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Plants from the Ground Up

Prunus Mume—A Winter Wonder


Japanese Flowering Apricot is, perhaps, my favorite of all flowering trees. Prunus mume are among the very first things to awaken when spring is coming, in fact they do not wait until spring and burst open into full flower as early as January. In China this characteristic has earned it a place in the “Three Friends of Winter” along with Bamboo and Pine. The blooms range in shades of pinks, reds and white and have a distinct spicy fragrance reminiscent of sweet cloves. I consider it a treat to walk down to my trees just to inhale their wonderful scent. Those folks lucky enough to escape spring frosts will also have the added bonus of beautiful small plums used in Japan for making Plum wine and umeboshi plums. In most climates, all or most of the fruit is lost to the late spring frosts. The green leaves emerge with pink tints and then deepen to medium green—they are arranged alternately on warm brown limbs. Prunus mume fall color is a soft yellow.


It is curious to me that they are known as Japanese Flowering Plums as they are native to the Yangtze river area of China. In the wild they grow in thickets along streams, forested slopes and woodland edges. They were introduced to Japan and Korea and have been in cultivation for over 1500 years with 300 known cultivars. In Japan they have become known as a symbol of spring and all parts of the tree are used extensively in Ikebana, a type of Japanese flower arranging. They are relatively unknown in Western gardens and may have remained unknown without the help of JC Raulston; his love for these trees was passed on to many of his students, who helped bring them to the attention of Western horticulture.


These trees are small, growing to only 16-20′, this makes them a perfect addition to gardens of any size—I have also seen them doing well in very large pots. They thrive in average garden soils with medium moisture, but require good drainage, wet feet will stunt the tree if not kill it. Ume plums flower on the previous years wood and should be pruned after flowering. The straight species can be grown from seed, but for cultivars to be true they must be grafted or grown from cuttings.

Umeboshi plums are a delicious brined Ume plum and the brine is also used for cooking. If you would like to try making Umeshu a Japanese liquor:


30-40 unblemished Ume plums

1 kilo of Rock sugar

1 750ml bottle of vodka

3 quart jars

In the jars alternate layers of plums and sugar, when the jars are full pour in enough vodka to cover the fruit and sugar. Seal jars and store in a cool dark place. The Umeshu is ready in 3 months, but tastes even better after a year.

For a complete selection of Prunus mume and available sizes, see Prunus mume at the Forestfarm Store.

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