not really beautiful either.

Japanese Plum (<i>Prunus salicina</i> 'Santa Rosa')
Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana)

Prunus mexicana is also a host plant for Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus)

Mexican Plum (<i>Prunus mexicana</i>)
American plum (Prunus americana)

In the early 1950's three American Plums (or Wild Plums) were planted in a big bed close to the new modern house of my parents along with Pfitzer Junipers nearby, a Winged Euonymus, and a Bolleana White Poplar. The plum shrubs got about 10 feet high and inter-branched with each other. They produced delicious pink-orange round plums about 1 to 1.5 inches wide that we ate raw and my dad made plum liqueur from them. They lasted until about 2003 when new home owners redid the landscape. American Plum grows in various upland sites in a native range from southern New England down to northwest Florida to eastern Oklahoma, up the Great Plains to eastern Montana and all the Dakotas to southern Minnesota & Wisconsin, all Illinois & Indiana up into southern Michigan and the southern tip of Ontario. It grows 1.5 to 2.5 feet/year and lives 35 to 65 years. The doubly-toothed leaves get 2 to 4 inches long x 1.25 to 2 inches wide and develop a pale yellow fall color. It can be either a large shrub or small tree with stiff branching and some stiff sharp branch spurs. The white flowers in late April to mid-May emerge before leaves and have a strong sweet spicy smell. The delicious pink-orange plums mature in late July to August to early September, depending on latitude. It has shallow, fibrous roots and is easy to transplant. I don't know of any conventional nurseries that sell it anymore as in the 50's and 60's, but some native plant and mail order nurseries sell some. In nature it is just found in some occasional local sites.

American plum (<i>Prunus americana</i>)
Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera 'Thundercloud')

I would say that 'Thundercloud' is the second most popular cultivar of the Purpleleaf Plum Tree or Purple Myrobalan Plum and has the darkest leaves by a little bit.. "Newport' seems to be the most popular that is a little cold hardier. Most nurseries offer one or the other, as they are so little different. Purpleleaf Plum Trees in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and South Regions usually only live about 20 years after planting because they are stressed by summer heat and humidity and dislike summer drought that limits the water supply to their roots and inside parts, so that canker disease and borers attack. They also often have a weak root system.

Cherry Plum (<i>Prunus cerasifera</i> 'Thundercloud')
Beach Plum (Prunus maritima)

This species grows in the wild in rocky and/or sandy soils from New Brunswick & Maine down the Atlantic Coast into Virginia. It often grows as a rounded, dense, suckering shrub but can also have a phenotype of being a dwarfish , recumbent shrub with lower branches lying on the ground. Its leaves get to about 3 inches long. It has small white flowers in May. It bears usually purple round fruits that can also be yellow or crimson about 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter covered with some bloom in August and which are good for eating. There are several cultivars grown for better fruit qualities.

Beach Plum (<i>Prunus maritima</i>)
Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera 'Atropurpurea')

This is the original Purple-leaf Cherry Plum or Pissard Plum Tree that was introduced from the Shah's gardens in Iran to France in 1880 by a Mr. Pissard. Then introduced to the US not long after that. A number of new selections of cultivars came forth over the years from this one. 'Newport' and 'Thundercloud' seem to be the most common selections offered. The mother Cherry Plum species is native to western Asia. Most every large conventional nursery offers a form of the Purple-leaf Plum Tree. It does have pretty foliage and spring flowers. However, its root system tends to be weak and it can lodge some. In both the Chicago, IL, and Philadelphia, PA regions this tree usually lives about 20 years after planting until it is killed by canker and borers due to summers with hot, humid spells, especially with drought. If I went back to conventional ornamental horticulture, rather than naturalistic, I would consider one tree as an accent plant in a landscape yard. Otherwise, I agree with my old woody plant teacher of Dr Michael Dirr that this small tree is often over-planted and "there is something about a purple-leaved beast that excites people to spend money."

Purple Leaf Plum (<i>Prunus cerasifera</i> 'Atropurpurea')
Plum (Prunus cerasifera)

This Cherry Plum or Myrobalan Plum is a small, shrubby, rounded tree native to western Asia. Its leaves are 1.5 to 2.5 inches long by 1 to 1.25 inches wide. I've never seen the mother species herself, but a number of cultivars have been selected from her that bear a red-purple color all season long. In the United States the two most common cultivars are 'Newport' and 'Thundercloud' that were taken out of "Atropurpurea' that was the original red foliaged cultivar from Iran.

Plum (<i>Prunus cerasifera</i>)
Dwarf Plum (Prunus domestica 'Stanley')

This is a nicely behaved small tree with delicious fruit. Ripens for me late August for about a 2-3 week period. Very sweet, firm, and juicy oblong purple plums. Once they become soft and fall to the ground, they make great treats for chickens, pigs, and other farm animals. My dog will even munch on them. Watch for the bees and hornets, though. They also like the fallen fruit. I did try to can these years ago and found it was more trouble than it was worth. Fresh eatin' for me.

Dwarf Plum (<i>Prunus domestica</i> 'Stanley')
Canadian plum (Prunus nigra)

Prunus nigra is one of the wild plums that are useful as a pollinator plum for some hybrid plums.

Canadian plum (<i>Prunus nigra</i>)
Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera 'Krauter Vesuvius')

Tolerates zone 5 winters with no protection. Blooms mid spring, so there's always a chance of blooms even with a late freeze. Fruitless.

Cherry Plum (<i>Prunus cerasifera</i> 'Krauter Vesuvius')

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