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FLOWERING CHERRIES

---Anne K Moore, February 20, 2009---
Photo by Anne K Moore

It is almost time to say goodbye to the winter of 2009.  Soon, bleak days of brown and icy white will give way to the smell of earth and the sweet perfume of flowers. 

The Prunus genus, which contains ornamental flowering cherry trees, is a hardy herald of spring.  Some bloom even before the eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis.  They bring spring on with softness, style, and grace. 

One favorite found in many gardens, from Seattle, Washington to New York's Liberty Park to Washington D.C. and places farther south, is the Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan' (sometimes listed as 'Kanzan').  It covers itself with clusters of pale pink double flowers.  The flowers dangle, gathered in larger-than-life powder puffs all over the tree.  This one stands up to bursts of heat without going past prime.  

Yoshino cherry trees, P. x yedoensis, have full heads of flowers that seem to float in ethereal clouds above the trunks in the early spring.  They are later blooming than the Kwanzans, which makes them more reliable in changeable weather climates.

Yoshinos, along with the Kwanzans, are the famed Potomac cherry of Washington D.C.  Yoshinos are slow growing.  They bloom when small with fragrant flowers that open pink and change to white.  They can eventually make a good shade tree of about 40 to 50 feet tall.  They like full sun but will tolerate the high, filtered shade of pine trees and keep on blooming. 

Prunus 'Okame', a hybrid of P. campanulata and P. incisa has a longer bloom time than other ornamental cherries.  Its clear pink flowers, appearing before the leaves, will stand up to some heat.

Prunus cultivars come in many forms.  There are columnar forms, as the P. serrulata 'Amanogawa' or White-Column Cherry.  There are several weeping forms, including a white flowered semi-weeping 6-12 foot tree called Prunus x 'Snow Fountains'.  Another is P. x yedoensis 'Shidare Yoshino', the Weeping Yoshino cherry.  It grows to only about 15 feet tall.  There are small rounded forms like the 'Shogetsu' and short cultivars with spreading crowns like the P. serrulata 'Mt. Fuji'.

Some have deep pink flowers while others sport pale pink or white.  They can have single or double flowers and some are fragrant.  The bark can be pebbly or smooth, brown or red, shiny or dull.  The leaves mostly are deep green, although some have deep red tinged foliage in the spring.  Still others have good fall color of red or yellow.  Some do not, just having so-so color.  However, it is the flowers that attract growers, not the leaf color.

The entire Prunus group likes moisture but not wet feet.  They need a well-drained site that is moderately fertile.  Sun is best to promote the densest flower set. 

Plant them where you can see them through a window or near a drive where you can enjoy them coming and going.  They are a cheerful sight on the gloomy, nippy days of spring. 


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