The weeping cherry tree is one of the most elegant ornamental plants. At its best in the spring when its arching branches are covered with white or pink flowers. The weeping cherry tree is a great way to add height and structure to a garden. They are also an elegant way of introducing soft focus to a space. It is little wonder, therefore, that the weeping cherry tree is an incredibly popular ornamental plant.
Here is our go-to guide to planting and caring for your own weeping cherry tree. By following the advice and information in this guide you will be able to enjoy your own weeping cherry tree for many years to come.
The elegant, arching flower filled stems have helped to make this one of the most popular ornamental plants.
Why is the Weeping Cherry Tree Considered Difficult to Grow?
Some people believe that the weeping cherry tree is difficult to grow. But, with a little time and effort on your part, this is simply not the case. Remember, it is always important to know how to care for any plant before you invest your time and money.
The main reason why the weeping cherry tree is considered a difficult plant is that it is prone to failing shortly after transplanting. Young plants in particular are prone to this issue.
Trees often struggle during and after the transplantation process because it can cause undue stress to the roots and foliage. This stress can cause the plants to wilt. In the worst cases, transplant stress can kill the plant. However, with the correct care the plant can recover. Correctly planting in a favorable position also helps to negate this issue.
Grafted Weeping Cherry Trees
Weeping cherry trees can either weep naturally or are two trees grafted together to produce the cascading effect.
The root system and trunk make up the lower part of a grafted weeping cherry. This section is known as the rootstock. The top part, known as the top-graft, is the plant’s weeping branches.
Many people believe that the grafted weeping cherry tree is difficult to grow. This is incorrect. While they may require a little extra attention, care is still pleasingly straightforward.
Different Varieties of Weeping Cherry Tree
Take the time to find a plant that suits your space and growing situation. There are a number of different cultivars available, ranging in size from compact 8 ft plants to large 40 ft specimens. Selecting a suitable plant makes cultivation a lot easier.
The Higan variety (Prunus subhirtella Pendula) is prized for its masses of white and pink flowers. Suitable for USDA Zones 4 to 8, Higan cultivars can reach a height of between 20 and 30 ft and have a maximum spread of 25 ft. For something a little different try Plena Rosea. This is a Higan cultivar that produces attractive, double pink blooms.
A reliable hybrid, Snow Fountains (Prunus Snow Fountains) is best suited to USDA Zones 5 to 8. A slow growing cultivar, Snow Fountains produces masses of attractive white flowers. When fully mature the plant has height of 8 to 15 ft and a spread of 6 to 8 ft.
The plant’s white or pink flowers are a popular sight in spring gardens.
Usually upright plants, there are a few weeping Japanese cherry cultivars such as Cheal’s weeping cherry tree (Prunus serrulata Kiku-shidare-zakura). This cultivar is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8. Producing double pink flowers it can reach 10 to 15 ft in both height and spread. Weeping Extraordinaire has a similar spread and reach and is prized for its fluffy, pale pink double blooms. In the fall the plant’s bronze foliage turns to eye-catching shades of bright orange or yellow.
Many people believe that dwarf weeping cherry varieties are also available. This is not true. Smaller plants are usually young plants or saplings. Regular pruning can confine plants to a height of 3 to 5 ft, depending on its age. Growing in large containers can also help to contain the plant’s growth habit.
Where to Plant
Selecting the right location for your weeping cherry tree is important. Planting in a favorable position encourages your plant to flourish. It also helps to reduce potential problems and cuts down on any maintenance you may need to do.
Most varieties of weeping cherry tree are suitable for USDA Zones 5 to 8. Some cultivars may also grow in zones outside this. The plants are hardy in temperatures as low as -10 ℉.
These plants prefer a full sun position but also tolerate partial shade. Try to plant in a position which receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day. If the chosen position has some shelter from the harsh afternoon sun it is ideal.
Your chosen position should also be fairly open. This enables air to freely circulate around the canopy. Good air circulation helps to keep the plant pest and disease free.
The weeping cherry tree prefers a slightly acidic soil, but copes well with neutral soils. The soil should be well draining and light. Working the soil over before planting, removing weeds and stones and breaking up clumps of earth helps to improve drainage.
A soil test kit is an easy way to discover the makeup of your soil before you begin planting. The information provided by the test can be used to amend your soil, creating the perfect growing conditions for your plants.
Prepare the soil properly before planting. This helps plants to establish themselves more quickly in their new home.
Working in organic matter, such as compost, is an easy way to improve poor soil. If you do need to amend the soil try to amend as large an area as possible, not just the area where you want to plant the weeping cherry. Amending only where you intend to plant encourages the roots to remain just in that area of soil. To grow a healthy plant we need the roots to spread further out into the soil.
If you are planting in a pot, add a couple of handfuls of perlite and compost to the potting soil.
How to Plant
Properly planting your weeping cherry tree helps to negate the potentially harmful effects of transplant shock.
Once you have selected and prepared a position, you will need to dig a large hole. Use a robust shovel to dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the plant’s root ball. The hole should also be deep enough to comfortably hold the root ball.
Position the plant in the hole. The top of the root system should sit just below the level of the soil. Lay a tool handle or yardstick across the base of the trunk to ensure that it is level with the surrounding soil.
Carefully backfill the hole. As you fill the hole, regularly press down on the soil with your foot. This helps to eliminate air pockets.
When the hole is half full fill it with water. Allow the water to drain away before continuing to fill the hole. Soaking the soil halfway through planting helps to hydrate and settle the roots.
Once you have filled the hole, apply a layer of organic mulch around the tree. Mulching helps the soil to retain moisture as well as suppressing weed growth. Don’t allow the mulch to touch the trunk.
Staking Your Sapling
You may need to stake your weeping cherry. When young and in flower these plants can be top heavy. If they are not firmly anchored into the ground they can easily topple over or snap. While more mature plants are anchored in place by their large root system, younger plants may need the help of a stake.
Staking also helps to encourage the sapling to grow straight. The best time to install the stake is immediately after planting.
A kit, such as the Dalen Tree Stake Kit is an easy to use way of ensuring saplings get all the support they require.
After a year the tree should have developed an extensive root system, anchoring it firmly into the ground. You can safely remove the stake at this point.
Don’t try to support the plant by mounding soil or mulch around the base. This can attract pests and disease to your plant.
Caring for a Weeping Cherry Tree
If planted correctly these are pleasingly robust plants, despite their delicate appearance. Not only are they drought and heat tolerant but they can also survive icy and snowy conditions.
Regularly weed around the trunk. This is particularly important in the first few years when the sapling is young and growing. Weeds can harvest moisture and nutrients from the soil, starving your plant.
If you find weeding difficult there are a number of tools that can help to make the process easier. Alternatively you can make an effective weed killer at home, without using potentially harmful chemicals.
When to Water
During the spring and summer months, water when the top 3 inches of soil are dry. A growing tree requires about 80 gallons of water every week. Water the soil around the plant gently. A watering can or gentle spray from the hose is ideal.
During dry periods you may need to water once or twice a week.
Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. This helps to prevent root rot.
It can be difficult to know exactly when to water. A moisture meter such as the Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter provides a reliable way to monitor the moisture content of your soil.
If you have planted in a particularly sandy or well draining soil, try applying a 2 to 4 inch layer of organic mulch around the tree. This helps to keep the soil wet long enough for the plant to rehydrate itself.
A failure to flower is a clear sign that your plant isn’t receiving enough water.
A watering can allows you to evenly soak an area of soil. Water soluble plant foods can be diluted into watering cans, making fertilizing your plants an easy process.
Cease watering during the winter months. Once the plant has finished flowering it likes to enter a dormant period. This allows it to recover from the efforts of flowering and prepare for next year’s display. While the plant is dormant it requires little water. Only water if your garden is experiencing an extended dry spell and the soil has dried out.
How to Fertilize
Avoid fertilizing plants in the first year. This gives the plant time to establish itself in its new position. Fertilizing before the plant is established can cause root burn.
When the plant is ready for fertilization apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer. An acidic fertilizer can also be used.
A slow release fertilizer is best applied in the spring, once new growth emerges. Alternatively apply four doses of fertilizer at regular intervals during the spring and summer months.
Fertilize all the soil to about 3 ft beyond the plants canopy. This ensures that all areas of the root system are enriched. A pump sprayer is an easy way to fertilize a large area.
Water soluble fertilizers should be applied in the same way. For the correct dosage consult the instructions on the fertilizer packet. Sprinkle a slow release or granular fertilizer around the base of the tree, a couple of inches away from the trunk.
Do not fertilize after mid-summer. Fertilizing late in the summer encourages fresh growth to emerge that may not mature before winter arrives. Immature growth is easily damaged by winter weather.
A well fertilized plant flowers profusely. Plants that are slow to grow or set bloom may require another dose of fertilizer at the end of spring.
Common Pests and Diseases
While there are many common cherry tree diseases, the weeping cherry is pleasingly pest and disease resistant. If planted, watered and fertilized correctly you are unlikely to encounter any major problems. This means that you don’t need to invest in chemical filled treatments.
Occasionally aphids, borers, scale or spider mite may target your plant. Regularly inspect the foliage for signs of infestation. If pests do strike, they are easily removed with a few applications of homemade insecticidal soap.
How to Prune a Weeping Cherry Tree
The weeping cherry is prized for its graceful branches and attractive floral displays. Careful pruning helps the plant to keep its attractive, cascading form.
Diseased or damaged branches should be pruned away as soon as you notice them.
Use sharp, clean tools when pruning. This enables you to make precise cuts that are less likely to become infected.
Weeping cherry trees can either be natural or grafted. A grafted tree has a graft knot or scar on its trunk.
Both natural and grafted trees can be pruned in spring, before new growth emerges. You can also prune in the fall when the plant is dormant. There should be no flowers or foliage on the plant when you prune.
Pruning Grafted Trees
To prune a grafted weeping cherry begin by pruning the tips of any branches or leaves that touch the ground. Branches that contact the ground are more likely to become diseased or attract pests.
Garden scissors can be used to cut away smaller or soft branches. Older or thicker branches are best removed with long handled shears. Cut the branches and stems back to about 6 inches above ground level.
Next, remove any branches that are growing upright. These won’t weep so must be removed before they disrupt the overall shape of your plant.
Remove any diseased or damaged branches. Cut back any branches that are contacting other branches. Contacting branches rub against each other, removing the protective bark and creating an entry point for disease or pests.
Pay particular attention to the branches at the center of the plant. This area can easily become dense and entangled. Air can struggle to freely circulate through dense areas meaning that diseases such as mildew are more likely to form.
Once you have thinned out any entangled areas stand back and look at the tree. Cut back branches to form the plant into a pleasing uniform shape.
You may also notice shoots emerging from the graft scar area. This is the point on the trunk where the weeping branches were grafted onto the rootstock. Shoots emerging from this point are wild cherry tree shoots. They should be removed as soon as you notice them.
Pruning Naturally Weeping Cherry Plants
Pruning naturally weeping plants is largely the same as pruning grafted trees.
Begin by cutting away any branches that are touching the ground. They should be at least 6 inches above ground level. Next, cut away any entangled, diseased or damaged branches.
Unlike grafted plants, here you can allow upright branches to remain in place. Given time they naturally begin to weep.
Finally, stand back and look at the shape of the plant. Gently cut the plant into a pleasing, uniform shape.
Remember to always sterilize your tools before and after use. This helps to keep plants healthy and disease free.
Additional Pruning and Deadheading
Remove flowers as they fade. This helps to promote growth and prolong the flowering season.
During the early spring suckers can form at the base of the trunk. These should be removed as soon as possible. If allowed to remain in place they take moisture and nutrients away from your plant, before eventually smothering it.
Cut the suckers away from the plant at base level. Try to cut at a 45° degree angle. This encourages water to drain away from the cut section. Pools of water can attract disease.
Producing attractively delicate flowers the weeping cherry can add soft color and structure to your garden.
Elegant and attractive, it is easy to see why this is such a popular ornamental plant. Adding soft structure and height to a garden, these plants are also surprisingly easy to care for. By following the advice laid out in this guide you will be able to enjoy the floral displays of the weeping cherry tree for many years to come.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.