The last thing you need is any more dirt tracked into the house on the bottom of little feet, especially if the debris is sticky, juicy and purplish-red. When you see that eye-catching Newport plum tree (Prunus cerasifera “Newportii”) in the nursery -- and can clearly imagine its deep purple leaves gracing your own landscape -- it's time to weigh just how messy the tree could possibly be. If you garden in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8 where the tree is hardy, you may also hear it referred to as a Newport cherry plum or purple-leaf plum.
1. Fallen Fruit
Flowering plum tree cultivars range from the heavy fruit producers to those that have been bred to bear no fruit at all. The Newport plum, in the middle of that range, is favored for the ornamental drama of its purple foliage and pink spring-blooming flowers rather than the small amount of fruit it has. About the size of plump cherries or petite plums, the purple fruit falls from the branches when it ripens in the summer. Left to linger on the ground, the fairly firm plums can get gummy and squishy -- just the right consistencies to stick to the soles of shoes or make a gooey splat on the patio.
2. Leaves and Twigs
In the autumn, the Newport plum's reddish-purple leaves turn a deeper shade of purple with a touch of bronze, accenting the reds and golds of your garden's fall colors. When they drop, the leaves form a dark carpet on the ground under the tree, giving the landscape an extra layer of visual interest. The serene look can quickly turn disheveled and messy, though, with seasonal wind gusts and rain showers. Newport plum's branches are sturdy and resistant to breakage, but they do have thorns, so ensure that any twigs or branches that might fall are picked up before kids get hold of them and poke their little hands.
3. Location, Location, Location
Growing up to 20 feet high with a low canopy that spreads about 15 feet, Newport plum offers dappled shade for patios and decks, but plant this ornamental far enough away so the fruit doesn't fall on the hardscape surfaces where it can cause dirty splotches and stains. Combined with evergreen shrubs and light green trees, Newport plum is ideal for a group planting at the far end of the yard or in a border where the fruit and leaves won't fall on the lawn where kids and pets play. Avoid planting this decorative tree beside city sidewalks, your driveway or near the street where the fruit can make a sticky mess on vehicle windshields and paint jobs.
4. Tips and Tools
Tidying up under the tree during the time when the fruit falls and later when the leaves fall may be a fair trade-off for gardeners who love the richly colored foliage, pink springtime flowers and visual texture that Newport plum trees bring to the landscape. Sweep dropped fruit off of wood, concrete and stone surfaces with a stiff broom before the little plums get crushed underfoot. Use a leaf rake with sturdy, flexible tines to remove fruit and fallen leaves from the lawn. Older children may enjoy gathering the ripe fruit for a novel snack, but be careful if there are little kids in the crew -- Newport plums have small pits that are a choking hazard for young children and toddlers.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Prunus Cerasifera “Newportii”: Newport Cherry Plum
- Cal Poly, Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: Newport Purple-Leaf Plum
- The New Sunset Western Gardening Book; Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
- Ask Dr. Sears: Chokable Foods
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Prunus Cerasifera 'Newport'
- Nick Daly/Photodisc/Getty Images