#TeachingTuesday: Japanese Flowering Cherry

#TeachingTuesday: Japanese Flowering Cherry

By Myatt Landscaping, Posted in
September 01, 2020

#TeachingTuesday: Japanese Flowering Cherry

This week’s plant of the week is the Japanese flowering cherry tree. Flowering cherries look beautiful when blooming in the spring, but can look messy at other times in the year. The most common ornamental cherry trees in the landscape are Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’, the kwanzan cherry, and Prunus x yedoensis, the yoshino cherry. Both trees come from Japan. They perform best in full sun, with well-drained soil and regular moisture. They cannot tolerate drought. The cherries that follow after the flowers are not edible for humans (too bitter), but birds and wildlife will eat them. 


Sometimes, flowering cherries will drop some leaves in the summer. This often happens if the summer is very hot and/or dry following a cool, wet spring (like we had this year). Cherries can also drop leaves if the roots are staying too wet, which can happen if they are planted in lawn areas and they are receiving heavy irrigation meant for the turf. You can tell if one of these situations is the reason for the leaf drop if the leaves are yellow, but not covered in brown spots. As long as the tree is not dropping more than 50% of its leaves 2 years in a year, it should recover just fine. If the tree is completely defoliating, has dead twigs or branches, or is covered in leaf spots, these may be symptoms of a more serious condition.

Cherries should have dead branches pruned out during spring or summer once the tree is fully leafed out. They do not need any kind of trimming, unless they are near a structure or signage. They are often short-lived trees due to the amount of diseases and pests that can affect them. Watch for boring insects, which attack the trunks of trees under stress.

A close-up of kwanzan cherry flowers.

ID Tips

You’ll know in the springtime if you have a Japanese flowering cherry, as no other tree can match their showy blossoms in the mid- to late spring. Some people will confuse flowering plum trees (Prunus mume) with cherries, but the plums bloom much earlier in the season, often in January or February, whereas cherries are usually in full bloom in April or May. Callery pear is one other common tree that has white flowers in the spring, but they will smell like rotting fish and have long thorns on the branches. Cherry blossoms do not smell bad, and they don’t have thorns.

How to tell Kwanzan cherries from Yoshino cherries:

  • Kwanzans have thicker twigs than Yoshino. A common comparison is that Kwanzan twigs are like the large kindergarten-style pencils, while Yoshinos are like regular pencils.
  • Kwanzans have larger leaves than Yoshino.
  • Kwanzans have deeper pink double flowers that become lighter with age. Yoshino blossoms are lighter, and have 5 notched petals. Yoshino blossoms are often compared to snow falling in poetry.

Yoshino cherries. Photo Credit: Justin Niver