Photo by: Photo Art Lucas / Alamy Stock Photo.

Purple-leaf plum trees, also called cherry plums or flowering plum trees, can add interest to your yard or garden with their dark red to purple foliage and abundance of white to light pink spring blossoms. Purple-leaf plums are medium-sized, deciduous trees primarily used for ornamental purposes.

GROWING PURPLE-LEAF PLUM TREES

Zones:

Generally, zones 4-9, with most varieties doing best in zones 5-8.

Mature Size:

25’ high and 25’ across.

Growth Rate:

Medium, about a foot or two per year.

Exposure:

For best foliage color and blooming, purple-leaf plum trees should be grown in full sun to only partial shade. Leaves will not reach their full, rich color potential in shade and will turn almost green.

Water:

Purple-leaf plum trees need regular weekly watering. They are moderately drought-tolerant once established, but may need additional deep watering in summer heat.

Pruning:

Little pruning is needed other than to remove dead or diseased branches, and should be done after flowering. Prune in mid-summer if silver leaf is a problem.

Problems, Diseases, Pests:

Purple-leaf plum trees are known to be susceptible to a large number of diseases including black knot, leaf spot, die back, leaf curl, powdery mildew, root rot and fireblight. They are also susceptible to pests such as borers, aphids, scale, leafhoppers, caterpillars, tent caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and spider mites. These threats can also contribute to its relatively short life span of 20 years or less. Fruit drop can be a nuisance with the large amount of small fruit produced. If you're concerned about these issues, a good alternative is 'Forest Pansy', an Eastern redbud with deep purple foliage.

PICTURES OF COMMON VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Greg Vaughn / Alamy Stock Photo.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’

Common: Cherry plum, myrobalan plum, purple-leaf plum, wild cherry plum
Zones: 5-8
Height/Spread: 15-25 feet/15-25 feet
Bloom: April, light pink
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade (best color in full sun)
Soil: Average, well-drained loams
Water: Medium, moderately drought resistant
Other:

  • Edible fruit follows blooms, to 1 inch in diameter
  • Attracts birds
  • Showy, fragrant flowers
  • Colorful leaves, deep red and purple
  • May spread from self-seeding
  • Most widely sold purple-leaf plum tree in the United States

Photo by: Ellen McKnight / Alamy Stock Photo.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Newport’

Common: Cherry plum
Zones: 4-8
Height/Spread: 15-20 feet/15-20 feet
Bloom: April, white to pale pink
Exposure: Full sun
Soil: Average, well-drained loams
Water: Medium
Other:

  • Edible fruit follows blooms, to 1 inch in diameter
  • Attracts birds
  • Showy, fragrant flowers
  • Colorful leaves, bronze-purple in spring, dark purple in summer, reddish in fall
  • May spread from self-seeding

Photo by: I am I.A.M/Flickr.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’

Common: Black cherry plum
Zones: 4-9
Height/Spread: 15-20 feet/15-20 feet
Bloom: April
Exposure: Full sun
Soil: Clay, loam, or sandy; moderately fertile; well drained
Water: Medium
Problems: Susceptible to aphids, caterpillars, leaf-mining moths, bullfinches, silver leaf, bacterial canker, and blossom wilt
Other:

  • Occasionally produces red or yellow plums
  • Showy, fragrant flowers
  • Colorful leaves, bronze in spring, dark purple to almost black in spring, orange and red in fall
  • Low maintenance
  • May spread from self-seeding

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Krauter Vesuvius’

Common: Cherry plum
Zones: 5-8
Height/Spread: 15-20 feet/15-20 feet
Bloom: April, pink
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade (best color and flowering in full sun)
Soil: Average, well-drained loams
Water: Medium
Other:

  • Edible fruit follows blooms, to 1 inch in diameter
  • Attracts birds
  • Profuse bloom of showy, fragrant flowers
  • Colorful leaves, deep red in spring, mature to dark reddish-purple
  • May spread from self-seeding
  • Very similar to ‘Thundercloud’, but darker leaves in spring

Photo by: APugach / Shutterstock.com.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Atropurpurea’

Common: Pissard plum, cherry plum
Zones: 5-8
Height/Spread: 15-25 feet/15-25 feet
Bloom: Spring, white to pink
Exposure: Full sun
Soil: Tolerates clay, loam, sand; well-drained
Water: Medium
Other:

  • Edible fruit follows blooms, 1 to 3 inches in diameter
  • Attracts birds
  • Showy, fragrant flowers
  • Colorful leaves, purple to red

Photo by: CreatorsPalette / SmugMug.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Purple Pony’

Common: 'Purple Pony' cherry plum
Zones: 5-9
Height/Spread: 10-12 feet/10-12 feet
Bloom: Spring, pale pink
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Average, well-drained
Water: Medium
Other:

  • Dwarf cultivar, compact size
  • Considered fruitless
  • Colorful leaves, dark purple
  • Low maintenance

DESIGN TIPS

  • Perfect choice as single specimens or in small groups. Due to its strong effect, can be overpowering if too many are used in a small area.
  • Dark red and purple foliage provides contrast in the garden.
  • Excellent in Japanese-style gardens.
  • Locate in an area where fruit drop will not be a nuisance — away from patios and walkways.
  • Three-season attraction with early spring flowers and colorful foliage with variations of bronze, red, and dark purple leaves through the seasons.

IS PURPLE-LEAF PLUM INVASIVE?

Prunus cerasifera can be quite invasive in specific areas of the country. Even if you are diligent about cleaning up the fruit, birds can spread them by carting away the fruit and then dropping the seeds. Other animals, such as rats, opposums, raccoons and foxes, do the same thing.

If you live in one of these areas, consider choosing a different tree for your garden:

  • California: Many counties in the Bay Area, some areas along the Central Coast and some other inland counties in the northern part of the state
  • Pacific Northwest: The counties around Seattle, Portland and Boise, as well as numerous other counties in Idaho, Oregon and Washington
  • Eastern seaboard: Some counties in Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont
  • Other states: Very few counties in Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Utah

To see if the purple leaf plum is invasive in your area check out this map from InvasivePlantAtlas.org.

Here are some other trees with similar foliage color:

  • Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
  • Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’
  • Acer palmatum cultivars such as ‘Wolff’ (Emperor 1), and ‘Bloodgood’
  • Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’
  • Malus cultivars such as ‘Prairifire’, ‘Purple Prince’, or ’Thunderchild’

IS PURPLE-LEAF PLUM FRUIT EDIBLE?

A precursor to domestic plum and cherry trees, purple-leaf plum trees were named for their fruits before the modern edibles were cultivated. With domestic plums and cherries now readily available, Prunus cerasifera have been classified as an ornamental, although many people still appreciate the fruit they do produce. The small, dark fruit ripens in late summer surrounded by dark purple leaves, making harvesting a challenge. Although they both have an abundance of small white to light pink blossoms in the spring, purple-leaf plum trees can be distinguished from cherry trees by their deep red and purple foliage, and by their fruits.

RELATED:
Spring Gardening Ideas
Growing Fruit

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