Picking Plum Fruit: Tips For Harvesting Plums

If you are lucky enough to have a plum tree in the home garden, I’m sure you don’t want to let these delicious fruit go to waste. You may have questions then regarding harvesting plums — specifically, how to pick plums and when do you harvest plums.

When is the Correct Time for Picking Plum Fruit?

Plum trees are a fertile fruit which can yield from two to three bushels per year, so it is important to know when to harvest plum trees. The hands-down surest way to ensure the time is right for picking plum fruit is by its firmness and flavor.

The plums will be becoming soft to the touch and the taste will be sweet and juicy. Hopefully, you have actually eaten a ripe plum at some point in your life and can use this memory as a barometer.

Color of the ripening plums can also be an indicator as to harvesting plums at their peak. As plums approach maturity, the fruit develops its characteristic color. However, there are many cultivars of plum, so you need to be aware of the variety in your garden and how it should look prior to harvesting.

For instance, plums varietals such as ‘Stanley’, ‘Damson’, and ‘Mount Royal’ change from green to greenish-blue then segueing to dark blue or purple when they are ripe. Other plum cultivars are ripe when the skin color changes from yellow to red.

Also, as the fruit ripens, the plum develops an almost powdered color in some varieties.

How to Pick Plums

Some types of plum, such as the Japanese varieties, are harvested a few days before they are completely ripe and then allowed to ripen in a cool, dry area. The fruit will no doubt have skin that looks ripe, but the fruit will still be somewhat firm. European plums are ready for harvest just as the fruit begins to soften and the skin color changes to a background hue of yellow.

Early maturing varieties of plum will need to be harvested over a period of weeks, as the fruit is not ripe on the tree at the same time. Later varietals usually ripen at the same time and can, therefore, be harvested all at once.

If you are interested in making prunes, however, the plums are allowed to ripen completely upon the tree until they naturally fall. Gather them up and allow to dry naturally; spread apart in the sun (but keep in mind you may be sharing the plums with other critters!) or in a dehydrator or oven set at 175 F. (79 C.) for about 10 hours or so.

To hasten ripening indoors, keep the plums at temps between 60-80 F., (15-26 C.). High or low temps will likely cause internal damage — mealiness, browning or an off-taste. This is only if you want to ripen fruit in a hurry. For long term storage, the fruit should be kept at temps between 31-32 F. (0 C.) and will keep for about two weeks.

To pick your ripened plums simply lightly grasp the fruit and gently twist it from the stem. Once you have your plum bounty, it’s just a matter of deciding which delicious recipe you will use them in — or if they even make it that far since there’s almost nothing as delicious as a ripe, juicy plum.

Growing Plums: The Complete Guide to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Plums

Ame lives off-the-grid on her beautiful farm in Falmouth, Kentucky. She has been gardening organically for over 30 years and has grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and ornamentals. She also participates in Farmers Markets, CSA, and mentors young farmers. Ame is the founder and director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center where she teaches environmental education programs in self-sufficiency, herbal medicine, green building, and wildlife conservation.

Plums are my favorite fruits to eat, so it’s lucky that they’re one of the easier fruit trees to grow. Growing plums doesn’t require as much work as, say, apples or cherries. There are also many different types of plums that take to a wide variety of climates, so there’s likely one that will thrive in your space.

They’re hardy and productive, providing a bountiful harvest even on dwarf trees. As if that’s not enough to love, let’s not forget how gorgeous they look and smell in the spring when they have all their pretty white and pink blossoms.

Like peaches and apricots, plums are stone fruits – also known as drupes. They’re delightful fresh off the tree, used in savory recipes, or baked into desserts.

Harvesting Plum Trees

Are you ready to enjoy delicious homegrown fruit? Harvest is the time to enjoy the results of your hard work. Keep a few things in consideration as you reap the fruits of your labor: the best time to pick the fruit from your tree, and how to store the fruit.

NOTE: This is part 11 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow plum trees , we recommend starting from the beginning.

Plum, pluot and plumcot trees will start bearing fruit in 3-6 years under normal growing conditions with proper maintenance and care.

When to Harvest

Make sure to wait until just the right time to pick your fruit. Plums are ready to be picked when they separate easily from the tree with a little twist. They should not be picked when firm.

Harvest European plums when dead ripe.
Japanese plums are picked when they begin to soften.

Harvest Seasons and Expected Yield

European Plums

Harvest season begins July thru September depending on the variety and location. Annual average yield per tree:

  • Dwarf, ½-1 bushel
  • Standard, 1-2 bushel

Japanese Plums

Harvest season begins mid-July thru early September depending on the variety and location. Annual average yield per tree:

  • Dwarf, 3-4 bushels
  • Semi-dwarf, 4-5 bushels
  • Standard, 5-6 bushels


Harvest season begins June depending on the variety and location. Annual average yield per tree is 3-4 bushels.


Cool storage preserves them for winter enjoyment. Fresh fruit is a special treat during the bleak winter months. Fortunately, many varieties of fruit keep their fine eating qualities for a long time with proper storage. If you’re planning to store them, pick them a bit early, just as they start to ripen. Handle them carefully to avoid bruises that could develop into spoilage.

The ideal storage spot is humid and cool, from 32-40°F. Place them in perforated plastic freezer bags and keep them in any cool place. A refrigerator is the idea storage spot but any cool area in your house, the basement or an unheated porch might also be fine for a while. Bring them out to ripen at room temperature when you’re ready to use them.

It’s best to inspect stored fruit every week or so to check for any spoilage. That way, you can remove any that are developing soft spots or brown areas. This keeps spoilage from “spreading” to nearby fruit. Remember, “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.”

Plum Tree Varieties

Even though the three natural plum tree species have sustained humans for thousands of years, horticulturalists weren’t really happy with them. They worked on improving on those species with different cultivars that produced more crop, handled different soil better, and were more disease-resistant. Most cultivars fall under three categories: American, European, or Japanese hybrids. Here are some of the best plum tree varieties to grow in your garden.

  • Victoria: With egg-shaped fruits and an abundance of crops, this cultivar is favored both in gardens and commercial production. You can prune the tree to keep it short and compact that grows in any small space. The fruits are ideal for jams or fruit salad.
  • Golden Sphere: The name tells you everything you need to know about it. The fruits are yellow and large. They ripen in late July. The tree self-pollinates although it would need help if you want to make sure all the flowers are pollinated.
  • Marjorie’s Seedling: A cultivar known for its disease-resistant qualities. Although it doesn’t produce heavy crops like Victoria, its delicious fruits are still good for cakes and pies. It flowers in mid-summer and the fruits are late to ripen. Usually, you can harvest them in late September and October.
  • Cambridge Gage: Although the fruits have a waxy green skin, the flesh of the ripe plum is usually yellow. It’s a delicious variety that is produced commercially on a large scale. A reliable cultivar that produces fruits every year and the crop ripens in August.
  • Farleigh Damson: Gardeners recommend pollinating this variety with other cultivars to produce plenty of sweet fruits. The fruits are mid-size and blue in color.

When choosing the right cultivar for your garden, make sure it can handle your weather conditions and is disease-resistant. Plums are notorious for attracting pests and diseases as we’ll see later. So if you want to have a successful plum tree in your garden, I recommend the Cambridge Gage or Victoria for their reliability.

5 reasons to prune your fruit trees

Below are a handful of reasons why you might want to prune (and lend a helping hand to) your fruit trees, rather than leave it all up to nature – and chance.

1. To develop a desired shape

Pruning your plum tree helps to balance out the branch structure and give it a characteristic shape.

Bush and pyramid plums come immediately to mind, fan training is another aspect of pruning whereby the tree is trained against a wall or fence, with horizontal wires to hold the branches.

Other times, you may just need to remove lower branches to mow under the tree, or to prevent it from scraping against a house or outbuilding.

2. Maintain a certain size

Trees that become too tall are difficult to harvest from without a ladder, and in the case of plums, the branches are not strong or pleasant enough to climb in (think of the often serious size thorns).

You can, however, shake the tree when the plums are ripe, for an easy harvest.

Branches that spread too wide, perhaps from lack of sunlight, will weaken when laden with heavy fruit. Keep them pruned back for strength and resilience. Or else, nature will show you what the right size is for any particular tree, when those heavily loaded branches snap off from the rest.

Whatever you choose, just do not underpin branches, limbs with Y-stakes, because these send wrong weight distribution signals to the tree, which may lead to weak growth as years go by.

3. Allow sunlight to reach the trunk and improve air circulation

Improving sunlight penetration by shaping and thinning, will help to produce healthy buds. This, in turn, increases fruit quality by allowing it to fully ripen in the sun.

At the same time, allowing sufficient airflow helps to remove excess moisture, reducing the chance of fungal infections that plums are prone to.

4. To encourage new shoots and strengthen existing branches

If you have a tree that hasn’t been pruned in ages, or who knows how long(!), chances are that a little pruning revival will help it immensely.

Clipping back the ends of branches will stimulate new growth, increasing your chances of a wonderful fruit harvest next season.

5. Remove dead, broken or diseased branches

Pruning in summer allows you to easily remove all of the dead, damaged and diseased fruit tree limbs – as you can see it all while the healthy branches are full of leaves and fruit. In winter, it is a bit trickier, though still an optimal time for pruning.

Removing dry branches is a preventive plan, to minimize the chance that they will fall out on their own, damaging other branches along the way, for instance in stormy weather.

Tools for Pruning Santa Rosa Plum Trees

The tools you use for pruning your Santa Rosa will depend on how large you let it get. If you allow it to grow to its full 25-foot monster height, you might need some heavy-duty equipment. If you keep it little, you won’t need anything more than a good hand trimmer.

Taller trees have higher branches and thus require bigger tools. For more towering plum trees, you can use a pruning saw. However, keeping your plum tree to a manageable height can make the job easier and open you up to smaller tools.

If you keep your plum tree dwarfish, a good pair of pruning shears will do the job. However, older gardeners often find that shears don’t have the leverage they need to chop off a particularly overgrown branch. For this, you might consider a pair of loppers.

In the modern era, any gardener can find a useful tool for accomplishing his pruning goals. Pruners also come in automated forms and on the ends of poles. A quick Amazon search for pruning tools will do the trick.

So, whether you’re working with little space or an orchard, old or young, a Santa Rosa will prove a manageable and fruitful tree with a rewarding and sweet harvest.

Watch the video: DIY - How to harvest high fruit safely without a ladder. Picking Plums Easily with DIY fruit picker.

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