Few ornamental trees are as striking an element in your landscaping as a "weeping" cherry (Prunus spp.), with its cascading masses of blossoms. The trees are not especially fast-growing, at approximately a foot per year (or less, for many cultivars) but will, over time, grow to be inconveniently large for most suburban properties. You'll need to bear this in mind when choosing a spot to plant one.
The most popular weeping cherry variety, the Higan cherry, grows at a rate of about 12 inches per year. Other cultivars can be slower.
Popular Weeping Cherry Cultivars
There are a number of popular weeping cherry cultivars, varying in their growth rate, hardiness and other factors.
Video of the Day
- The Higan cherry (Prunus x subhirtella 'Pendula'), a traditional Japanese hybrid, is the most common. It is hardier than most ornamental cherries, growing in USDA zones 4 to 8, and reasonably resistant to disease as well. Its growth rate of approximately a foot per year is considered "moderate."
- The Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yeodensis) is another traditional Japanese cultivar, slightly smaller than the Higan and with a similar growth rate. It's available in both weeping and upright versions, so you'll need to be mindful of which tree you order.
- The Kiku-shidare-zakura or Cheal's Weeping Cherry (Prunus serrulata 'Kiku-shidare-zakura') is a smaller and slower-growing cherry with massive, chrysanthemum-like blossoms. It's one of the showiest of all weeping cherries.
- Compact hybrids including Snow Showers (Prunus x 'Pisnshzam'), Snow Fountain (Prunus x 'Snofozam') and Frilly Frock (Prunus incisa 'Frilly Frock') are all roughly half the size of more traditional weeping cherries, reaching a maximum height of 12 to 20 feet, depending on the specific cultivar. They're also slower-growing than the Higan and other traditional hybrids.
As with any tree, a weeping cherry represents a long-term commitment. Before you make your purchase, take time to carefully research an option that will be right for your climate, your property and your desired visual effect.
Choosing an Appropriate Cherry Tree
Before you go to the nursery and pick out a sapling, make an honest appraisal of your property. Weeping cherries favor sites with full sun, though they'll tolerate a modest degree of shade, and they need a well-drained soil. If your soil has a high clay content, planting in a raised bed or on a gentle slope can help with drainage.
Once you're certain your planned location meets the tree's requirements for soil and sunlight, consider its size. A full-sized weeping cherry can grow to 25 feet or more in height and can easily spread to that width as well. If its mature size will dominate your property, you'll need to either choose a more compact cultivar or commit to cutting down and replacing the tree as it approaches its full growth. In general, for compact suburban yards, a smaller cultivar is the wiser choice.
Another factor to consider is time. Although some revered trees in Japan have survived for centuries, a more normal lifespan is just 40 to 50 years. If you plan to resell your home within a decade or so, that's not an issue, but if you're in your "forever home," or one that will pass to the next generation of your family, it can be a factor. You'll need to plant your tree far enough from the house to prevent roots from damaging the foundation and falling branches from damaging the roof.
Managing Your Weeping Cherry Tree
Your cherry tree will need a good watering once a week while it's getting established, but be wary of overwatering (they'll tolerate a bit of dryness better than too much moisture). You'll also need to provide some support for the first year or two until the trunk is sturdy enough to hold up the tree's branches.
If you look closely at your sapling, you'll see that it has a scar somewhere along its stem. That's a graft scar, where the beautiful flowering tree has been mated to a hardy rootstock. Any branches or "sucker" growth beginning below the graft scar is undesirable and should be removed with a pair of sharp (and sanitized) pruning shears. Otherwise, your approach to pruning will be dictated by the look you want to achieve. For the classic, slightly formal umbrella shape, remove any vertical growth and thin the remaining branches as needed. For a more organic appearance, let the tree grow as it will and prune only to improve the flow of air and light.
Good airflow will also help avoid blossom rot and other common fungal diseases. If you live in an especially damp or humid climate, you may also need to periodically apply a fungicidal spray such as propiconazole.
- CalPoly Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: Tree Detail: Weeping Higan Cherry (Prunus x subhirtella 'Pendula')
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Prunus subhirtella (Higan Cherry)
- University of Pennsylvania Morris Arboretum: 5 Cherry Trees for Gardeners
- Monrovia: Snow Fountains Weeping Cherry
- University of Washington Botanic Gardens: Flowering Cherries Need Help to Stay Healthy