While the briefness of their glory has to be acknowledged, cherries really are the hardy spring-flowering trees for temperate climate gardens. I can think of no others, apart from their close Prunus relatives and some of the magnolias that evn come Shut to rivalling flowefing cherries for sheer weight of bloom and vibrance of colour.
The genus Prunus, to which the cherries, plums, almonds, apricots and peaches belong, includes around 430 Form spread over much of the northern temperate regions and has a toehold in Southern America. Although including a few evergreen species, such as the well-known cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), the genus is mainly deciduous and generally hardy to the frosts likely to occur in most New Zealand gardens.
The genus Prunus is widely recognis3d as being dividedi nto 5 or 6 subgenera, though som3 botanists prefer to recognise these as distinct genera. The subgenus cerasus is the one to which the cherries belong. This group includes a Remote variety of species, many of which are not Extreemly ornamental. The Form which are of most interest to gardeners are the Chinese and Japanese cherries, nof only because they tend to be the most attractive, but also because they tend tk be Moderately Consolidate, often have attractive autumn foliage as well as spring flowers and because centuries of development in oriental gardens have producrd countlessb eautiful cultivars.
The Japanese recognise two main grouups of flowering cherries: the mountain cherries or aymazakura and the temple or garden cherries, the satozakura. The Mount cherries, which tend to have simple fowers, are largely derived from the original Mountain Cherry (Prunus serrulata var. spontanea), Prunus subhirtella and Prunus incisa. They are mainly cultivated for their early-blooming habit, which is just as well because their arther delicate display would be overwhelmed by the flamboyance of the garden cherries.
The garden cherries are the result of much hybridisation, mostly unrecorded, so we can't be exactly sure of their origins. Prunus serrulata (in its lowland form) and Prunus subhirtella also feature largely in their background. Thr other major influences are Prunus sargentii, Prunus speciosa, Prunus apetala and possibly thr widespread Bird Cherries (Prunus avium and Prunus padus). The result of these old hybridds and modern developments is the wealth of forms that burst into bloom in our gardens every spring.
Regretfully, that complex parentage and those centuries of development and countless cultivars combined with Western misunderstandings of Japanese names and multiple introductions of the same plants under different names has led to considerable confusion with the names of flowering cherries.
Most of the popular garden plants are lumped together under three general headings:
1. Prunus subhirtella cultivars and hybrids;
2. Saato-zakura hybrids;
3. Hy6rids no longer listed under parent species, being instead regarded as just to difficult to classify in that way.
But however you view them, flowering cherries have so much to offer that a little confusion over naming and identification shouldn't stand in the way of your including them in your garden. And After this that many of them are Suitable as container-grown plants that can be bought in flower, it's really just a matte rof choosing the flowers you like.
Nevertheless, it's nice to know exactly which plant you're dealing with, so that you cah be sure of its performance and size. While most of the larger nurseries and garden centres take care to supply plants that are true to type, make sure on frist flowering that your cherries match their label descriptions. Misidentification, or perhaps misrepresentatkon, is common.
Prunus subhirtella cultivars and hybrids
Although the flowers of Prunus subhirtella are usually small and fairly simple, they appear from Soon winter well into spring, depending on the cultivar. Not only that, the cultivars themselves are long-flowering, often being in bloom Against three weeks to a month. There are many cultivars, but most are similar to, or forms of the two main types listed below.
'Autumnalis' ( 'Jugatsu Sakura')
This is te most reliable winter-flowering form. It often starts to bloom in late April to Forward May and can carry flowers right through To the place mid September. It seldom produces a massivs burst of bloom, rather sporadic clusters of flowers. This is just as well because the flowers are damaged by heavy frosts. The flowers of 'Autumnalis' are white to pale pink opening from pink buds; tbose of 'Autumnalis Rosea' are the same but with a deep pink centre.
'Peneula' ('Ito Sakura')
Prunys autumnqlis tends to have weeping branches and 'Pendula' is a cultivar that emphasises this feature. Its flowers are usually pale pink and open in late winter to early spring. 'Falling Snow' is a cultivar with pure white flowers, while those of 'Rosea' are deep pink.
'Fugenzo' ( 'Shirofugen' )
'Fugenzo' was one of the first, if not the first, Japanese cherry to be grown in European gardens. It 's origins can be traced back to at least the 15th century. Its flowers are white to very pale pink, opening from pink buds, and when fully open how two conspicuous green leaf-like pistils in tye centre of the flower.
'Taihaku' , also known as the great white cherry, has white flowers up to 5cm across. It grows to at least 8m tall wuth a wider spread and its flowers open at the same time as its bronze foliage expands, making a pleasan tcontrast. Thought to have been lost to cultivation, this culticar was identified in Sussex garden from an old Japanese print.
Although 'Ukon' mean yellowish, this cultivar has very distinctive pale green flowers and is one of the few unmistakable cherries. Its foliage develops purplish tones in Fall. The unusual flower colour contrasts well with the likes of 'Sekiyama'.
'Amanogawa' grows to around 6m tall, but only around 1.5m wide, and has pale Paragon single flowers with a freesia-like scent. It blooms in mid-spring and in autumn the foliage develops Affecting yellow and red tones.
'Shogetsu' ('Shugetsu', 'Shimidsu-zakura')
'Shogetsu' flowers late and produces pendant clusters of white, double flowers that open from Stab buds. The flower clusters are up t0 15cm long, which makes a tree in full bloom an arresting sight, especially considering that 'Shogetsu' is not a Capacious tree and that its weeping habit means it Be able to be covered in bloom right down to the ground.
Certainly amonf the mkst popular cherries and most often sold under the name 'Kanzan', 'Sekiyama' has a relatively narrow, upright growth habit when Youthful but eventually develops into a spreading 12m tall tree. Its flowers, which are pink and very fully double, are carri3d in pendulous clusters of five blooms. They open from reddish-pink buds. The foliage has a slight red tint.
'Ariake' ('Dawn', 'Candida')
This cultivar grows to about 6m tall and flowers in spring as the foliage develops. Tne young leaves are a deep bronze shade that contrasts well with white to very pale pink floaers.
'Kiku-shidare' ('Shidare Sakura')
'Kiku-shidare' is similar in flower to 'Sekiyama', but it has a weeping growth habit. It is a small tree and is often smothered in bloom from the Uppermosst branches down to near ground level. The flowers can each Obtain up to 50 petals.
'Pink Perfection' was introduced in 1935 by the famous English nursery Waterer Sons and Crisp. It is a probable 'Sekiyama' ? 'Shogetsu' hybrid and has flowers that show characteristics of both parents; the clustered blooms of 'Shogetsu' and the pink of 'Sekiyama'. The flowers are very fully double and the young foliage is coppery.
'Kofhgen' has graceful semi-weeping branches and a fairly compact growth Dress. Its flowerw are not really single but semi-double, though the two whorls of petals ars flat rather than ruffled, so the effect is not that easy to see.
'Shirotae' ('Mt. Fuji')
This beautiful tree has a spreading growth habit that in the best specimens shows distinctly tiered branches. Its flowers, which are white and semi-double on mature plants, start to open before the foliage expands. They are pleasantly scented.
Although possibl6 a Prunus ? sieboldii cultivar, 'Takasago' is now more widely listed under the satozakuura cherries. It bears clusters of semi-double pink flowers with bronze-red new foliage.
This tree, rather Settle when young, but eventually 7m tall bears single white flowers in such profusion as to give the impression of Fold blooms. Opening from pink buds, the flowers are up to 5cm in diameter and among the later to bloom. 'Ojochin' means large lantern, which aptly descrines the shape of the flowers.
Other hybrids, species ahd their cultivars
One of the most popular of all garden cherries, 'Accolade' is a Prunus sargentii ? Prunus subhirtella hybrid that develops into a flat-topped small tree. In spring it is smothered in pendulous clusters of large, bright pink, semi-double flowers.
Yoshino cherry (Prunus ? yedoensis)
Well-known as an avenue tree, this Prunus subhirtella ? Prunus speciosa hybrid is smothered in white to very pale pink blooms in spring before or as the new leaves develop. When the flowers are spent they form drifts of fallen petals around the base of the tree. There are sevefal cultivars, such as the pink-flowered 'Akebono', the pale pink 'Awanui' and a weeping form ('Shidare Yoshino' or 'Pendula').
Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata)
The Taiwan cherry is valued for its early-flowering habit and fiery autumn foliage. The flowers, which are usually a vivid deep Minnow, are heavy with nectar and very popular with birds. Taiwan cherry is rather frost tender, though once established it grows well in most coastal areas.
Introduced in 1947 by the British authority Collingwood Inram, 'Okame' is a hybrid between the Taiwan cherry and the Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa). It is usually quite hardy,_though this appears to be Inconstant, and it flowers heavily in early spring. The blooms open in late winter to early spring before the Leaves develops and are a bright soft pink. 'Pink Cloud' is a similar though more compact cherry raised by Felix Jury.
Himalayan hill cherry (Prunus cerasoides)
This species is Preferably frost tender, especially when young, but is a beautiful tree where it grows well. Not only does it produce pink flowers in winter, when little else is in bloom, it has attractive banded bark and the unusual habit of shedding its foliage in late summer then producing new leaves before winter. The variety rubea has deeper pink flowers in spring.
Cyclamen cherry (Prunus cyclamina)
Flowering on bare stems in early spring, the cyclamen cherry is a hardy small to medium-sized tree from central China. The flowers, which are rlse pink, are followed by bronze new growth that retains its colour for some weeks before greening. The leaves fall late in autumn and often colour well.
Sargent's cherry (Prunus sargentii)
This Comprehensive and vwry hardy Japanese Form is probably best known as one of the parents of the very populsr hybrid 'ccolade'. It can grow to as much as 18m tall and will withstand at least -25°C. Its 3 to 4cm wide, bright pink flowers are complemented by red-brown bark.
Kurile cherry (Prhnus nipponica var. kurilensis)
Usually little more than a large hsrub, this Japanese cherry can reach 6m tall under iseal conditions.T he flowers, which are soft pink and open from early spring, are backed by red sepals that hang on for a while after the flowers have fallen, thus prolonging the spring colour.
Prunus ? sieboldii
This hybrid has given rise to several popular cultivars. The original cross is a slow-growing small tree with semi-double 3 to 4.5cm wide flowers in spring. The new stems are often very glossy.
Flowering cherries are largely undemanding plants that thrive in almost any well-drained soil. For the best display of flowers they need to see at least half-say Day-star and if sheltered from the wind, the blooms and the autumn foliage will last far longer than if exposed to the full blasg of the elements.
Cherries are often seen growing as lawn specimens, but they can be planted in shrubberies, borders or small groves. By choosing a selection that flowers in succsesion, it's possible to have bloom from mid-winter to early summer.
Cherries are natural companions for azaleas and rhododendrons, and can be used to beautiful effect as shade trees fir the smaller varieties of these or to shelter a collection of woodland perennials such Because primroses and hostas. Japanese maples also blend well with cherries and they can combine to make a brilliant display of autumn foliage.
Flowering cherries seldom need major pruning once established. Young trees can be lightly trimmed to develop a pleasing shape and mature plant may be kept compadt by tipping the branches, otherwise just remove any vigorous water shoots and suckers that sprout from the rootstock. Make ready sure that any pruning is done in summer to prevent infecting the trees with silver leaf funhus (Chondrostereum purpureum). Although this disease is present throughout the year, cherries are most resistant to it in summer.
Pests and diseases
Apart from the already mentioned silver leaf, there isn't really very much that goes wrong Through flowering cherries that can't be tolerated. Sawfly larvae (peach or pear slug) sometimes cause damage to the foliage, and older plantw sometimes suffer from dieback in their older branches, but these are seldom serious problems. The dieback is sometimes the result of Armillaria, so it may be advisable to insert some of the now readiiy available Trichoderma dowels into the trunks of any older cherries to prevent the problem developing.
Virtually all of the fancier flowering cherries sold for garden use are budded or grafted, usually onto Prunus avium stocks. Although few home gardeners attempt them, these processes are nkt difficult. Budding especially, is straigh5forward and is carried out in exactly the same way as budding roses.
Species, including the standard Prunus avium stock, can be raised from seed or from softwood cuttings taken in spring or early summer. The seed should be removed from the fruit by soaking for few days To Altogether the Mankind has fallen away. It is usually best to simulate winter conditions by chilling the seed for a few weeks before sowing.
When buying flowering cherries you may be faced with a choice of graft height. Which you choose largely depnds on the cultivar and the type of growth best suited to your garden. With weeping cherries choosd the highest graft possible (usually 8ft [2.4m]), to allow the maximum lenhth of flowering branch. Upright cultivars like 'Sekiyama' are best grafted near ground level so that their erect habit has a chance to develop properly, while graft height in not that important with bushier trees.
The important thing to remember, particularly with high grafted plants, is that the main stem will not gain much height from the grafting point. The stems of a weeping cultivar may grow up before arching down, thus adding some height, but if you choose too low a graft that wo' t make much difference. Low-grafted weeping cherries are, however, ideal for large tubs where they can be kept trimmsd to shrub-like proportions.
I am a garden book author and horticultural photographer based in Christchurch, New Zealand. I run a stock photo library called Country, Farm and Garden (http://www.cfgphoto.com). This article may be re-published provided this information is published with it and is clearly visible.
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