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Plum tree advice needed
2 Posts
April 23, 2020 - 3:43 pm

Hello. I have a plum tree in my yard that is not thriving. It flowers a little but never fruits and the leaves seem very sparse. I was hoping someone could give me some advise on how to care for it, or maybe direct me to some resources that could help. I have attached some photos of the tree so you can take a look. Any advise would be very appreciated.  Thank you!


John S
2593 Posts
April 24, 2020 - 9:35 pm

Hello Tegan,

Welcome to the forum.  The tree looks healthy from what I can see.  Do you know how old it is? I have read in places that plum trees don't live very long. Peach trees, which are closely related, don't live very long.  My experience here in the coastal PNW tells me that there are many trees that appear healthy and don't produce much.   I know that there are younger trees that produce tons of fruit.  My non-expert guess on this topic is that many Asian plum trees produce heavily for a few years here, and then continue to live for a long time with very little production.  I wouldn't call that the truth, but rather a guess. If I wanted the truth, I would ask someone like Rooney, who frequently impresses me with his detailed knowledge. I know there are a lot of other very knowledgeable orchardists here who might be able to answer the question, so I await their answers.

John S

Vancouver SW Washington
684 Posts
April 24, 2020 - 11:21 pm

Thanks John. I will try and have some faith this is local and not some orange tree southern state where plums don't do well.

Old age makes sense. I always debated old in plum trees, in particular when I would never see red leaf street trees bear plums. Then I picked up a Sunset Western book and looked up red leaf plums. 'Thundercloud' was in there (a few others as well) used as red leaf street trees being ornamental as non-fruiting forms. Which makes sense that the homeless should not be eating dropped plums and later seeking medical attention.

If plums flower it means then that they vary in fertility, and fertility can change with age or other stressors such as John said. Add this to the fact that plums suitable for high production in California or eastern Washington have lower fertility here such as 'emerald beaut'. I had one put in place of an old failing lilac tree and another came with it on a 2 for 1 deal so a friend in the heights got the 2nd tree. It grew well but the fruit rarely came in either our two locations.

Long story shortened, I grafted mine high with other stable bearing cultivars. In the mean time my friend sold but I still see the tree from the street in kind of an ill looking form and never seeing any fruit.

Since we are all great here at assessing things and pass-alongs I recommend the 'methley' cultivar that Daniel recommended the flavor of once. Methley is a hybrid between 2 good species and is productive and self pollinating in that it does not require two trees to set fruit. If you top grafted like I did 'emerald beaut' yours could be like mine lasting 10+ years more (still going strong).

1400 Posts
April 25, 2020 - 8:49 am

What I’d consider a Street tree, it’s been pruned up, and allowed to remain dense.  Looks European, did you plant it?  And do you know it’s varietal name?

There are ‘flowering plum’ Street trees, meant only to flower.  Many will set dark, small, though eatable fruit.  If yours is a fruiting variety, such as a Brooks, or Italian ‘prune’ plum, the fruit it produced would be large and obvious.  Of course, pollination could be a problem, depending on it’s variety.

1 Posts
April 26, 2020 - 6:17 am

Try planting a pollenizer plum tree that blooms same time? You can find charts online for your area. Or maybe the blossoms are freezing? Pruning out some of those branches and reducing the height a bit could stimulate more leaf growth. And make sure it gets enough water, especially in hot weather.

2 Posts
April 26, 2020 - 11:12 am

Thank you everyone for the advice. This is a street tree in Portland, Oregon. It was planted by Friends of the Trees in 2013, so it doesn't seem old to me but I don't know what old is in plum tree years. I think you guys are probably right that the tree will just flower and not fruit. We actually have a fruiting plum tree planted near by that produces so much fruit in the summer, so I don't know if we could handle more plums. I will definitely try the pruning and pollinating tips and be sure to give it some extra water. Thank you again everyone for your helpful insight. Any other thoughts are welcome.

Vancouver SW Washington
684 Posts
April 26, 2020 - 4:07 pm

There is actually no set age when it comes to trees. What we refer to as "old" is -not fit for the environment anymore. Which in itself has more meaning towards conditions such as we all know now as the basics (watering etc) and not a projection of any calendar. Sometimes trees decline and actually produce more fruit too, and sometimes trees can recover such as peach with bad leaf curl by grafting in plum to replace peach and thus rescuing the root system. 

The case of the given away California cultivar said earlier had been pollinated by a nearby old red street tree plum because there were several plums on in the year after planting. I grew two of the seeds and each came out red leafed. (thus implying your fruiting plum might be already pollinated  every year by your street tree) Then after that it went into a slow decline to what it is now, in need of grafting or better care that sometimes are even impossible to give here against disease pressure here.

So there are many aspects that count and why we are here sharing our own mistakes.

1400 Posts
April 26, 2020 - 5:40 pm

I believe Street Trees are selected for their upright habit.  Opening it’s center might allow better air circulation & sunlight, but as you mentioned, it’s no fruit producer.   

Though I believe The City technically owns such trees … some of us have been known to do some Gorilla Grafting onto flowing plums & pears..  Did some for my brother, a branch or two … only he knew about.  Something compatible pollination-wise with your production plum could be fun Smile

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