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Some of Rood’s older plum trees show there can be problems. This tree shows rootstock compatibility problems, and the bark cracks persistently, even when painted and several years old.

Some of Rood’s older plum trees show there can be problems. This tree shows rootstock compatibility problems, and the bark cracks persistently, even when painted and several years old.

Richard Lehnert

While Paul Rood is known in Michigan as the fruit grower with the pears, he thinks a real future for state growers lies in plums. He has grown plums for more than 30 years.

“I’m enthused about plums,” he said. “I can get sweet cherry prices for them, and they don’t crack when it rains. They yield as well as peaches, about 300 bushels per acre. And they don’t get fireblight.” They’re more precocious than pears, bearing a crop in four years.
Rood has planted, and still plants, European plums from a group released about 25 years ago from the Canadian breeding program at Vineland, Ontario, and which he planted as test varieties before they were released. The three plums are Vibrant, Vanette, and Voyageur. “I like Vibrant best,” he said.

These plums ripen in mid-July and early August and fit into the marketing niche just after strawberries and sweet cherries. “Because they don’t crack, I can leave them on the trees to get very sweet and pick them ­multiple times,” he said.

In July, Rood put in a new Vibrant planting using potted trees budded in early March and grown in the greenhouse until June. By July, the new trees were three feet tall. Greenhouse-grown trees in pots are a new offering from Matt Moser at Moser’s Nursery in nearby Coloma to save a year getting trees to bearing age, and Rood wanted to try it. He provided the budwood from his trees.

As with all fruit crops, experience is the best teacher, Rood says. Plums, he finds, do best with pollinizers. Stanley is mostly self-fertile, but the other European plums benefit from pollinizerss. Japanese plums and European plums are different species, so they can’t pollinate each other.

Many of Rood’s older plums have not reached full yield potential because of rootstock compatibility problems. Many trees have large trunks perched on roots much smaller in diameter.

His advice: “Use vigorous rootstocks like Myrobalan, which set the trees up to grow fast. Then space them widely enough to get good air flow so they dry out and don’t stay dewy all morning. Brown rot is a problem with plums.”

While Rood has closely watched the development of dwarfing rootstocks in apples for some 60 years and witnessed the move to high-density plantings, he has stayed with wider spacings and more vigorous rootstocks, like Malling 7 for his apples. “The payback for high density is very slow in pears and reasonably slow in apples,” he said.

Roods sits on the Michigan Plum Advisory Board and works with other growers to find better varieties and better practices and to advance commercial prospects by increasing crop volumes and the packing and marketing infrastructure that go with it.

Rood is pleased with the plums. “Anyone wanting to see these new plum varieties as they ripen can come and see them,” Rood said.