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In early July I had the opportunity to visit several beach plum plantings at farms in the Cape Cod area. Below you will find my observations and comments:
I visited two first year plantings, two-second year plantings and one established planting. They contain various management techniques: irrigation with wastewater, inter-cropping with grapes, irrigation vs. no irrigation, weed control with mulch vs. herbicide, as well as plant selection trials. As beach plum is a new crop it is desirable to evaluate it under different systems. In the future these new plantings will provide this region with sufficient fruit production to jump-start an industry. The growers I visited have established top-notch plantings, taking pre-plant soil preparation and the long-term nature of fruit production into consideration.
Deer damage---Deer will feed on beach plum foliage. Plants will take on a cropped bushy form that will not be good for fruit production. Overall growth will be suppressed. Deer protection may be required in some areas. So far, deer damage was only observed at one farm in the Plymouth, MA area.
Growth---I observe ample growth (green with shoot lengths approaching 1 foot in early July) at the established plantings but growth was poor at the first year plantings. Depending on soil type and fertilizer application rates growth can vary. We recommend fertilizing young transplants with 0.6-1.0 oz. of nitrogen per tree as foliage emerges in mid-May. On established plants, 0.1-0.2 pounds per tree of nitrogen applied under the drip line may be sufficient for beach plum fruit production. On sandy soils nitrogen might be best applied as spilt applications to minimize loss due to leaching. This year we had a cold wet spring and this may have been responsible for the reduced levels of growth.
Weed management---I observed quite a bit of variation in weed management from carefully hand weeded and wood chip beds to no control. Growth of weeds can inhibit plant growth by competing for water, nutrients, and light. This is especially true for young plants. We have experienced good results by mulching plants with wood chips and maintaining mowed grass between the rows. Herbicides are a viable option--the results of studies performed on Long Island suggest that some of the weed management tools that are currently available for domestic plums and other tree fruit crops can be safely employed for commercial Beach Plum production. Regulations vary from state to state. Growers can get specific information for weed and pest control at the following websites and from product labels.
As a result of these visits, I think that growers need to stay focused on fertilizer and weed control especially while most plantings are very young.
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