Thursday, September 24, 2009

Be Native And Go For Beach Plum

By Keith Markensen

The beach plum, Prunus maritima, is an interesting and worthwhile native fruit, the virtues of which are well-known to dwellers along the sandy regions of the Atlantic Coast, especially on Cape Cod and adjacent portions of Massachusetts. From New Brunswick to the Carolinas it inhabits the sea beaches and sand dunes, often extending inland a few miles on similar soils.

Inland the beach plum is little grown, perhaps because of the competition of several species of native plums which, have given rise to numerous varieties, which are probably superior to the beach plum in dessert quality and its equal as a culinary fruit. The European plums, too, are much superior in quality amateur fruit growers, however, may find the beach plum worth having for the fine jelly that may be made from it. For sea-shore gardeners, however, it is indispensable for its fruit and as an ornamental of real merit.

Planted in thickets it gives the effect of irregular drifts of snow when in flower.

The plant is a straggling or decumbent bush, growing from 3 to 6 feet high, sometimes becoming a low tree under cultivation in richer soils than those found along the seacoast. The plants are very hardy and bear heavy, crops. In bloom it is very showy; the small white flowers which appear before the leaves are borne in such profusion as to completely cover the plant.

The fruit is very variable in size, color and flavor. The size of the fruit varies from 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter. It is usually spherical and occasionally ovoid in shape. The fruit ripens in August and September, is usually dark purple in color with a waxy bloom, but red and yellow forms occur frequently. The skin is thick, tough and acrid, the flesh crisp, juicy and sweetish. The quality is generally poor, but occasionally plants are found which bear fruit that is said to be nearly as rich as that of the best domestic.

Beach plums are easily raised from seeds which are removed from the fruit and planted in the fall in a nursery row in the garden. The one-year-old seedlings should be set in their permanent location in early spring of their second year. Those who are growing the fruit commercially should seek out and propagate vegetatively only plants of superior merit.

This is best done by digging up old plants like mandevilla in autumn and making root cuttings from roots the size of a lead pencil or larger. These cuttings are planted in the open ground, being laid horizontally at a depth of 2 to 3 inches, the soil being mulched to prevent heaving during the winter and overwintering of mandevilla vine plant. Cuttings may also be started in the coldframe, or in flats in the greenhouse, being potted up nicely started and moved to the permanent location in early summer

For fruit production the plants may be set 10 feet apart each way, but in ornamental plantings where a mass effect is desired closer planting is necessary. Pruning consists of a moderate thinning out of the older wood and all dead and weak branches to stimulate vigorous new growth on which the fruit is borne a year later. No information is available as to how beach plums respond to chemical fertilizers, but experimentally minded gardeners may well test the possibilities of a nitrogenous fertilizer in stimulating growth and production.

Insects and fungus diseases frequently reduce yields and the quality of the fruit.

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