Blooms on High: Choose the Right Flowering Cherry for Your Garden

By McCausland, Jim | Sunset, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Blooms on High: Choose the Right Flowering Cherry for Your Garden


McCausland, Jim, Sunset


Few trees can beat flowering cherries for their beauty, especially in early spring. That's when a froth of pink or white blooms cloaks their branches, scenting the air around them with a delicate fragrance.

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But there's more to flowering cherries than their blooms. These trees now come in more shapes and sizes than any other spring-blooming trees--and fall color on a few kinds is sensational. For all these attributes, we have Japanese horticulturists to thank: Over the centuries, they've developed an exquisite range of single- and double-flowered varieties in pink, white, and bicolors. They've given us columnar and weeping forms, spreading varieties, and ones that bloom early and late.

For gardeners, this is great news. You can buy container-grown or bare-root cherry trees, plant them this month, and the first blooms will appear in two to four months. A sampling of varieties is listed on page 45. All take full sun and regular water, and they grow everywhere but the coldest-winter and hottest-summer climates. They're also good to garden around: Pink-flowered forms are especially pretty when surrounded by pink tulips and blue forget-me-nots.

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How to keep a good cherry down

If your garden is small but you don't want a weeping cherry, try 'Hally Jolivette'. It grows 10 to 15 feet tall and bears white double flowers over a long season. Or shop for familiar cherry varieties grown on a dwarfing rootstock called Gisela. The most widely used rootstock in the series, Gisela 5, reduces the mature size of the trees by 30 percent or more and induces earlier, heavier bloom. It's available on Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan', P. s. 'Shirofugen', P. s. 'Shirotae' ('Mt. Fuji'), P. s. 'Shogetsu', P. X yedoensis, and P. X y. 'Akebono'.

Cherries grown on Gisela rootstock--so labeled in nurseries and garden centers--are most widely available in the Northwest but are becoming easier to find elsewhere. You can order flowering cherries on Gisela rootstock from Raintree Nursery (www.raintreenursery.com or 360/496-6400).

RELATED ARTICLE: Planting and care

* Soil. It should be fast draining, granular, and lean. In heavy soil, cherries are subject to root rot, often indicated when new leaves suddenly collapse. Mix plenty of compost into the soil, or grow the trees in raised beds.

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* Exposure. Full sun.

* Water. Moderate irrigation.

* Feeding. Fertilize young trees once at flowering time and again in early summer.

* Pruning. In winter, prune just enough to remove awkward or crossing branches. During the growing season, pinch back unruly shoots to force branching.

* Underplanting. Because their roots run deep in good soil, cherries are fine trees to underplant with perennials or spring-flowering bulbs.

* Plant for impact. Cherries are especially effective in front of evergreen conifers, which make the mass of flowers stand out like luminous clouds. Or plant by water, which reflects--and catches--delicate petals.

* Arranging. Following proper pruning procedures (see above), cut branches when buds first show color or have just opened. Then place in water, stripping off buds or leaves below waterline.

RELATED ARTICLE: Flowering cherry sampler

The cherries listed below represent most of the forms, flower colors, and tree shapes available. Several are small enough to fit into tight garden spaces; some are available on dwarfing rootstock. None bear fruit. Cherries are listed as early-, mid-, or late-flowering. For up to six weeks of constant bloom, plant one of each kind--a Yoshino (early season), 'Kwanzan' (midseason), and 'Shirofugen' (late season), for instance.

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Standard uprights

These trees can be used to line a driveway or arch over a perennial bed that needs partial shade. …

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