When Does A Plum Tree Produce Fruit? (4 Things To Know)


If you recently planted plum trees in your yard, you may not have any fruit on the trees just yet.  In that case, you are probably wondering when plum trees bear fruit, and if there is anything you can do to help them along.

So, when does a plum tree bear fruit?  A plum tree will produce fruit 3 to 6 years after planting (sooner if you buy more mature trees!). Plum trees produce fruit between June and September, after blooming in late winter to early spring. Dwarf varieties can produce fruit a year sooner (2 to 5 years after planting).  Plum trees produce more fruit as they grow large enough to support the extra weight.

Of course, depending on the variety of plum tree you plant, it may take a longer time for your tree to begin producing fruit.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at plum trees and when they produce fruit. We’ll also discuss some of the things that affect your harvest, including pruning, fertilization, and environment.

Let’s get going.

When Does A Plum Tree Produce Fruit?

A plum tree (Prunus domestica) bears fruit 3 to 6 years after planting. This assumes that the tree is already 1 to 2 years old when it is planted – established plum trees are normally purchased from a nursery, rather than grown from seed (stone).

plum tree
Plum trees bear fruit 3 to 6 years after planting (possibly a year sooner for dwarf trees).

The University of Maine Extension suggests that younger fruit trees should be pruned as little as possible. However, it is still important to prune some of the higher branches so the lower ones can get sunlight.

Pruning can also make it easier to harvest fruit in the long run – all the more reason to prune wisely! (more on this later).

When Do Dwarf Plum Trees Produce Fruit?

A dwarf plum tree produces fruit 2 to 5 years after planting. According to the University of Vermont Extension, dwarf plum trees may produce fruit a year sooner than their standard-size cousins.

The downside is that a dwarf plum tree will not produce as much fruit as a full-size tree.

plum tree fruit
Dwarf plum trees can produce fruit a year sooner than standard size plum trees.

However, a dwarf plum tree might be the right choice if you want to:

  • grow in a smaller area
  • have a more manageable tree (a shorter tree is easier to prune and harvest)
  • harvest a little sooner (1 year early if you are lucky!)

What Month Do Plum Trees Produce Fruit?

A plum tree may produce fruit as early as June and as late as September.  The pink or white flowers on a plum tree will appear in late winter to early spring.

plum blossoms
Plum blossoms can be brilliant pink, as shown here, or white.

Some varieties of plum trees are self-pollinating, and others are not.  Keep in mind that self-pollination does not mean guaranteed pollination (more on this later).

Do Plum Trees Produce Fruit Every Year?

Plum trees do not produce fruit every year. The most common reason for a lack of fruit on a plum tree is that it has not matured to the point where it can produce fruit.

Most plum trees will need 3 to 6 years after planting before they mature enough to bear fruit.  Dwarf varieties may start producing fruit 1 year sooner than standard varieties of plum trees.

red plums
Some varieties of plum trees will yield red fruit when they are mature enough.

Even after reaching maturity, a plum tree may fail to produce fruit for a number of reasons, including:

  • excessive fruit production last year – the tree used up too much energy to produce fruit last year.
  • too much wood production – the tree spent all of its energy to produce more growth in the form of wood. This is often caused by over pruning or over fertilizing. The upside is that this can lead to more fruit in later years.
  • frost damage – warm weather in late winter (false spring) can trick plum trees into flowering too early. A late spring frost can kill the flowers that appear, causing a complete lack of fruit that year.

Remember that problems like frost injury of flowers, over pruning of branches, and over fertilization can delay fruiting on a plum tree by a year or more.

Also remember that if you plant a seed (stone) harvested from a plum tree, you may end up growing a tree that will never bear fruit.  To ensure production on plum trees grown from seed (stones), choose an established tree from a nursery.

In some cases, you will see “biennial bearing” (or alternate bearing) in your plum trees.  This means that they will only flower and produce fruit every other year.

According to the Penn State University Extension, biennial bearing can occur in plum, apple, pear, and apricot trees.

Often, biennial bearing will occur after a year of heavy fruit production.  Essentially, the tree’s resources are exhausted from using so much energy and nutrition to produce a large yield.

The tree then takes a year to recover its strength and prepare for production the following year.

plum tree white flower
Pick off some of the flowers or fruit on a plum tree to leave 3 to 4 inches between fruit.

If you want to avoid biennial bearing, use fruit thinning on your plum trees.  Fruit thinning is when you cut off fruit in the early stages (aim for one plum every 3 to 4 inches along a branch.)

Fruit thinning helps to produce larger fruit with more flavor. This practice also helps to avoid broken branches on your tree due to the weight of excessive plums.

According to the University of Maine Extension, fruit thinning for plum trees should be done in mid to late June and possibly in July.

Generally, Japanese varieties of plum trees will need fruit thinning, but European and American Hybrid varieties do not.

Biennial bearing is more common in younger trees. As a result, you may miss a year of fruit here and there.

Of course, there could be other reasons that your plum harvest is poor or nonexistent (more on this later.)

For more information, check out this article on time to fruit for trees on the Stark Brothers website.

How Much Fruit Does A Plum Tree Produce?

Generally, a mature Japanese variety plum tree can produce 2 to 4 bushels (100 to 200 pounds, or 45 to 91 kilograms) of fruit per year.  A dwarf Japanese plum tree can produce 1/2 to 2 bushels (25 to 100 pounds, or 11 to 45 kilograms) of fruit per year.

yellow plum
Standard varieties of plum trees can produce up to 300 pounds (European) or 200 pound (Japanese) of fruit per year. Dwarf varieties will produce less fruit.

Generally, a mature European variety plum tree can produce 3 to 6 bushels (150 to 300 pounds, or 68 to 136 kilograms) of fruit per year.  A dwarf European plum tree can produce 1 to 2 bushels (50 to 100 pounds, or 23 to 45 kilograms) of fruit per year.

Note: a bushel of plums weighs 50 pounds.  For more information, check out this article from the Stark Brothers website on estimated yields for fruit trees.

The fruit on a plum tree can be red, yellow-green, or purple with sweet or tangy flesh and plenty of juice.  Plum trees can live for 20 to 30 years, and grow to a height of 18 to 25 feet for standard varieties (dwarf plum trees can grow to 8 to 10 feet tall, with a similar width).

This table below summarizes fruit yield for plum trees of various sizes.

Type Of
Plum
Tree
Yield
(bushels)
Yield
(pounds)
Dwarf
Japanese
0.5 to 225 to 100
Standard
Japanese
2 to 4100 to 200
Dwarf
European
1 to 250 to 100
Standard
European
3 to 6150 to 300
This table summarizes fruit yield
for plum trees of various sizes.

For more information, check out this article on Dwarf Plum Trees on the Stark Brothers website.

What Kind Of Plum Tree Should I Plant?

When selecting a plum tree, make sure to choose one that you can grow in your climate!  For more information, check out the USDA Zone Hardiness Map to see what zone you are in.

There are a few basic types of plum trees: Japanese, European, and American Hybrids.  Plum trees can also be classified according to whether they are self-pollinating or if they require cross-pollination.

Some plum trees are self-pollinating, meaning the flower contains both male and female parts.

purple plums
Some plum trees are self-pollinating, meaning the flower contains both male and female parts.

The first three plum trees on this list require cross-pollination, and so they need more than one tree to produce fruit.  The last three plum trees on this list are self-pollinating (more on this later).

According to Clemson University, plums that are not self-pollinating need another variety of the same type nearby. For example, if you plant an Ozark Premier Plum tree (a Japanese variety), you would need another Japanese variety (such as a Methley plum) within 50 feet to ensure adequate pollination for both trees.

Do You Need Two Plum Trees To Produce Fruit?

Whether you need two plum trees to produce fruit depends on the plum tree you choose.

For self-pollinating varieties of plum trees (such as Damson or Santa Rosa), you only need one tree to get fruit.  This may be preferable if you have limited space in your yard.

bee on blueberry flower
Bees can help to cross-pollinate self-unfruitful plum trees in your yard.

For self-unfruitful varieties of plum trees (such as Ozark Premier), the trees need cross-pollination with another plum tree of a different variety to produce fruit.  This means that if you choose to plant self-unfruitful plum trees, you will need two plum trees, each of a different variety, in order to get fruit.

For more information, check out this article on plum trees from Wikipedia.

What Other Factors Affect Fruit On Plum Trees?

The care that you give your plum trees will determine the quality of the fruit and the size of the yield.  Some of the most important factors are:

  • temperature
  • watering
  • fertilizing
  • pruning

Let’s start with temperature.

Temperature

Most varieties of plum trees can survive winters up to Zone 5.  Some can survive as far south as Zones 7, 8, or 9 depending on the variety.

You can find your plant hardiness zone with this map from the USDA.

The reason plums may not survive further south is because they require a certain number of chilling hours in the winter.  A chilling hour is an hour where the temperature is between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 7 degrees Celsius).

frost
Plum trees need some cold exposure during winter to break dormancy in the spring.

According to the University of Georgia Extension, chilling hours for plum trees are as follows:

  • European plum – 700 to 1100 chilling hours
  • Japanese plum – 500 to 900 chilling hours

If a plum tree does not get enough chilling hours, it will not break dormancy in the spring. This will lead to a complete lack of flowers and fruit that year.

One other hazard to your plum harvest is a late spring frost.  A cold snap after plum tree breaks dormancy in the spring can kill all of the flowers on the tree.

This may be frustrating if you live in a warm area, but it is nature’s way of protecting the tree.  If the tree flowers too early during a mild winter, a late spring frost can kill all of the flowers and destroy any chance of a plum harvest that year.

Before purchasing plum trees online, make sure that your climate gets enough chilling hours in the winter to produce fruit, while also staying warm enough to keep the tree alive.

Watering

Avoid letting the soil get too dry for too long if you have young plum trees.  If you have a problem with dry soil, check out my article on preventing dry soil.

On the other hand, over watering can spell death for your plum tree, due to root rot or fungal diseases.  For more information, check out my article on over watering.

garden hose
Be careful not to over water or under water your plum trees!

You can also check out this article from the Stark Brothers website on watering plum trees.

For older plum trees, give them deep, infrequent waterings.  This stimulates the root system to grow deeper and wider, rather than remaining shallow and staying near the surface of the soil.  This will help the tree to survive periods of drought or neglect.

Fertilizing

Before you plant a plum tree or stone, add some compost to your soil.  It will provide organic material and nutrients for your tree as it grows.  The best part is that you can make compost yourself from ordinary yard and kitchen waste!

compost bin
Compost is a great way to add organic material and nutrients to your soil, without risking fertilizer burn.

For more information, check out my article on how to make your own compost.

It may be necessary to use fertilizers as a supplement to compost, in order to provide extra nutrients if you soil is lacking. The best way to tell if you need fertilizer is with a soil test.

For more information, check out my article on soil testing.

Finally, remember that it is possible to harm or kill your plum trees by over fertilizing them.  For example, too much nitrogen can prevent your plum tree from producing any fruit.

For more information, check out my article on over fertilizing and my article on low-nitrogen fertilizers.

Generally, you will want to fertilize no later than July.  For more information, check out this article on fertilizing plum trees on the Stark Brothers website.

Pruning

Annual pruning is recommended for plum trees.  Fruit thinning can help to prevent broken branches or biennial bearing (fruit every other year).

Pruning should be done in spring or summer.  When pruning, use 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock pruning angles.

pruning shears
Annual pruning is recommended for plum trees to give bigger fruit and to avoid broken branches.

Pruning needs may vary depending on the variety of plum tree (Japanese or European).  For more information, check out this article from the Old Farmer’s Almanac on pruning plum trees.

You can also check out this article on pruning plum trees from the Stark Brothers website.

Conclusion

Now you have a good idea of when plum trees are mature enough to produce fruit, and what time of year to expect fruit (June to September).  You also know a bit more about how to take care of plum trees and how to avoid the problems that can affect your harvest.

You might also be interested in learning about peach trees and when they bear fruit (you can find out in my article here!)

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

You can learn about dwarf fruit trees, which are easier to maintain and harvest from, in my article here.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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