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I Planted A Burbank Elephant Heart Plum Tree Three Years…

John Asked

I planted a Burbank Elephant Heart plum tree three years ago. Last summer all the leaves shriveled up and fell off. I thought the poor tree was dead, but I left it. This spring I got lots of new leaves and blossoms but one week ago again all the leaves shriveled up and fell off. Any ideas?

The Gardener’s Answer

Hello John: ‘Elephant Heart’ plum (Prunus salicina) is a Japanese variety that was developed by Luther Burbank. It produces larger fruit than the European varieties and typically matures earlier. For gardeners in Kentucky we cannot grow this fruiting plum because of our climate and soil conditions. In Utah it may be a popular variety for home gardeners. From what you have described it sounds like your plum is infected with a fungal leaf problem. As far as a specific one I cannot say without seeing your tree. The best thing to do is have a certified arborist come out and take a look or take a sample to your County Cooperative Extension Service. The horticulture agent should be able to diagnosis it for you. Fungal diseases can over-winter on dead or decaying plant material that is left on the ground. This is why cleanup is essential throughout the year. Controlling fungal problems is done by applying fungicides on a regular spray schedule. Fungicides are preventive, not curative, so they will not be effective on the existing fungus but it will help prevent future spread. Fungicides are by no means organic and spraying them on a plum that is intended for consumption is a decision you will have to make. Japanese varieties are susceptible to many insect and disease problems, especially when they are not given the ideal growing conditions they need to thrive. For now clean up all the foliage that has fallen and get someone to diagnose the problem. In severe cases like yours it is sometimes best to replace the tree with one that is better suited for your growing conditions. You can visit the Utah County Extension Service Web site at
or contact them directly at (801) 851-8460. They will be able to help in terms of diagnosis as well as providing information on replacement suggestions.

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