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My Amazing Pluot Tree

My pluot tree is an amazing part of my garden. 

Anyone who isn’t familiar with this fruit is missing something delicious. It’s a cross between plum and apricot, and my personal name for it is “superplum”.  When they’re ripe, the fruits explode with sweetness and flavor. Totally wonderful.

They’re easy to grow, so much so they have to be kept pruned back or they’ll go crazy producing branches.  The only down side of a pluot is – it needs a pollinizer, another tree that’s closely related but not exactly the same. A lot of fruit trees have the same need – most apple and pear cultivars, for instance.

That being the case, when I decided I wanted to grow pluots in my relatively tiny yard, I knew that I’d need to plant a couple of them. So I bought a ‘Flavor Supreme’ and a ‘Flavor Queen’, two proven cultivars. Unfortunately, in my desperation to fit both of them in one very small plot, I planted them much too close together. The Supreme overwhelmed the Queen, so the year before last, I had to dethrone the queen and took her out. This left me with the sad certainty I was not going to have any pluots until I installed another fruit tree, this time giving them each more space.

One lovely morning in my garden, as I was admiring the tree’s shape and potential to give a bit of shade, I noticed fruit. Pluots were growing on the tree. “Hooray”, I thought to myself, “I have the world’s first self-pollinating pluot!”

Fortunately, I didn’t immediately try to send that thought to fruit tree growers around the world.

Instead, I looked around my neighborhood. There were no pluots anywhere, but I did see a possible, yet unlikely candidate for pollinizer. Across the street, one of my neighbors has a healthy purple leaf plum tree, which blooms around the same time as the pluot.

Let me say something about purple leaf plums. The scientific name is Prunus serasifera.  When these trees healthy, they are so pretty: lavender flowers and deep purple leaves.

They even produce an edible fruit, but it’s small, and almost all seed, so nobody thinks much about harvesting them. In this climate unfortunately, the tree tends to suffer. By the end of summer, it can look sunburned, even charred. For this reason, we don’t usually recommend them in the landscape. A woman who used to work at Cooperative Extension said they were only good for attracting borers, and those are insects no one wants to see.

Since I’d been thinking for years that they were pretty much useless, I really didn’t think there was much of a chance a purple leaf plum could be pollinizing my pluot. I was still kind of attached to the idea of the world’s first self-pollinating pluot, although I admit the odds of that were vanishingly small.

This year, the new flavor queen™ I planted was still too young to produce any flowers, so I was more than a little curious about what, if any, fruit I’d get on my magic tree. It’s been covered in fruit. Everyone is getting pluots, including a host of birds that poke the almost perfectly ripe fruits. Even with that, I’ve been coming up with clever uses for the ones I haven’t given away. I have to, since I can’t live on an all pluot diet. Drying them, baking pluot cobbler, I might even make pluot sorbet for the masses.  

Even though my neighbor’s tree seems to be doing a fine pollinizing job, I don’t want to rely on if for next year’s crop. What if they decided to get rid of it? I mentioned before that I installed a new flavor queen, and just for good measure, I planted a damask plum. Amazing how much plant material you can fit into a garden, especially if you’re not too concerned about having a straight, uninterrupted path from one side to the other.

But now, I’m worried. If I had so much fruit from one tree with a questionable pollinizer, what will I get next year?

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.