To most gardeners, the idea of a winter blooming fruit tree is unknown. But to the knowledgeable landscape archtects, contractors, and well versed gardeners, the qualities of Prunus mume are well known and cherished for their winter blooms and wonderful fragrance. Here I will describe the merits of this little known tree. It is relatively unknown (and for no good reason) other than the fact that most people do not go to a garden center/nursery at this time of year to see what is in bloom. Prunus mume is an ancient cultivated plant in the Orient, but not so well known outside Asian communities or the knowledgeable plants person. it is a small growing tree of the rose family. It’s relatives are the plums, apricots, peaches, cherries, etc. It has the distinction of being the first flowering fruit tree, with blooms often opening while snow is still on the ground. It can be very long lived(several hundred years is not uncommon) and many a bonsai fancier has seen this species trained in a dwarfed style. The tree is vigorously growing when well suited culturally. It likes a warm, sunny position, regular pruning to maintain the vigor of the branches, and well drained fertile soil. Flowers are small but profuse and they have the wonderful quality of being scented, a wonderful thing to enjoy in the winter landscape! Flower color varies from white, pinks, and reds. There are single and double bloomers. The growth habit is usually upright, but there are weeping forms and a rare contorted form(Ko ten Bai). There are very rare variegated stem forms as well. Young branches are rich green, as they age, they turn to an almost black, very dark bark color, which contrasts nicely with the blossoms. If they fruit, those fruits are similar to apricots or plums, hence the Japanese flowering apricot/ plum common names. The fragrance is superb! Clean and spicy, vaguely reminiscent of carnations, but not quite.
Hundreds of cvs. exist in Japan and China, but so many are similar, it is difficult to tell them apart, even among the very knowledgebale. (If you have only several stamens which differentiate the cvs. how are you going to be able to identify the cultivar?)
So here in the USA, they are often sold by colors (if single flowered) or fruiting characterisitics, or plant habit(weeping or upright)
There are a small group of hybrids available which are named, but you have to request them to be ordered from your local nursery, or else you will never have the chance to grow them in your own garden(and miss out on the wonderful display and fragrance!)
Regular fertilizer is appreciated if your soil is poor and a warm summer and fall will ripen the growth so the next year’s bloom will be profuse.