How to Grow and Care for Natal Plum Trees
The Natal Plum tree is a low growing evergreen shrub that blooms for months at a time. The star-shaped white blooms create a lovely contrast to the rich deep green foliage and will bloom longer and more frequently when presented by all day sun. Also, in the summer the Natal Plum tree produces bright red plum-sized fruits that are edible and taste like cranberries. The flowers are nicely sized at 2 inches wide and the fruit will be that long when ripe. As the season progresses there will be times that both blooms and berries are present together, heightening the color in the yard.
The flowers of this Carissa macrocarpa are sweetly fragrant like orange blossoms or jasmine and the scent is strongest at night. Be sure to find a spot in your landscape that’s close to the patio, in the courtyard, or beneath the right windows to enjoy the fragrant evening air to the fullest. You won’t want to plant this shrub next to the walkway or pavers though. It has fewer thorns than most Carissa, but they are there nonetheless, so be sure to place them where they won’t accidentally come into contact with those passing by.
Natal Plum Quick Care
Common Name(s): Natal Plum
Scientific Name: Carissa macrocarpa or C. grandifolia
Zone: USDA zones 9-11
Height & Spread: 2 to 7 feet in height and 3 to 4 feet width
Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Well-draining sandy soil, Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline (6.1–7.5)
Pests & Diseases: Fungal infestation, Aphids
Originating from the shores of Southern Africa, it is naturally acclimated to the heat and arid conditions of the Southwest. Natal Plum can also tolerate the cold desert winter temperatures and doesn’t need shelter from the midday sun.
While the Natal Plum is drought tolerant, here in the desert it will need light, regular watering. The small leathery shape of the leaves and their dense growth habit make this plant a great landscape shrub and can be used for hedges.
Natal Plum Varieties
Boxwood Beauty – one of the most popular thornless varieties and often used as a foundation planting or ground cover. Boxwood Beauty is more popular because of its beautiful white flowers and matures at about 24 inches tall and wide.
Emerald Blanket – known for being a low, spreading dwarf cultivar which is often used as a ground cover shrub.
Nana – another thornless dwarf cultivar that grows to only 12 – 18 inches tall and wide and also produces large white flowers.
Variegata – sometimes harder to find, it has a cream to yellow variegated leaves.
Fancy – a fast-growing upright variety can grow to 4 to 6 feet in height. Its large star-shaped flowers produce a desirable jasmine fragrance.
Tomlinson – is another dwarf evergreen shrub with lustrous, leathery leaves. Tomlison Natal Plum does have smaller thorns but its flowers can be more fragrant than other varieties.
Water & Humidity
Natal Plum needs little water in some areas but be sure to water weekly if growing in the desert. Be sure to provide ample drainage, not to overwater, and that the soil dries out completely between waterings as it is susceptible to root rot.
This shrub prefers soil that is dry, well-drained, will tolerate slightly alkaline soil but prefers a slightly acid or neutral pH which makes it perfect for planting in desert environments.
To maintain the shrub’s general health and promote fruiting, use a fertilizer that is a 20-20-20 mix in spring. Overfertilization can result in poor flowering.
How To Grow Natal Plum From Cuttings
The seeds from Natal Plum typically germinate two to four weeks after sowing but the development of the seedlings can be very slow at first however bear fruits within the first two years.
Vegetative propagation is also possible using 4- to 6-inch stem cuttings. Treat the cuttings with rooting hormone, and either place them in water or insert them in damp sand. After roots appear, plant the stems in a mix that consists of one part sand, one part peat moss, and two parts loam. Keep the new cuttings damp (not wet), and provide heat underneath with a heating pad until new growth appears. At this point, the cuttings can be transplanted into the garden.
How to Prune Natal Plum
Natal Plum can be trimmed at any time and can be formed into a tree or shrub for hedges. The trimming will encourage more blooms and fruit production.
Aphids can be an occasional problem with Natal Plum trees but can be easily removed with a simple solution containing Dawn mixed with water or with horticultural soap.
These plants can be susceptible to Fungal infestation if watered to frequently or if drainage is not sufficient.