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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - July 20, 2005

From: Georgetown, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Delay in fruiting of Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana)
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Dear experts, My wife and i are members of your fine organization. Several years ago we bought four things at a spring plant sale for an understory spot in our yard. The Possumhaw Holly, American Beautyberry, and Texas Redbud are doing great. So is the Mexican Plum, but it hasn't flowered or born fruit yet. The plum tree was four feet tall when we first planted it and now it is 8-10 ft and thick with branches and leaves. We have positively id-ed it in Neil Sperry's big book. It gets morning shade and some afternoon sun while it has leaves and mostly full sun in the winter. Can you help us figure out why it doesn't bear fruit?

ANSWER:

Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) typically waits until it's pretty good sized before it begins to bear fruit. Plants are normally in one of three states at any one time: dormant, as in winter; vegetative, as when the plant is producing new growth; and reproductive, as when the plant is flowering and setting fruit. Fruit and nut trees often stay in the vegetative state for years before reaching "maturity" and beginning to reproduce.

Your plant has grown fast, which is a good indication that it has stayed vegetative. Plants often respond to stress, environmental, physical, etc., by trying to reproduce. It sounds like your plum tree has not experienced much stress and is putting all of its energy into growth. That's a good thing. Without intervention, your tree is likely to begin flowering and setting fruit in the next year or two or three.

One other possible factor is the tree's location. If it is getting too much shade, it may not flower for a while and may not flower much when it does. Nearly all fruit trees require a lot of sun to flower and set fruit. Mexican plum is no exception.
 

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