Beginnings of an orchard

Hubby works for a pretty environmentally progressive company, and to celebrate Arbor Day this month, they raffled off nearly 1000 seedlings. Winners (including Brad) had their choice of a Shumard Oak or a Chickasaw Plum. Want to guess which one made it to the wee homestead?

That’s right, we’ve officially got our first tree for the orchard. Prunus angustifolia, a fruit-bearing variety native to North America, has the distinction of having been cultivated by Native Americans. While exploring the Southeast in the late 18th century, William Bartram observed that “he never saw the Chickasaw plum wild in the forests but always in old deserted Indian plantations.” It grows wild in places like New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, so he hypothesized the Chickasaw Indians must have brought transplants home from the west.

Embarrassed to say I’ve never heard of this tree, but am suddenly quite excited about growing it.

According to the USDA, Chickasaw plums range from 14 to 25 feet tall, and small, white flowers appear in March or April. The fruit, which is apparently pretty tart, ripens from June to August. Even if it’s too tart to eat right off the tree, I bet it’ll make great jelly and preserves.

Added bonus: lots of critters, including brown thrashers and gray catbirds, use it for cover.

It’s perennial, evergreen, drought-tolerant, and low-maintenance. It thrives in dry, sandy soil or loamy clay, and it’s fine with full sunlight or partial shade. This might just be the perfect tree. 

The only problem is we’re not putting trees in the ground until November, after growing a season of cover crops. So its home will have to be a planter for the next several months. Hopefully it won’t mind.

We’ll keep you guys updated on its progress once the plum is in the orchard.

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