Ornamental or Flowering Cherries belong to a very large family ‘Prunus’. This vast plant family includes evergreen shrubs such as Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry Laurel) and Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese Laurel) as well as near relatives such as Prunus persica (Peach tree) and Prunus dulcis (Almond trees) and, of course, the edible cherry species of Prunus avium. Ornamental Cherries are deciduous and the fruits are not edible.
Flowering cherries are native to many northern hemisphere countries where a cold but not unduly harsh winter is necessary for the wonderful array of spring flowers. The Japanese have, for many centuries, valued the early show of flowers in shades of pink and white and even have “bloom forecasts” provided by their weather service. There is also the tradition of “Hanami” where people picnic or party outdoors to admire and appreciate the spring blossoms. It was only after 1900, however, that they became popular in North America and Europe.
There are many varieties of ornamental cherry trees and are, in our opinion, a must for any sized garden. For those fortunate enough to have a large garden, the Prunus serrulata Shirotae or the Prunus Kanzan would be a wonderful specimen to centre on a large lawn. The Shirotae can grow to between 4 and 8m in height in 20 years and has a flat crown and an abundance of white flowers in mid spring while the Kanzan is more upright in habit, grows to 8+m, has pink flowers and the leaves first appear in a copper colour before becoming green as they age.
There are also flowering cherries for those whose gardens are on the smaller size. The Prunus incisa Paean is a slow growing compact tree which grows to only 2m and has pink flowers in mid-spring. The Prunus incisa Koja-no-mai is similar in size and is laden with white flowers, also in spring. Both of these smaller varieties offer interest in the garden throughout the year as new leaves emerge with a lovely bronze tinge before turning dark green in summer. In autumn there is a wonderful display of oranges and reds before the leaves finally fall in winter. Both of these varieties can be grown in large pots.
Whichever size you can grow in your garden, flowering cherries love a sunny position and do best in a moist but well drained neutral, acid or alkaline soil.