Monday, May 31, 2010
Using the Native Indian Plum in My Forest Garden
The Indian Plum(or Osoberry, an older name)has been an old friend to me along my life here in the Pacific Northwest. When it pushes out its tassels of white flowers in February, that means Spring is FINALLY unleashed. Its sprawling form with upright shoots of new leaves glow like candleflames in candelabras, lighting up the end of grey Winter.
The Indian Plum(Oemleria cerasiformis) is a shrub or small tree that grows under the taller firs and maples of the forest, and is usually most happy towards the edges where there is a bit more sun. Male and female flowers are on separate trees, so only the female trees bear fruit--which are hard to catch because the birds are right on the ripe little 1/2" plums and gobble them up.
I thought the upright "whippy" form would be a great small fruiting tree in my forest garden structure. It would provide a filtered shade, as well as support for pole beans or peas. In the photo above is an Indian Plum I transplanted from the woods when it was about 12" tall. It's been in that spot for 5 years, so you can see it grows fairly fast. It really took off in the 3rd year, after establishing roots underground after transplanting. The deer have trimmed the bottom half of the tree, keeping it leaf free and "airy".
I've transplanted some small Indian Plums into my vegetable garden beds as well. They are still small, making roots. I'll do what the deer did and prune them a little to keep them airy. Although the trees don't get that bushy anyways--it would take intentional pruning to make them bushy and dense.
If you are digging up saplings from the forest it's the luck of the draw whether you get male or female trees. Again, go for 12" or shorter saplings. Above are the plums from the tree in the first photo--which you can also see a smaller Indian Plum tree to the right, which is a male. They do indeed taste plummy. I LOVE the glowing orange of the ripening plums, which turn the deep plum purple when ripe. There are several baby trees sprouting under this one, so it self seeds/germinates fairly easily. This particular tree(the female) gets full morning sun, and full afternoon shade. It does not need extra water in the summer(though of course new transplants will, keep them well watered the first year).
If you want to harvest the plums, you will HAVE TO net the tree(thinking about crocheting a net...). The birds are voracious on the plums(good for the birds though!). They snatch these at the cusp of ripe perfection, so you'd better be paying better attention than the birds!
I'm keeping my fingers crossed I have females in my forest garden. But males are welcome too--for their cooling canopy and structure for beans.