Japanese plums

Japanese plums

I harvested my favourite fruit today – Japanese plum (Prunus salicina) They look like the sort of plum you would get in the shops, with one subtle difference – they have flavour! Not just any old flavour, but the richest, most complex flavour I have ever come across in a plum. Then there’s the way they just sort of dissolve in the mouth… (Since first writing this, I have discovered that Japanese plums in fact are the kind that you usually see in the shops, so the difference is presumably down to the fact that shop-bought ones are picked unripe for storage and transport but if you have your own tree you can pick them when they are at their glorious best.)

Nor are the virtues of Japanese plums limited to eating raw. They are surprisingly good cooked in savoury dishes: they are great frittered and the plum stir-fry season is one of the keenly awaited annual culinary milestones in my household. They also make an exceptionally good fruit leather. I only started experimenting with fruit leathers in 2015, but from my results so far, Japanese plums make the best, either on their own or in mixes with other fruit. The best of all was perhaps a pure Japanese plum leather with a bit of ginger added. I also tried cutting them into thin strip and drying them. The result was very tasty and has stored well. On the other hand, Japanese plum jam is only okay – I think that tarter plums such as cherry plums generally make better jams.

Their all round deliciousness isn’t lost on the local wildlife and the big hazard with Japanese plums is that the birds and wasps will get them before you do. Fortunately, they ripen up well on the window sill if you pick them a few days early and that is what I generally do.

Japanese plums haven’t always been easy to get hold of in the UK, but I have been pointed to http://www.gb-online.co.uk/prestashop/category.php?id_category=124 as a supplier of them (and much else besides) – thanks Waheed. I got mine from a supplier that has now ceased to exist, so I have been trying to propagate it myself. It grows quite strongly from its large seed, so I have got a number of seedling trees now growing on, but I have no idea whether it will breed true and with seedlings I might have to wait a while to find out. Fortunately, you can also propagate plums by layering: you bend a branch down to the ground, cut a section away from the underside where it meets the ground until it is thin enough to bend upwards without breaking and then peg it into the ground with the part beyond the cut vertical. Within a year or so it will have a good root system and you can cut it away from the parent tree, a little cloned Dolly the Plum.

I’d be intrigued to know why this species isn’t more popular in Britain. Do I have an unusually nice or hardy one? Has anyone else tried it? Please post a reply if you have.

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24 thoughts on “Japanese plums

  1. Hello!
    Stumbled across your blog after being hit by the forest garden bug. So far I’m devouring a couple of books and formulating a “shopping list”. I have to keep things sensible though, in a small-ish back garden! How is your Japanese plum doing? It is on my “that’d be nice” list but I’ve not found a stockist yet. I’m also set on a Siberian pea tree, but slightly worried by the very varied “final height” estimates!

    • Hi. Glad to hear you’re thinking about trying a forest grden. Having just read your post about rendering it at least sounds safer than some of your other experiments! The Japanese plum is doing well and maturing a reasonable crop this year, despite some late frosts and the current Month of Gloom. I don’t know how big it will end up: it’s still growing strongly and I may yet regret placing it where I did. It does unfortunately seem impossible to source from UK suppliers at the moment. I sent Martin Crawford a rooted cutting from my unusually North-hardy tree so perhaps it’ll be available from the Agroforestry Research Trust some time. Alternatively I can raise a very limited number of clones and a few more from seed every year.

      I suspect that the Siberian pea tree is at the lower end of its size range in Scotland. There’s one in the Edinburgh Botanics which is barely 3m and looks like it isn’t getting any bigger. I have one and it seems to be thriving but can’t say what its final size will be yet. We imagine that anything from Siberia should be able to cope with Scotland but in fact they have much hotter summers than us and a lot of plants from there don’t manage to ripen their fruit here.

  2. Hi Alan
    I hope this year is going even better for your plum. If you are still able to make rootings from it, I would apreciate an exemplar a lot. I would need you to mail it and dare posting it for Denmark. Perhaps I have something of your interress to swop with?. If nothing else then for sure I have some for you rare apple variants.
    Aslak

  3. i am planting out part of my allotment (large, but long and narrow plot) along forest garden principles. i intend not to let the fruit trees get much above 8ft.

    plum trees i would most like to get my hands on based on catalogue comments about taste,
    violetta
    emperors cox/queens crown
    reeves seedling
    lizzie (some japanese heritage? but described as an asian plum)
    burbank’s tangerine
    blue tit

    some would have to be as cordons/columnar forms. has anyone tasted some or all of these and can confirm that they really are worth it? which 3 taste the best?

    i have plum beauty (pot grown), gage early transparent (pot grown), mirabelle ruby (pot grown), plum seneca (raised bed/open ground), mirabelle de nancy (open ground), plum thames cross (open ground).

    i used to have plum victoria and burbank’s tangerine, both died.
    tomorrow i’m planting 5 cherry plums as a hedge.

    the nurseries describe lizzie, beauty and methley as japanese or asian or asian/european hybrid plums.

    • Hi Waheed. I’m afraid I haven’t tried any of those varieties that you are thinking of, but maybe some other reader of the site will have. I notice that Charles Dowding describes Lizzie as ‘not exceptional’, which isn’t very encouraging.

      • cheers alan, for the link. plum lizzie shall drop a few notches on my list. i was going to echo this very same sentiment from charles dowding,

        ‘I think we need to remember that catalogues are in the business of selling goods. I have suffered many disappointments over the years, but also found a few gems.’

        I would place the french hybrid of blackcurrant+gooseberry = casseille, in this category, grows healthily, crops abundantly, barely a pest problem to be seen, but i think, just not enough sun (in bristol) to sweeten to the level the catalogues describe.

  4. approx march 2015, planted plums violetta and queens crown as ‘2-in-a-hole’, angled slightly off the vertical to form a V. the V is directed towards where the sun is predominantly between 11am-6pm during the summer. some spurs are evident on both, so maybe some fruits this year. plum beauty should give some fruit this year also (first crop).

    my must-have wish list plums now comprise of:
    -plum burbank tangerine (to replace one that died a few years ago)
    -plum avalon (as it seems to have some parentage from ‘reeves’)
    -gage willingham

    if space allows -> plum blue tit

  5. also, had a good crop of fruit from pot grown mirabelle ruby, but the taste was disappointing, so i have transferred it to the allotment where it can do its own thing, gather up more nutrients from the open ground and get more sun. see how that plays out regarding taste.

    tasted a few plum seneca last year, sweet flesh, bitter/sour skin. masses of fruiting spurs this year.

  6. nice little video on stephenhayesuk channel on youtube, about 16mins, a walk around his apple/pear/plum orchard in hampshire, concentrating on plum cropping, diseases, taste and tree care.

    /watch?v=rRsHYF6iOpU

  7. plum avalon (has reeve seedling parentage)
    gage willingham

    above both added to collection. will report taste in couple of years…

    desire list = burbanks tangerine and blue tit plums

  8. japanese/asian plum ‘beauty’ planted 2yrs ago in a 30litre plastic pot; repotted into 45litre clay pot in autumn last year – fruitlets evident after a heavy blossom show this spring. will report back on taste later in the year if the tree manages to hold the fruit.

    this spring added to the collection:
    plum avalon
    gage willingham
    plum burbank tangerine
    plum blue tit

    desire list, probably the last 2:
    plum herman
    damson shropshire [prune]

    collection includes,
    mirabelle de nancy, mirabelle ruby, plum thames cross, plum violetta, plum queen’s crown, plum seneca, cherry plum hedge, beach plum, plum seneca, gage early transparent

  9. japanese/asian plum ‘beauty’, first year of fruiting [and early fruiting in july], very disappointing. i’ll give it one more year before moving to allotment, currently in a large clay pot in a sunny corner in garden.

    revelation! plum seneca, at the allotment, 2nd year of fruiting [planted 2012], disappointed by taste last year; this year the ripe ones taste something akin to mangoes! beautiful. plan for next year, a trap for the moths, as so many plums with grubs inside.

      • apologies alan, my intended reference was not to ‘controlling leaf curl’ page, but the site, where if you search plums there are references to japanese plum breeding/successes/failures and more on plumcots, pluots [crosses between asian plums and apricots].

        • planted pluot ‘pink candy’ earlier this year. pluot ‘flavor king’ order arriving december hopefully.

          pink candy = self fertile
          flavor king = not self fertile

          • a further note,
            whilst my european plums [prunus domestica] have gone into dormancy and shed all their leaves, pluot pink candy and plum beauty [both with some element of prunus salicina] are holding 40-60% of their green leaves

  10. blossom buds swelling already on asian/japanese plum beauty [disappointing taste last year].
    i think i see some also on pluot pink candy [planted in a pot only 9 months ago].
    pluot flavor king arrived in december [well branched specimen].

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