How to Plant and Care for a Weeping Cherry Tree
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These beautiful trees put on a spectacular show in the spring, offer lovely summer shade and are not particularly hard to grow. Here are the details.
The picturesque beauty of the weeping cherry tree’s white and pink blossoms has inspired artists for centuries. Although native to China, they were first cultivated in Japan at the homes of Kyoto royalty, where their blooming flowers are celebrated to this day.
The tree also represents friendship. As an act of diplomacy, the Japanese government donated 3,000 weeping cherry trees to Washington D.C. on March 27, 1912. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival is held there on March 27 to commemorate this event, and to appreciate the beauty of these trees.
What Is a Weeping Cherry Tree?
Weeping cherry trees are a variety of ornamental cherry tree with pendulous “weeping” branches that produce clusters of white and pink flowers. While there are dozens of weeping cherry trees (belonging to the genus prunus), common varieties include Higan, Shidare Yoshino and Snow Fountain.
Each type is prized for its stunning flowers that bloom only for a couple of weeks each spring. The rest of the year, the weeping branches are covered in green leaves that turn a vivid yellow in fall before dropping to the ground, leaving the tree bare through winter.
Weeping cherry trees thrive in full sun with at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. They can tolerate partial shade, but the lack of sunlight can result in inhibited spring blooming. They’re heat- and drought-tolerant and can grow in most regions of the U.S. as long as the average minimum temperature remains above -20 degrees F. That means USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 and higher.
These trees prefer loose, well-draining soil. Plant them in a hole that’s roughly twice the size of the root ball and backfill with well-draining dirt. Although they’re drought-tolerant, dry soil makes them more susceptible to pest infestation and disease, so keep them adequately watered.
Common Pests and Diseases
- Aphids. Small insects (less than 1/4-in.) that feed on plant sap in large colonies. There are several types of aphids that can affect weeping cherries, but the black cherry aphid with a shiny black color is the most common. They can cause distorted and wilted leaves, and they leave a sticky residue (called honeydew) on the tree’s leaves.
- Cherry leaf spot. A fungal infection that causes purple, yellow and black spots on the leaves of cherry trees. The size of the spots will expand as the infection spreads, and will eventually cause the leaves to fall off.
- Cytospora cankers. A fungal infection that causes yellow and gummy lesions to develop on the tree’s bark. The wood underneath the canker will eventually die, and the tree can lose its leaves.
- Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles are roughly 3/8-in. long with shiny green bodies and tan wings. They feed on plant leaves and flowers, usually in groups. They will leave large sections of a tree defoliated or “skeletonized.”
- Powdery mildew. A fungal infection that appears like a white powder on the tree’s leaves and flowers. It can cause stunted growth on the affected branch, and the leaves may prematurely fall off.
- Spider mites. Although not technically spiders, spider mites are small, tick-like arachnids that feed on the leaves of trees and plants. There are many types of spider mites. They can be red, green, yellow or brown.
- Tent caterpillars. Tent caterpillars create webbed, tent-like nests on a tree’s leaves as their larvae feed on the leaves. They don’t usually harm the tree, but the nests and chew marks left on the leaves can be unsightly.
- Twig cankers. A bacterial disease that causes rough-textured and discolored depressions or deformities (cankers) on tree branches. Twig cankers can cause the affected branch to die or cause spots to develop on the leaves. It’s most common on young trees and is most likely to develop in the spring.
- Verticillium. A fungal infection that causes yellowing leaves, wilted or dead branches and stunted growth. Verticillium can develop at any point during the year but is most common during the hot summer months.
Weeping Cherry Tree Care
- Watering. A weeping cherry tree should be watered two or three times a week during the first year it’s planted. Afterward, it should only be watered when the top three inches of soil are dry. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
- Fertilizing. Fertilize with an all-purpose or ornamental fertilizer once new leaves bud in the spring.
- Mulching. Lay three to four inches of mulch around the tree during dry spells and hot weather to assist moisture retention in the soil. Keep the mulch at least six inches away from the base of the tree to prevent an environment hospitable to pests and diseases.
- Monitor for and eliminate pest infestations. Periodically examine the leaves and flowers for evidence of pests. Eliminate pests as early as possible with insecticide, predator bugs (like lady beetles or pirate bugs) or by pruning the branches where tent caterpillar nests are attached.
- Monitor for and treat diseases. Periodically inspect for evidence of disease development. Remove the affected branches, ensuring that you sterilize the cutting tool’s blade between cuts to prevent spreading the infection. If the infection is severe, consider using a fungicide or bactericide.
How to Prune a Weeping Cherry Tree
The different types of weeping cherries can grow to between eight and 40 feet tall. Proper pruning keeps these trees looking beautiful and can prevent the development and spread of diseases. Prune while the tree is dormant (no flowers or leaves on the branches) in early spring or late fall. Take the following steps once a year with bypass pruning shears or a pole pruner.
- Cut back any branches that contact the ground until they’re at least six inches off the ground.
- Remove branches that are rubbing against each other.
- Trim back branches that are closer than two inches apart.
- Remove dead branches.
- Remove stems or branches growing out of the trunk or around the base of the tree (a.k.a. suckers).
- Trim back the tips of the branches around the perimeter of the canopy until it’s a balanced, uniform shape.
- Remove branches that are growing straight up on grafted cherry trees because they will continue to grow upward instead of weeping down.
- Thin out the mangled cluster of branches that often develops near the base of the canopy of grafted trees.
- Remove diseased branches as soon as they’re discovered, regardless of the time of year. Sterilize the blade of your cutting tool in between cuts to prevent disease spread.
How to Propagate a Weeping Cherry Tree
Weeping cherry trees can be propagated from softwood cuttings that will be ready to transplant within a year. Begin the propagation process in spring after the last frost, when the tree’s blossoms have faded and young leaves have formed on the branches.
- Fill a small nursery pot with a soilless media that is loose and allows for adequate drainage. This can be perlite, sand, vermiculite, peat moss or a combination of these.
- Soak the media in water and allow excess water to drain out.
- Cut a three- to six-inch section off the tip of a branch from the weeping cherry tree, 1/8-in. below the spot where a leaf meets the stem (a.k.a. leaf node).
- Pull off the lower leaves to expose the nodes.
- Apply rooting hormone to the cut end and leaf nodes.
- Place the cut end into the nursery pot with the leaf nodes just below the surface of the media.
- Place the pot in an indoor area with indirect light and add water to the media when the top inch feels dry.
- After about a month, check for root development by gently tugging on the cutting and feeling for resistance.
- After roots have formed, transfer the cutting into a nursery pot filled with potting soil mix.
- Transplant the cuttings outdoors in the fall after acclimating them to the outdoors (a.k.a. hardening off) by setting the pot in direct sunlight for about a week.