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Fruit and Flower of the East

By Scott Aker
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Q I am developing an Asian-style garden behind my townhouse. I have seen on a Web site the weeping ultra-dwarf Santa Rosa plum and was told it would do well in our area. Do you agree, and where would I get one from?

A The iconic plum depicted in Asian art is either Prunus mume, commonly called the Japanese apricot, or P. salicina, the Japanese plum. Both are better adapted to our climate than European plums and are less prone to diseases. A Japanese apricot variety named W.B. Clarke is a weeping form with double pink flowers in late winter. Bridal Veil is less strongly weeping, with white flowers, available from Camellia Forest Nursery (919-968-0504, http://www.camforest.com). All Japanese apricots have wonderfully fragrant flowers. The fruits are fuzzy yellow and edible but with less flavor than standard apricots. They are pickled to make the umeboshi that are part of most Japanese meals.

The Japanese plum is one of the parents of the Santa Rosa plum and its weeping form. Santa Rosa is susceptible to bacterial leaf spot, which mars the leaves with black angular lesions that drop out as the leaves grow, giving them a shot-hole appearance. Repeated infection during the growing season may lead to defoliation. This may limit its ornamental value in your garden.

If it is fruit you desire and you can give up the weeping habit, I would recommend one of the plums developed by Joe Norton at Auburn University in Alabama. They also have the Japanese plum as parents, are superbly adapted to heat and are the most disease-resistant of the plums. The varieties AU Rubrum, AU Producer and AU Rosa are available from Johnson Nursery (888-276-3187, http://www.johnsonnursery.com). You will still have to apply an insecticide against plum curculio when the first pink petal tissue becomes visible, and again when the petals are falling off the flowers, to get a good crop of fruit.

Scott Aker is a horticulturist at the U.S. National Arboretum.

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