Planting Sand Plum trees/shrubs

sandgrassJanuary 3, 2009

Hi okiegardener. I was searching for any info on the correct way to plant three sand plum trees (shrubs) after our daughters gave us three 4-foot trees for Christmas. We were used to picking sand plums around OKC--Mustang--and then moved to Arkansas. Beautiful, but our area just north of Hot Springs has no thickets that we can find. Our daughters found them for sale at, and now we really need some expert advice for planting them. Should we mix soil/compost with sand? Our backyard is severely sloped with more rocks than soil. How far apart should we plant the three trees? Do we provide weekly watering, and for how long before they can make it on their own? Anything you can tell us would be greatly appreciated. Happy New Year. Sandgrass

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jaleeisa(6b Oklahoma)

I'm interested in this too! Sand Plums are also known as Sand Cherry, right? I have seeds from this and my husband was raving about the Sand Cherries and how wonderful they tasted, and wants me to plant these. But I'm not familiar with them and am a little intimidated to try it from the seed I have. Any advice on growing it from seed would be very helpful because I really want to grow this for him!


    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 8:48AM
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Oh, sand plums are wonderful! The bushes that we have picked from are scraggly and grow along the dusty country gravel roads. No one waters them. I can't imagine that they'd be that hard to grow. Maybe they would be fuller and more attractive if grown in better soil. I bet Dawn will respond to this post and she's our "go-to gal".

I do love Arkansas. My grandmother was raised there, around Gentry and Siloam Springs. The scenery is so beautiful and you'll have wonderful gardens there. --Ilene

    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 9:51AM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)

I'm no expert on these trees. But we do have thickets of them very close by. They tend to grow on upper elevations in very poor soil. In most cases sand, hence the name.

Because of that, I doubt compost of any kind would be a good idea in adding to the soil. I would want my soil as crappy as possible. That's what they are found and thrive in.

Watering might be tricky to get established. I would wait until right before the buds start to break before planting. Water in well and keep a close eye on them. I would take a long chopstick and stick it in the soil close to the trunk. When the wood has dried out about half way down the chopstick, I would water again.

This is only a semi educated guess as to what you should do. I have no experience with transplanting and growing sand plums. I only pick the fruit and make jelly. :-)


    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 11:07AM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)


Have you kept the seed cold? Either outdoors or in the fridge? If not, I would do so now. I like to put seed like this in sand and in a baggie in the fridge. Or in a coffee can outside covered where rodents won't eat them.

You can probably get away with 45-60 days of cold before planting. If you do it in slightly damp sand in the fridge, they may start to sprout in the bag. That would be a good time to plant.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 11:15AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Y'all,

Mmmmm! Sand plum jelly. That's a mouth-watering treat.

Here in our part of Oklahoma, sand plums, also referred to around here as Chickasaw Plums (after all, our part of OK is the Chickasaw Nation) are predominantly fenceline trees. They often form extensive thickets, and I usually see them growing in poor sandy soil, poor clay soil and sometimes in pretty decent sandy loam. I'm not sure how they'd do on rocky soil as our part of Love County isn't very rocky, and the folks I know here on rocky soil don't have sand plums on their land.

Here's what I can tell you about sand plums, and I'm no expert either. First of all, there are a lot of wild plums and the ones I knew as sand plums in Texas were Prunus texana and were somewhat dwarf, bushy plants with fruit that tended to ripen in June. The plums usually referred to in Oklahoma as sand plums are Prunus angustifolia and in Texas we usually called those thicket plums because of their tendency to sucker and form thickets over time.
And, if you have wild black cherry, escarpment black cherry, harvard plum, creek plum, black cherry, chokecherries of flatwoods plum, they all are related to sand plum and they all grow the same way. Mexican plums are a little harder to start from seed.

To grow from seed, collect the plums from the trees after the fruit is fully filled-out and firm. Let the fruit get as ripe as you can but be sure to collect some before the birds strip the trees of all the fruit. Clean the seeds of pulp and let them air dry before you store them. You only want to air dry them for a short time--just a few hours if it is very humid or up to one day if the air is very dry. It is better to dry them indoors in moderate temperatures and out of direct sunlight because too much heat/sunlight can induce a tougher dormancy period.

If you want, you can sow your summer to early-fall collected seed without drying, or you can cold-stratify the seed in the refrigerator. The idea temps for cold stratification of wild plum seed are 31 to 41 degrees according to Jill Nokes. If you want to plant in the fall, get your seeds into the beds in September so they have time for some after-ripening before cold weather arrives. You can winter sow plum seeds (pits) in late January to late February or you can plant them in a cold frame at about that time. Cold-stratified plum seeds germinate best when nighttime temps are in the 50s and daytime temps are in the 70s.

GROWING FROM CUTTINGS: You can grow native plums from dormant hardwood cuttings, softwood cuttings, semihardwood cuttings or from root cuttings. The easiest way for most people (especially if you haven't raised trees or shrubs from cuttings before) is to use semihardwood cuttings taken in the early to mid summer. Take your semihardwood cuttings from the tips of branches, from new stems that are just barely beginning to turn woody at the base. If you cut them before they are beginning to turn woody, they are likely to rot before they root. Dip your cuttings into a rooting hormone (you can try willow water if you don't have or can't find rooting hormone) and place them in a tray of moist perlite/peat. Keep moist either by placing them under a mister or by misting them frequently. Some people place the tray of cuttings in a sealed plastic bag (like a giant zip-lock) to hold in moisture. Generally, they should begin to show root growth in 30 days or less.

My favorite way for any of the native plums is to dig one up from the forest (for black cherries and Mexican plums) and transplant them into the yard. For sand plums, you often can sever a newer smaller sprout with a sharp spade and transplant it into a new area as long as the sprout or sucker has developed some root to sustain it once it is separated from the mother plant.

To plant them, give them the same conditions in which they are found in the wild. Many native plants grow best in native (unamended) soil and with as little supplemental water as possible. Because these plants are adapted to survive in the real world in tough conditions, they can have trouble adjusting to enriched soil, and heavy fertilizer/water. One reason you don't transplant native plants into rich potting soil or heavily amended native soil is that the native plants are very susceptible to the kinds of bacteria common in such enriched soil since they have not been exposed to those bacteria in more lean, more arid native soil.

Sandgrass, I am not sure how well they will do in rocky soil although most trees can grow roots that will slowly make their way down through the rocks and into deeper soil. I wouldn't amend the soil with anything because you can only amend a relatively small area and the tree is going to have to grow (over time as it enlarges) in the native soil anyway. When I plant/transplant a native plant, I try to make sure it has adequate water for the first 3 years of its life, but I don't give them extraordinary amounts of water. The key is to keep them moist enough that they don't go into transplant shock in the heat, but not so wet that the roots develop fungal diseases from the constant moistness. After a native plant has been in its location for 3 years, I don't give it any extra water. After three years, it has to survive on rainfall alone, unless we have the kind of prolonged drought that is causing trees to drop their leaves in the summer because of drought stress.

As far as spacing, you can plant them at whatever distance you choose. After all, in the wild they sucker and form dense thickets so they are used to growing in close quarters. To make it easier to pick the plums, I'd plant them a good 8 or 10 feet apart so they aren't impossibly dense once they start to sucker and form thickets. If they do well, they'll get very thick over the years.

If I had a choice, I'd plant them at a higher point in the landscape where they'd be likely to have better drainage. If your soil drains very quickly, as many rocky soils do, you could plant them in lower spots. The best location will be one that holds some moisture but not where water puddles for weeks on end.

Hope this info helps.

I can just about taste the sand plum jelly right now. Good luck with your trees.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 8:30PM
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Hi okiedawn, and all who replied to my SOS. Today we (husband and I) are going for broke and will plant the 3 Sand Plum trees in our backyard near the middle of our hill, which drops 85 feet from front to back. You will definitely hear from me if we get buds and leaves! Thank you so much for the great info and the time it took. Sandgrass (This name was part of a nickname I picked up in SW Kansas as a child--Slop-along Sandgrass. OK, so I dropped the first part. It was too revealing!)

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 11:44AM
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How Wonderful! They love bad soil, rocky soil, and rich soil... they are so easy and once they are there they are next to impossible to get rid of... oh you are lucky to have them... Jelly... I have the very last of the last jar my grandmother made before she went into a home last year and I savor it little by little looking for the trees - got to get some - thank you for the lead. Mitch

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 4:04PM
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