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When Is the Right Time To Pick Plums?

Closeup of plums that look ripe, but how do you know if this is the right time to pick plums?
These plums are beautiful, but are they fully ripe? Is this the right time to pick plums?

Sweet, gorgeous plums are easy to grow and are exceptionally rewarding come harvest time. These versatile fruits can be eaten fresh from your plum tree or used in any number of culinary ventures. It’s no surprise that plum trees are such popular additions to the garden.

If you have already grown a flourishing tree and you’re wondering “When is the right time to pick plums?” then you’ve come to the right place. This article will guide you in recognizing when your plums are ripe, how to harvest them, and how to preserve them for later use.  

When Are Plums Ripe?

There’s nothing quite like the sight of a plum tree flush with fruit. This is, after all, what you’ve been waiting for since the first show of your plum tree’s blooms. Fruits generally follow within 3 to 4 months of flowers.

That being said, and depending on the type of plum, trees are ready to harvest anywhere from late June to early August. Yet, given this broad timeframe, it’s easier to identify when to pick plums by paying attention to the following factors, namely, taste, smell, feel, and color.

Tasting for Ripeness

Tasting your plums is a surefire way to determine if they are ripe and ready to be picked. Grab a fruit from your tree, wash it, and give it a bite. Ripe plums are sweet and juicy, whereas unripe plums lack sweetness and have firmer flesh.

Sniff Test

Woman smelling dark-colored plums on a tree.  A plum's scent is a clue to let you know when the right time to pick plums has arrived.
Smelling plums can tell you how ripe they are.

A ripe plum emits a fresh, fruity, and sweet aroma, whereas an unripe fruit does not. If you’re not sure if it’s time to pick your plums, give your fruit a sniff.

Applying Gentle Pressure

You can usually tell if a plum is ripe if its flesh gives when you apply gentle finger pressure to the area closest to its stem. Ripe fruits are heavier in feel, and their flesh is soft. However, skin that’s too soft may indicate overripened fruits.

Color Cues

Different varieties of plums ripen to different colors, so this isn’t always the most efficient way of checking for readiness. Greengage plums, for example, mature to a rich green, whereas Japanese plums are a sunny yellow plum and French plums a bright violet-blue.

If you know what skin color to expect from your ripe plums, keep an eye out for when they change in hue. If not, err on the side of taste, smell, and feel.

It is also beneficial to learn as much about your chosen cultivar as possible to best equip yourself for their harvest. For example, American plums and European varieties should be harvested when their flesh is soft to the touch, whereas Japanese varieties fare better when picked slightly before ripening. Learning this kind of information will guide you when it comes to picking your crop.

Basket of yellow plums.  Because plums come in a variety colors, the fruit color can be misleading about when the right time is to pick plums.
Yellow plums look very different when ripe compared to other plum varieties.

Tips on Harvesting Plums

Harvesting plums can be nerve-wracking as they are rather delicate fruits. However, it is good for your trees to regularly and consistently pick their fruit throughout the plum seasons, as this encourages plant vigor and health. Excess fruit should be removed to avoid unnecessary use of the plant’s energy.

There are several ways to harvest plums to ensure you get the most out of your tree while still maintaining the integrity of your plum fruit.

Harvesting by Hand

A closeup of hands picking plums.  In addition to knowing when the right time to pick plums is knowing the right way to pick them so your efforts aren't in vain.
Along with knowing the right time to pick plums is knowing the right way to pick them.

While this can be time-consuming, it is ideal for home-growers who regularly harvest their fruit trees and is the safest way to pick plums. To hand harvest, first identify bushels of ripe plums. Then, with a slight twist to snap off the stem, gently remove soft fruit by pressing upwards with the plum cupped in your hand.

Stubborn plums may need a bit more coercing. Hold the plum in one hand while tugging the stem away from the branch with the other. Make sure you don’t pull the stem out of the plum, as this will leave the fruit damaged.

Harvesting With a Pole Pick

For those hard-to-reach plums situated on your tree’s highest branches, you may want to consider investing in a fruit pole pick. This clever device comprises a (usually extendable) pole and a catchment net attached to metal or plastic “teeth” structures.

To use this device, identify a ripe fruit and carefully maneuver the pick so that the stem is between two of the device’s teeth. Applying slight pressure downward should pop the ripe plum right off its branch, landing it in the pick’s net.

When harvesting via this method, just make sure not to overcrowd the catchment net, as this can lead to unnecessary bruising. Also, be careful not to knock and bump nearby fruit.

How to Harvest Large Amounts of Plums

If you’re lucky enough to have a few plum trees or a particularly large crop, you may want to harvest a large number of plums in a short space of time. One way to do this is to shake the plums from your tree and catch them as they fall in a sheet or light tarp.

To begin, assemble some friends or family beneath a fruit-laden branch, each holding a corner of a sheet or tarp so that it is not touching the ground. Then, gently shake the branch, allowing ripe fruit to fall into the catchment area. Remove these fruits from the sheet before moving to the next area.

This method also works well for fruits that are hard to reach. However, it is important to get your aim right, as you don’t want to risk wasting your plums by letting them get hurt on the ground.

Preserving Plums After Harvesting

A jar of plum jam and whole plums around it.

Ripe plums do not keep for very long but can survive in the fridge for up to a week after they have been harvested from your garden. At room temperature, they will only last about 1 to 3 days. Needless to say, a great way to preserve these fruits is to turn them into plum jam, chutneys, jellies, and marmalades or use them in your cooking ventures. While you might always think of sweet recipes for plums, they pair beautifully with pork for a savory dish like this one.

These gorgeous fruits have a relatively high sugar content, making them a great choice for sweet preserves and delicious desserts. Some exceptional plum recipes include homemade plum sauce, rustic plum tart, warm plum crisp, and irresistible honey-roasted plum ice cream.

Flavor profiles that complement plums include cinnamon, ginger, honey, lemon, sesame, and other stone fruits like cherries and peaches.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I store plums?

A: You can store plums at room temperature if they are not fully ripe. Once ripened, plums should be kept in the fridge. You can also cut up your plums and remove the pips, keeping them in an airtight container for snacking.

Q: When should I plant plum trees?

A: Plum trees fare best if planted in the early spring or late winter – as long as they are in a dormant phase. This allows them to focus their energy on new growth as they exit dormancy in later spring and summer.

If growing a plum tree sounds like it’s something you want to try, visit this link for plum trees you can buy.

Q: How often should I water my plum tree?

A: Plums trees should be watered regularly, particularly when they are still young. In areas where rain is scarce, it is advisable to water plum trees deeply whenever the soil near the soil line dries out.

So…When Is the Right Time To Pick Plums?

A basket of red-colored plums.  The reward for knowing the right time to pick plums is a harvest of delicious fruit to enjoy.
The reward for knowing when is the right time to pick plums — ripe, juicy fruit.

Late summer signals the start of the plum season, and it’s a beautiful time of year if you’re the proud plant parent of a plum tree or two. While different varieties of plums have different harvesting times, there are always a few key factors to look out for when readying yourself to pick your crop.

Color, taste, feel, and smell will let you know that your plums are ready. From there, you can start deciding what to do with your glorious harvest.

For more information about plums, including recipes, click here.

If you have tips or questions about harvesting plums, feel free to leave a comment below.