Plants - Trees and Shrubs

The graceful beauty of ornamental cherry trees

Laura Langston
Photography by
Bert Klassen

Though their delicate blooms may be fleeting, the graceful beauty of ornamental cherry trees is delightful year-round.

In some areas of Canada, including British Columbia’s Okanagan, Similkameen and Creston valleys, gardeners are prohibited by law from growing ornamental flowering cherry trees. These trees are often symptomless carriers of the little cherry virus (LChV), which doesn’t impact ornamentals but does reduce the vigour of crop-producing cherry trees and diminishes their fruit size. Check your local bylaws.

Ornamental cherries belong to the Rosaceae family, which has more than 100 genera worldwide and more than 3,000 species. Naturally widespread in northern temperate regions, they’re hardy to Zone 5, but with proper siting, they may survive in Zone 4. There are about 400 flowering cherries, most of which are easy to grow under the right conditions. Consider that drastic temperature fluctuations and severely cold winters may kill flower buds and tender twigs or cause bark to split.

Site Examine your site carefully; the roots of large varieties (trees can grow from two to 15 metres tall and two to 10 metres wide) can lift concrete or walkways if planted in confined or restricted areas. Also consider the tree’s ultimate size when choosing a cultivar to plant near a building

  • Prefer full sun (but will tolerate some shade)
  • Plant in an open, airy spot (which helps the tree dry quickly after rain, making it less susceptible to pests and disease)
  • Protect from strong winds (plant trees near evergreens or, depending on size of mature cultivar, site tree near a building, for example). A gentle south- or southwest-facing slope is ideal

Adaptable to either acidic or alkaline conditions, although some varieties such as ‘Kanzan’ prefer slightly acidic soil.

  • Thrive in fertile, well-aerated soil rich in organic matter; dislike heavy clay
  • Fast-draining soil helps prevent root rot. In heavy loam or sticky clay, plant in raised bed or on a slope
  • Compacted soil can kill shallow-growing roots, especially when tree is young. Discourage foot traffic near the base and avoid growing plants there
  • For trees grown in lawn, mulch with a 7.5- to 10-centimetre layer of organic material (such as wood chips or leaf mulch) to drip line. Give upright varieties a one-metre-wide circle of mulch

Mature trees should be watered occasionally (every two to four weeks depending on soil type) during prolonged periods of drought

  • Water at roots every 10 days to a depth of 30 centimetres in first few seasons to establish a strong root system

Flowering cherry trees seldom need pruning. In fact, because
of their loose, open shape and regular crown, pruning can leave the crown unbalanced. Here’s what to do and when to do it.

  • Remove crossed and crooked branches as trees mature (also keep young trees in check)
  • Discourage aphids by pinching out suckers at the graft point
  • Prune back outer branches of older weeping varieties, which sometimes produce bare hanging branches with foliage and blossoms only at tips
  • In cases of bacterial canker, prune in spring or summer when new growth will help wounds heal more quickly. Avoid pruning in autumn or winter when wet weather can promote infection in open wounds
  • Always prune with the shapeof the mature tree in mind (given in cultivar descriptions).

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