Purple leaf plum, a medium-sized deciduous tree, is a popular showcase plant in landscapes. It is planted most often for its deep reddish-purple leaves and white to pale pink flowers, which are among the first to appear in spring. Although it is short-lived compared to other trees, it grows fast and is great for use as a specimen, street, or shade tree.
The scientific name for this species is Prunus cerasifera and it is a member of the Rosaceae family. Many of the stone fruits are part of the Prunus genus as well. It is also rather common for this plant to be used when cultivating hybrids, such as the purple leaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena).
The purple leaf plum goes by a variety of common names. If you see cherry plum, purple leaf plum, or myrobalan plum, it is almost certainly Prunus cerasifera.
USDA Hardiness Zones
Prunus cerasifera will have the best growth in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 4 through 9. It is originally from western Asia and southeastern Europe.
Size and Shape
Purple leaf plum grows to approximately 15 to 25 feet tall and wide at maturity and has a rounded shape.
If you decide to plant the purple leaf plum, choose a location with full sun. The leaves will turn green if you try to grow it in the shade.
Foliage, Flowers, and Fruit
The leaves of Prunus cerasifera are 1.5 to 3 inches long. Most cultivars sold at nurseries have the reddish-purple leaves, though there are ones with green foliage.
The tree's flowers are small, five-petaled, fragrant, and either white or pale pink. Purple leaf plum is one of the first trees to flower in the spring with the blossoms appearing even before the leaves are fully formed.
Although the fruits are small at only 1.25 inches, they are edible. These little gems can be yellow, purple, or red, depending on the cultivar. They can be eaten raw and are a nice choice for jams.
Purple leaf plum is a popular specimen tree for the yard. Since it does display strong color, it may be best to showcase only one instead of planting a group.
While it is a fairly fast-growing, this is a short-lived tree, with an average lifespan of 20 years.
The soil for your purple leaf plum should be well-drained. Acidic soil is preferred, though it can tolerate a wide variety of soils. However, it does not tolerate compacted soil or pollution, and will struggle in some urban conditions.
Propagation of this species is most often accomplished by taking cuttings but purple leaf plums can also be started from seeds or pits. Stem cuttings tend to be relatively successful and similar to hydrangea. If you start with a pit, it must first be cleaned. In cooler climates the cleaned pit can then be planted directly into the ground, about 3 inches deep and covered with mulch. In warmer climates the cleaned pit must first be cold stratified before planting in the ground. This can be accomplished by placing the pit in a plastic bag and refrigerating for about three months.
Maintenance and Pruning
If you do plant a purple leaf plum, be prepared to clean up the masses of fallen fruit that will appear each year.
Pruning should be done after flowering or you may accidentally remove flower buds and lessen the beautiful display of blossoms. Overall, this tree requires very little pruning except for regular maintenance of dead, damaged, or diseased branches.
Pests and Diseases
This species is prone to attacks by Japanese beetles, mealybugs, borers, tent caterpillars, and scales. It is also susceptible to leaf spot, gray mold, verticillium wilt, and cankers. A fall application of dormant oil followed by a second application in late winter or early spring prior to bloom may help prevent insect infestations and disease.