Cherry plum trees: growing and harvesting Prunus cerasifera


For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

Cherry plum trees are one of the first trees to blossom in spring. Discover everything there is to know about cherry plum trees and how to grow one in your own garden.

Cherry plums hanging off of a tree
The red fruits of the cherry plum are often confused with mirabelles [Photo: Flower_Garden/]

If you have ever bitten into a cherry plum, you may have found it to be rather sour, but do not be dissuaded, as there are indeed sweet varieties. Read on to learn more about cherry plum trees, how to care for one in your own garden and which types of cherry plum are best for eating.

Cherry plum trees: origin & characteristics

Cherry plum trees (Prunus cerasifera), also known colloquially as myrobalan plum, have been around for over a millennium and were even known to the Celts. In fact, the cherry plum tree is older than the plum tree (Prunus domestica). We know this because the plum was first formed by crossing a cherry plum and a sloe (Prunus spinosa). These deciduous trees originated from Central Asia, and were later introduced to Europe. As cherry plum trees are popular as rootstock for grafting various Prunus species, they are often found in shrubberies in orchard areas.

Cherry plums hanging off of a tree
The cherry plum is also known as ‘myrobalan’ or wild mirabelle [Photo: Anita Ben/]

Cherry plum trees grow no more than 8m tall, but do grow quite wide and can even develop multi-stemmed crowns. The finely serrated cherry plum leaves grow up to 7cm long from fine branches, some of which have thorns.

In spring, cherry plum trees unveil their intensely fragrant flowers, even before the closely related sloe and mirabelle plum trees (Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca). Cherry plum blossoms are white with a hint of soft pink on the inside. As early-blooming trees, cherry plums are vital as a food source for numerous insects during a time of year when there is little else available.

What distinguishes the cherry plum from the mirabelle plum?

Cherry plum and mirabelle plum trees are closely related and indeed have more similarities than differences. So how can you tell them apart? The first difference appears at the time of flowering, as cherry plums can be distinguished from mirabelles by their bare flower stalks.

Later, when the 2 to 3cm large fruits appear, their colour offers another clue. Mirabelle plums are only ever yellow, whilst cherry plums can be yellow, red or purple. Upon inspecting the fruits more closely, you will notice a couple of other distinguishing characteristics. Firstly, unlike a cherry plum pit, the pit of a mirabelle plum is easy to detach from the fruit’s flesh. Secondly, cherry plums are sour, whereas mirabelles taste sweet.

White cherry plum blooms
Cherry plum blossoms appear before the blooms of mirabelles and blackthorn do [Photo: atiger/]

Are cherry plums edible?

Yes! As cherry plums are by no means poisonous, they are indeed edible. You can eat the fruit straight from the tree just like mirabelles and plums. Whether the fruits taste good is another matter and largely depends on the tree variety. While some trees bear exquisite, flavourful fruit, other cherry plums can taste rather bland. So, before putting the work in to harvest fruits from a cherry plum tree, taste one of the fruits to see if it is to your liking.

The best edible cherry plum varieties

The species Prunus cerasifera has some remarkable varieties. However, most varieties do not self-pollinate and need to be planted near other varieties.

  • Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’: also known as black cherry plum tree, this variety bears dark red foliage and pink flowers and produces sweet, dark red fruits that ripen in August.
  • Prunus cerasifera ‘Trailblazer’/’Hollywood’: this variety is mainly known for its large fruits that grow up to 5cm in diameter. The fruits ripen in September and are burgundy-red. The red-brown foliage is also noteworthy.
  • Prunus cerasifera ‘Zloty Oblok’: this polish variety bears juicy-sweet and aromatic fruit. Like mirabelles, its fruits are yellow and ripen in September. These trees tend to be smaller, reaching 4 – 6m tall.
White cherry plum blooms with red foliage
Some cherry plum varieties have red foliage [Photo: spetenfia/]

Planting a cherry plum tree

Cherry plums are robust trees, so are often used as a grafting base for other fruit trees. They can grow in virtually all soils. That said, the soil should have a pH value between six and eight and needs to be well-draining, but not too sandy. Cherry plum trees thrive in wind-protected spots that get full sun or light shade. They only need watering in extremely dry conditions. Nonetheless, young plants need a bit of water from time to time until they have a well-established root system.

Ideal conditions for planting a cherry plum hedge or tree:

  • Permeable soil, but not too sandy
  • pH value from 6 – 8
  • Sun or light shade
  • Plant as a tree or hedge plant

Cherry plum tree care

Cherry plum trees do not require additional fertilisation. They are undemanding and do well even if left to their own devices. However, fertilising can increase a tree’s fruit yield — just be careful not to add too much nitrogen. A portion of compost in the spring or some Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is fitting.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • Promotes healthy plant growth & an active soil life
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

To improve the humus content of the soil, we recommend working a soil improver into the soil. This supports the soil life long-term and creates the ideal growing conditions for your cherry plum.

If you do not plan on letting your cherry plum tree grow wildly, it is important to keep it in shape. Prune your tree every 2 to 3 years, or annually for young trees. Simply cut back any dead or diseased branches until you reach healthy wood. The best time to prune is after flowering.

When to harvest cherry plums

Cherry plums usually start to ripen around June, but again this depends on the variety. For example, Cherry plum ‘Zloty Oblok’s fruits first ripen in September. The fruits are ready to harvest once they have reached a ripe colour (this depends on the variety). Pick the fruits as soon as they are ripe, otherwise the fruit’s texture will become floury.

Green, unripe cherry plum fruits
In Turkey, cherry plums are sometimes eaten when they are green. The unripe cherry plums are known as greengages [Photo: Maksymenko Nataliia/]

Storing and using cherry plums

Cherry plums, unfortunately, can be stored only for a few days. For this reason, it is advisable not to wash the fruits and to store them in a cool and dark place. In the case of soft and already almost overripe fruit, it is better to eat them immediately. To have something from the cherry plums longer, you can also process cherry plums. For example, cherry plum jam or marmalade tastes wonderful. However, since the pit is difficult to remove, you should first boil down the whole fruit for this and then strain it through a sieve to remove the pit.

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