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What Is an Italian Plum?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 16, 2024
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An Italian plum or prune is a type of small fruit-bearing tree native to Europe. Also called fellenburg, the Italian plum is often planted by homeowners wishing to grow edible fruit on their property. The scientific, or botanical, name for this tree is Prunus domestica.

Reaching heights of 15–20 feet (4.6–6.1 m), full-grown Italian plum trees have a spread slightly wider than their height. Italian plum trees are drought tolerant and good in high heat and humidity environments. They generally need about six hours of full sunlight a day.

Late bloomers, Italian plum trees do not flower until late spring. Their flowers consist of numerous small white or pink blossoms which occur singly. They have dark green leaves.

Between three and five years after an Italian plum is planted, it will begin producing fruit. Each year afterward its fruit production will increase until it reaches its peak at about ten years. The tree will continue its maximum fruit production for five to ten years after it reaches its peak.

A stone fruit, the plum itself is round with deep purple skin and yellow-green flesh that surrounds a hard center pit. Plums are harvested in the autumn. Once harvested, they can be eaten raw and or used in baking or cooking.

The fresh fruit keeps best when refrigerated. Chilled fruit will stay fresh for approximately two to four weeks. If it needs to be kept for longer, it can be frozen or canned as well. Plums can also be dried, and unlike some fruits, Italian plums can be sun-dried with no danger of fermentation.

When planting from nursery stock, the saplings should be about 3–6 feet tall (0.9–1.8 m). These trees are planted in early spring in well drained, good quality soil and spaced 15–20 feet (4.6–6.1 m) apart. The first few years after planting, the trees should be fertilized each year, in early spring. Phosphorous fertilizers work best for young trees. Adult trees only need to be fertilized every few years.

Young trees also need to be trained, or pruned, annually to prevent them from developing an undesirable V-shaped truck, or V crotch. Training should always be done in the spring. Adult trees rarely need pruning.

Italian plum trees are susceptible to a variety of diseases and pests, including leafspot and European red mites. Black knot, brown rot, and plum curculio are also issues which affect these trees. Proper care and pruning is essential to prevent debilitating illness.

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Discussion Comments

By bagley79 — On Jan 02, 2012

@myharley - I have a couple mature Italian plum trees that bear a lot of fruit. I live in zone 8, but these trees were already planted in the yard before I moved here.

These trees have produced fruit every year, and there is more fruit than I know what to do with. Sometimes later in the summer, the ground under the trees is covered with fruit that has fallen.

I don't know how hardy these are and if they would survive in a colder climate or not. I have used some of the plums for baking in pies, tarts and jams.

When they are cooked, they turn a dark purple color and they always look nice in jar of jam or jelly.

By myharley — On Jan 01, 2012

I have some fruit trees on my property that includes apple and cherry trees. I have never tried to grow a plum tree and wonder what parts of the country they can be planted in.

Like most kinds of fruit, there are many different types of plum varieties and I would think the climate would play an important role in where you can plant an Italian plum tree.

I live in an area that gets very cold winters, so don't know if I would have the ideal conditions for growing a plum tree.

This is one of my favorite fruits though, and I would love to be able to grow my own and make some homemade plum jam.

By John57 — On Dec 31, 2011

I don't care much for plums when eaten alone, but when they are mixed in with some sugar in a dessert, that is a different story!

I have an Italian plum recipe that makes a delicious cobbler. This tastes like most other fruit cobblers, but you use Italian plums instead of other types of fruit. Sometimes I even mix in half plums and half pears or apples.

I love any kind of cobbler, but a plum cobbler is a nice change. Served warm from the oven with some ice cream or whipped cream, and plums have never tasted so good.

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