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Pluot Tree: Delicious Interspecific Hybrids

If you love the taste of plums and apricots, you may be thrilled to know there is such a thing as a pluot tree. Pluots are a hybrid of plums and apricot fruit trees that were developed by Floyd Zaiger, a renowned botanist. By crossing other hybrids and hand pollinating various fruit trees, Floyd brought the pluot into existence. 

Thanks to Floyd, you can practice gardening pluots in their gardens. Many people eagerly await pluot season to enjoy Flavor King, Flavor Supreme, Flavor Queen, or semi-dwarf Dapple Dandy pluot. Most commonly, pluots are grown in areas that have distinct winters, but you will probably find the fruit of pluots in stores while they’re in season.

If you want to have the incredible sweetness of pluots in the early summer, keep reading! Pluots are exceptional, but require the same care as a plum tree. If you have experience with different types of plum trees, you know you can tackle caring for pluot trees. Even with no experience, it’s possible to grow one to fruition.

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Quick Care Guide

Pluot tree
The pluot tree is a fascinating hybridized species. Source: laderafrutal
Common Name(s)Pluots
Scientific NamePrunus spp.
Days to Harvest90 to 120 days
LightFull sun
Water1 to 2 inches per week
SoilWell-draining, sandy loam
FertilizerFull-spectrum, balanced, slow-release twice per year
PestsJapanese beetles, mites, plum curculio, aphids
DiseasesPlum pocket, brown rot, bacterial canker, and leaf spot

All About The Pluot Tree

Pluots on tree
Flavor Grenade and other similar cultivars can look like plums from the outside. Source: malfet

Pluots grow much like plums, on small trees that reach 16 to 36 feet tall and spread up to 10 feet wide without pruning. They are perennials with shallow roots. Pluots have oblong green leaves with a pointed tip, while some varieties have purple leaves. In the spring season, clusters of flower buds sprout from tree branches. Then, attractive pink to white four-petaled flowers bloom. In 3 to 4 months, trees set fruit in the fall season. Most pluots don’t produce until the third or fourth year of growth, so those who choose to grow them in their garden should know they are in for the long haul.  

Pluots do not self-pollinate, and most varieties need a second tree to produce fruit in late summer. Choose trees that have a pollination match for what you want to produce. For instance, a Flavor Grenade pollinates with another Flavor Grenade. Alternately, grow a Flavor Grenade with its direct ancestor, Inca Plum because it is successful in cross-pollination with the “child” variety. Santa Rosa plum plants cross-pollinate with certain pluots as well. With these, you’ll need to grow two trees at once or to grow a multi-grafted tree of four varieties that will automatically self-pollinate. 

Today, pluots in season are popular at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. The fruit is about the size of large apricot fruit, plum-like, and has smooth skin. Depending on the variety, the flesh of the fruit is red to yellow. The skin is dark purple, red, or yellow. There are many variations. The taste and flavor of the fruit is intensely sweet and somewhat tangy. People enjoy them fresh, in jams and jellies, and cobblers and pies during their season. 

A Short Introduction To Interspecific Fruit

The pluot tree is a member of the Prunus genus, hybridized from two other Prunus species. Pluots, therefore, are related to a variety of other fun hybrids such as plumcots, apriums, or apriplums. Pluots and apriums tend to be more dominated by plum or apricot respectively, whereas plumcots are a true 50/50 hybrid of the two. 

Floyd Zaiger, a famous botanist who specialized in hand-pollinating and hybridizing stone fruit, crossed a plumcot with a Japanese plum. And voila! We have the delectable pluot with its apricot-tinged, plumlike flesh, and sweet taste. Floyd spent years experimenting to produce pluot varieties that are unique and incredible. Now we thank him for Flavor King, Flavor Queen, and Flavor Supreme pluot. We also have him to thank for the semi-dwarf Dapple Dandy pluots people love so much. Other varieties like Splash pluots have yellow skin and a delicious flavor. Many people seek out Splash pluots for their use in desserts.

Pluots are just one of many interspecific fruit or hybrids of different fruit tree species. In this case, we’re talking about the stone fruit type, or cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots. Plumcots are a direct mix of an apricot tree and a Japanese plum tree. Japanese plum is often used as the rootstock for grafts of pluot branches as a result, as it’s a well-established species and is resilient to a lot of problems plums and pluots often suffer.

Pluots are more plum-dominant than plumcots. Some pluerries are a hybrid of Burgundy plum or Santa Rosa plums and cherry trees, as Santa Rosa plum trees are known for their sweet and slightly tart flavor. There are many other blends, such as nectaplums, peachcots, and so on.  In fact, there are trees that have branches grafted from many different hybridized species to create self-fruitful “fruit cocktail” style trees! The key to hybridizing is to include both grafting and hand-pollination, techniques that enabled Floyd Zaiger to create the pluot varieties we know and love today. And, going forward, new varieties will continue to appear!

Planting

Once you’ve located and acquired bare root fruit trees from a nursery, select a site that is in full sun with well-draining soil. Plant your trees in the late winter season or early spring season during dormancy. Ensure the space is out of high winds. Space trees at least 18 feet apart. Soak the root zone of the trees in water for 1 to 2 hours before planting. 

Dig a hole 18 inches deep and wide, breaking up any compacted soil in the process. Prune the trees back to 30 inches tall at planting, focusing on cutting side branches back to 3 to 4 buds. Place the tree in the hole so the root zone sits naturally with the bud union 2 inches above the soil. Fill the soil back into the hole, tamping it down as you go to remove any air pockets. Water in the newly planted trees, and ensure the bud union is still 2 inches above the ground. Mound the soil around the base and add a few inches of mulch, with space between it and the trunk.

Care

Flavor King pluot
The Flavor King cultivar is a popular and well-known one. Source: laderafrutal

Once your Flavor King or other pluot types are planted, you have a few years to go until they produce. Between planting and fruiting, there’s gardening to be done! Let’s discuss the basic needs of your pluots.

Sun and Temperature

Pluots prefer full sunlight with at least 6 hours of direct light per day. They grow best in USDA zones 6 through 9. The reason they don’t grow well in the subtropics is that they need at least 400 chill hours between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Those in zone 10 and above will have more luck gardening plum or apricot suited to their area. Someone in northern California might have more luck growing pluots than someone in southern California, depending on the specific cultivar. Pluots thrive in temperate seasons. 

To ensure young trees don’t suffer cold damage, plant them with a tree wrap to keep them warm in cold below 32 degrees. Bud drop occurs in excessive cold and fruit drop occurs in excessive heat. In high heat areas, provide some shade in the late afternoon. 

Water and Humidity

Start by feeding your pluots’ roots 3 to 4 gallons of water once per week in the first year of growth. Use drip irrigation or use soaker hoses in the morning to provide water early in the day, and then in the afternoon in high heat or during fruiting in mid-June to promote a full sweet flavor. Pluots need 1 to 2 inches of water per week just like apricot. Ensure the top 24 inches of soil are moist, but not waterlogged. When it’s rainy, watering may not be necessary. 

Soil

Sandy or loamy soil that is well-draining supports pluots. The optimal pH range is 5.5 to 6.5. Amend with agricultural sand and basic garden soil before planting if necessary. If the soil is acidic, add some pelletized limestone. This raises soil pH. Pluots handle poor soils as long as they are well-draining. They have a better flavor with amendments. 

Fertilizing

Pluots benefit from a full-spectrum, balanced, slow-release fertilizer twice per year. In March, apply one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per year of growth in the drip line around the base of the tree, keeping it away from the trunk. Apply again in August. Newly planted trees benefit from a ½ cup of calcium nitrate fertilizer applied in mid-June.

Pruning

In the first year, the tree can be pruned to 28 to 36 inches tall in the winter season or early spring season when the tree is dormant. In subsequent years, prune branches around an upright central leader branch. Leave a few evenly spaced branches around the central leader to promote an open center. Remove diseased or damaged branches and suckers annually. In the 3rd and 4th years, prune above the buds to 18 inches. In the following maintenance years, prune branches to maintain the desired shape, so they don’t cross one another. Remove damaged or overcrowded fruits to prevent disease in the fruiting season and help others grow into a delectable flavor. In the fall season, the leaves turn yellow and drop naturally. 

Propagation

Grafting in the late winter season through the early summer season is the best method for propagating pluots, as growing from seeds isn’t reliable. It’s possible to create self-fruitful hybrid pluots with four different varieties grafted onto one tree. These include any stone fruits (like apricots) that you’ve selected for their sweet flavor, but they should be varieties that are known to cross-pollinate with your other chosen grafts. 

Graft your pluots in the second year of growth. In the late winter season, prune scion branches growing from the current year’s growth. Cut those at 2 feet long with ample buds where flowers will grow. Pluots require each of the scions to be lined up with the grafting plant cambium. Remove the bottom 2 inches of bark on each scion and cut them at a 45-degree angle. Prune off four healthy branches on your grafting rootstock so each scion can be attached at matching 45-degree angles. Line up the two branches and use some gardener’s tape to affix each scion to the new tree. In 4 to 8 weeks, in spring, new growth is a sign the graft was successful. 

Harvesting and Storing

A bushel of pluots
Pluots can come in many different colors and sizes. Source: dolanh

When these plants flower, that’s a sign it’s time to bring that delicious sweet flavor from these plants into your home. And the payoff is so sweet. Let’s talk about harvesting your pluots and storing them to access that sweet flavor all year round.

Harvesting

Test for ripeness by gently grasping a pluot and pushing up. It should have a firm texture and dark skin (or, if it’s a light-colored variety, should be the color it’s meant to be). You can pick them early to ripen them indoors. If they come off the plants easily, they’re firm, and they smell sweet, that’s a sign they’re ready. 

You can harvest them from the ground, too. If most of your sweet, firm pluots are still on the plants, shake a branch to catch them in a tarp, or use a pole picker to bring the sweet fruit into your kitchen for storage. A step stool or an extending picker pole helps you to access higher fruit. Once you’ve picked them, sort out damaged ones. 

Storing

Dapple Dandy and Flavor Grenade pluots have excellent storability and keep 2 weeks on average if they are picked when they’re slightly underripe and their skin is dark yellow. Other varieties keep their sweet flavor at room temperature for 3 days. In the refrigerator, they keep for 1 week. Cut and pitted fruit keeps for 8 to 12 months in the freezer in freezer bags. Pluots dried in a dehydrator and stored in airtight containers keep for 3 months at room temperature and 1 year in the refrigerator. Preserved pluots in jams or jellies keep for 2 years. 

Troubleshooting

Splash pluot
Splash is a popular light-colored variety of pluot. Source: laderafrutal

As you make it to fruiting season, you may run into some issues. Let’s talk about each sign to look for when troubleshooting with pluots. 

Growing Problems

Pluots can get stressed in situations where the roots are waterlogged too long in a rainy season. Ensure good drainage is present, and waterlogging doesn’t occur by watering only enough to keep the top 2 feet moist. 

Similarly, the leaves will yellow and prematurely drop in high heat without adequate water, so don’t underwater!

If crowded pluots are not removed to allow others to grow, this could cause dark lesions on the skin, or the fruit to remain yellow and not ripen as easily. This can also cause other skin abrasions. Protect the skin by removing overcrowded pluots. 

Ensure pruning of your pluots is correct and doesn’t overtax the tree. Never take more than ¼ of the branches in a season.

Pests

You’ll see the green metallic bodies of Japanese beetles congregating on pluots. They skeletonize leaves to the point of defoliation. Handpick them, and drown them in a solution of soapy water. Apply neem oil diluted in water to the entire tree in the morning, as long as it isn’t flowering. Pyrethrin sprays can be used in conjunction to keep further infestations away, and milky spore powder may be an effective preventative measure against their grubs.

Spider mites and aphids feed on the sap of your pluots leaving behind yellow stippling as they go. They feed on the pluot’s skin too. To remove them, start with a strong stream of water from a hose. Introduce predatory mites, lacewings, or ladybugs to take the remaining mites or aphids out. Neem oil or insecticidal soap are also effective.

Plum curculio is found on pluots east of the Rocky Mountains. These small beetles leave crescent-shaped lesions in the skin of pluots as they lay eggs within. If yellow unripe fruit drop from trees prematurely, look for curculio. Remove them by spreading a sheet below trees and shaking them from the branches. Neem oil or pyrethrin works against these snout beetles. Remove debris and fallen produce under the tree to prevent their return. 

Diseases

Plum pocket is a fungal disease that also affects apricot and appears on the skin of pluots. It starts as a blister and causes fruit to swell on the plant and become spongy. Remove the fruit from the plant before sporification occurs. Use Bordeaux mixture, a type of copper fungicide, in the post-harvest interval to prevent further infection. Spray any other trees with the same mixture, like nearby apricot or plum trees.

Another fungal disease to look out for is brown rot, which appears as wilted, sappy flowers and dark sunken spots on fruit. Remove damaged fruit and blooms immediately and dispose of them in the trash. Spray the tree with sulfur spray in the spring just before bud break. If the infection does not leave over time, remove the entire plant.

Bacterial canker is caused by Psuedomonas bacteria. This disease creates sunken patches of dead bark on the branches and trunk and small holes in leaves. The dead bark can develop gummosis, or weeping, sticky blobs of sap. This bacterial disease is not treatable, so it’s essential to prevent it instead. Check with your local agricultural extension for the ideal timing in your area to prune, and only prune your plutos then, as this reduces the likelihood of bacterial infection.

Bacterial leaf spot is caused by another pathogenic bacteria, Xanthomonas. Sometimes called bacterial shot-hole or bacteriosis, it causes small yellow spots on leaves that eventually collapse, leaving shot-hole patterns in the leaves. It can also damage the produce, leading to sunken spots that crack as the fruits swell. Copper fungicide can be used for prevention, but once infected, damaged material should be removed and disposed of. Do not compost infected fruit to prevent bacterial spread.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pluot blossoms
Pluot blossoms are very pretty in the spring. Source: crumj

Q: Are pluot trees self-pollinating?

A: Those with 4 varieties grafted to one tree usually are, but single-variety trees need a second one for cross-pollination.

Q: Are pluots easy to grow?

A: Just as easy as a plum tree!

Q: How tall does a pluot tree grow?

A: Roughly 20 feet tall, but they can be kept at heights of 10-12 feet if regularly maintained.

Q: Can you grow pluots from seed?

A: It’s not the most reliable method and has spotty results, so we don’t recommend it.


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