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GardenSMART :: Grow Your Own Hanami Tradition With Cheery Cherry Trees

Grow Your Own Hanami Tradition With Cheery Cherry Trees

By Nancy Buley, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Hanami is the ancient Japanese tradition of cherry blossom viewing. In Japan, and increasingly around the world, crowds gather beneath the flower-laden branches of ornamental cherries to enjoy their fleeting beauty while socializing, eating, drinking and celebrating the advent of spring.

You can start your own hanami tradition by choosing and planting flowering cherries in your landscape. Their pink or white blooms kick off a delightful, year-round show of flowers, lush summer foliage, bright orange-to-red fall color and unique winter form.

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Yoshino Cherry is the best known because of its long history and popularity in Japan, along with its presence at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. However, others may be better suited for your garden for a variety of reasons. Newer cultivars such as Pink Flair®, Akebono or Pink Cascade® offer improved disease resistance, better adaptability to extremes of heat and cold, more compact form, and other features.

“Sakura” (cherry blossom) season is a perfect time to discover the best flowering cherries for your garden. Visit a local Japanese garden, botanical garden or public park to see what’s in bloom, and check out your local garden centers to find trees that grow best in your area. In general, flowering cherries are adaptable, easy-care trees and are tougher than their delicate pink to white spring blooms might imply. They perform best in well-drained soil, but will tolerate clay if drainage is adequate. Once established, they are reasonably drought tolerant, but perform best with watering during dry weather. Full sun, good air circulation, and the selection of disease-resistant cultivars are the best protection against foliage diseases. Check with your favorite garden center and/or extension service for local maintenance recommendations.

Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) is the most famous and numerous of the nearly 4,000 flowering cherries that ring the Washington, D.C. Tidal Basin. Developed in Japan about 1870, it is famous for its gracefully spreading canopy and arching branches that support clouds of fragrant white blossoms. A relatively large tree, it may be too big for the typical newer home garden and is also more susceptible to cherry foliage diseases than some of the newer cultivars.

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Akebono Cherry attracts crowds and set hearts aflutter when they bloom along the Willamette River in downtown Portland, Oregon at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Akebono Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis ‘Akebono’) blooms are soft pink and breathtaking when viewed against grey or blue springtime skies. Slightly smaller in stature than Yoshino, it is recommended for rainy springtime climates thanks to improved resistance to brown rot blossom blight (per University of Washington Botanic Gardens). Discovered by San Jose, California, nurseryman W.B. Clarke in about 1920, this seedling of Yoshino is a Great Plant Pick for the maritime Northwest and is widely sold across the continent. 

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Pink Flair® Cherry is as tough as it is beautiful, lending itself to urban uses such as this street tree planting and for use as a small shade tree with all-season appeal.

Pink Flair® Cherry ( Prunus sargentii ‘KW-58’) is a standout for disease resistance and is significantly hardier than other pink-flowering cherries. Big clusters of bright pink, single flowers burst from the upright branches of this compact, narrowly vase-shaped tree that’s a good fit for today’s landscapes. Dark green, healthy foliage withstands the heat of summer and periods of drought. Orange-red fall color is consistently bright and long lasting. Upright symmetry lends winter appeal, along with distinctive, polished brown bark that is accented by tannish-cream lenticels.

Selected from seed collected from Hokkaido, Japan (the northernmost part of the Sargent Cherry range), it has proven hardy through Zone 3b. Offering the best cold hardiness and resistance to cherry foliage diseases, it is a popular choice for Pacific Northwest and New England landscapes and is even growing successfully in Fargo, North Dakota. Blooms avoid frost damage by appearing a week or two later than is typical of the species.

Pink Flair® Cherry is a star performer on the other end of the temperature spectrum, too. Performance trials in South Carolina led renowned tree expert Dr. Michael Dirr to recommend it for a street tree planting in Spartanburg, SC, where a streetscape of 100 trees planted by volunteers is thriving. Its performance in Sacramento led the Sakuramento organization to choose it for planting along the city’s Hanami Line. Authors of The Tree Book name it among their favorite ornamental cherries.

Sargent Cherry and Columnar Sargent Cherry are older selections of P. sargentii that may be more readily available and will perform well in your area, but Pink Flair® is worth the extra effort to locate and grow.

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First Blush® Cherry blossoms smother the upright branches of this columnar flowering cherry.

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Fall color of First Blush® Cherry is reason enough to choose this unique double flowering tree that offers multi-season beauty.

First Blush® Cherry (Prunus ‘JFS-KW14’ PP 28248)

Bright, double pink flowers smother the slender branches of this very narrow, upright cherry in early spring. Its fully double flowers attract human admirers along with hummingbirds and other pollinators. Bloom time is earlier than most cherries, but a little later than Okame Cherry, a lovely hybrid of Prunus campanulata, to which it is related.

The breathtaking floral display gives way to petite, dark green, finely textured, disease-resistant leaves that turn bright orange to orange-red in autumn. Fall color is late and long lasting. Its upright, narrow oval shape is well suited for planting in small gardens and courtyards and is narrow enough for street use. Mature height and spread are approximately 25’ x 12’.

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Pink Cascade® Cherry blossoms flow along its cascading branches against a background of blue skies and fluffy spring clouds.

Pink Cascade® Cherry (Prunus ‘NCPH1’ PP 27579) presents cascades of large, bright pink, bell-shaped flowers that flow along its branches in early spring. Fragrant blooms are followed by healthy, dark green, refined foliage that turns bright orange-red in autumn. This all-season beauty offers gracefully weeping branches that etch their dark outline against winter skies. Whether bare or covered with snow or twinkly holiday lights, they provide artful structure in any landscape setting.

Reminiscent in form and foliage of the popular white-blooming Snow Fountains® Cherry, this new weeping tree offers improved resistance to foliage diseases, vigorous growth and ease of care in the nursery and in the landscape. Developed by Dr. Tom Ranney of North Carolina State University, this hybrid of ‘First Lady’ and Snow Fountains® blooms early and offers superior heat and disease resistance. A perfect candidate for espalier.

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Snow Fountains® Cherry is a gracefully weeping small tree that lends itself to espalier and other creative landscape forms.

Snow Fountains® Cherry (Prunus x ‘Snofozam’) is a fragrant cascade of white blossoms in the spring. It has a very refined look through the season, with petite, dark green leaves that become golden with orange highlights in the fall. Smaller than other weeping cherries, it matures to a height and spread of about 12 feet. Adaptable to a wide range of climates, Snow Fountains® Cherry performs well in Zone 5 as well as in warmer areas. If you have no room for a freestanding tree, try training as an espalier along a wall or fence or over an arch. It’s very trainable! 

In the category of not-to-be-overlooked in your hanami quest, check these out, too:

Kwanzan Cherry (P. serrulata ‘Kwanzan’) blooms are late blooming, large, double flowering and bright pink, making it one of the showiest cherries in spring. Broad vase shape, bright bronze-orange to orange-red fall color.

Royal Burgundy Cherry (P. serrulata ‘Royal Burgundy’) is a purple-foliaged form of Kwanzan. Its big, showy, magenta-pink double flowers bloom in bright contrast to the emerging purple foliage.


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