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Everything You Need to Know About Flowering Cherries

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You can easily overlook flowering cherries during most of the year, but one day in early spring you'll suddenly take notice as their spectacular blossoms emerge.
Looking like they have been wrapped in clouds of white and pink, they are one of the first noticeable signs that spring is finally here.
A close up of some pink Prunus flowers

Cherry

Prunus spp.

On the way out of my village, in the middle of a row of small front gardens, stands one such tree.
It begins its emergence with a fuzzy haze of pale pink buds that increase in size until almost overnight they all burst open to reveal clusters of five-petalled pale pink flowers. And it makes my heart sing.

Brief history

Flowering or ornamental cherry is often used to describe members of the Prunus genus that produce small and unpalatable fruit. The most famous is Prunus serrulata, known as the 'Japanese Cherry'.
Many of the hundreds of varieties and cultivars in existence originated in Japan.
From 710 AD, natural crosses of the eight original species were placed in the pleasure gardens for the government at the time, the Imperial Court in Kyoto.
Cherry trees in Kyoto, Japan
Cherry trees still line the streets in Kyoto
It wasn't until the mid-1800s that ornamental cherries started to be exported to the wealthy gardens and estates around the world.
In particular, America, who like Japan, now hold annual festivals to celebrate the blossom's arrival.
Here in the UK, the emphasis at the time was on fruit producing trees and varieties of Prunus avium, the wild cherry.
It wasn't really until the early 1900s that the flowering cherry became popular in the UK.
Although, a Great White Cherry specimen was imported far earlier to a garden in Sussex. Then thought to be extinct in Japan, cuttings were taken and used to re-introduce the species to the gardening world.

Choice

Trying to decide which tree to add to your own space is made harder by the number of varieties available, with new cultivars being introduced regularly.
Most modern trees have had the scion (the desired top-growth) grafted onto a different rootstock (for example P. avium)
This rootstock will influence the size and performance of the tree. Many also provide a colourful autumn display when their leaves turn brilliant red or orange.
Finding the right variety can take time, so to help you out, we have put together a collection of flowering cherries for you to have a look through.

Care

Once established, these hardy trees need very little in the way of regular maintenance.
Although, like all stone fruit producing trees, it's best to do all pruning in late spring or summer.
The drier it is, the lower the chances are of your flowering cherry being infected with Silver leaf, for which there is no treatment available.
Like all trees, they will benefit from an annual feed and mulch in early spring. In periods of prolonged drought, fortnightly drench them with gallons of water.
These trees aren't low maintenance plants, as clearing the blossom, once it has fallen can take time, especially on damp paving.
On balance, though, their spring display is worth the effort.
If I had space, I would plant a P. x yedoensis, a beautiful weeping tree with snow-white flowers that can get to 7m in height.
Alas, until my ship sails in, I will continue to admire my neighbour's tree in the village while on the school run.

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