Every spring, cherry trees throughout our area produce showy flowers that color the landscape. The blooms of multiple plantings can create a fantasy like appearance. There are a multitude of varieties that produce blooms of many colors and shapes. Flowering cherries are an early spring attraction, but our climate and soils are not well suited for optimal growth. The Extension office receives many calls from homeowners worried that their cherry trees are declining.
Many varieties of cherries are popular with homeowners. Okame has lavender blooms that are one of the earliest of spring flowering trees. The tree has an upright growth and a vase-shaped growth pattern. Yoshino cherries produce brilliant white flowers. It has a round and spreading growth habit. Some of them have a weeping appearance. Kwanzan is a variety of Japanese cherry, which produces pink to red double blossoms in the middle of spring. It has an upright growth habit. Both Yoshino and Kwanzan cherries are the dominant trees in the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. Autumnalis, which has pink to white double flowers, sometimes blooms in the early fall during warm spells. The tree has an upright and round growth habit with multiple trunks. Many other cherries are also popular.
Despite their beauty, cherry trees are not adapted to our area. The hot summers combined with the heavy clay and acidic soils are detrimental to them. Some may last 20 or more years, others just a few. This all depends on the condition of the tree when it was planted, proper planting, the soil and environmental conditions. Their decline usually begins as a couple of branches dying back, and this spreads to whole tree. Cherries are also susceptible to a host of diseases such as canker, which is caused by both bacteria and fungi. They cause sap to ooze out of the main trunk. Also, they are frequently affected by leaf spot diseases that cause defoliation of the leaves in late summer and early fall. This affliction seldom harms the tree, but it causes heavy leaf drops and prevents the trees from having their colorful leaves in the fall.
You should consider planting other flowering trees instead of cherries. Crape myrtles, crabapples, and fringe trees are alternatives, and they thrive in our area with minimal problems. If you have cherry trees on your property, you can take several steps to increase their lifespan. During summer dry spells, apply supplemental water. Water long enough, so it penetrates deeply into to the root zone. Since cherry trees suffer in acidic soils, broadcast some dolomitic limestone around the root zone and water it in thoroughly to help raise the pH. If you must plant cherries, consider Autumnalis and Okame, which tend to suffer less and live longer than the other varieties.
Even though flowering cherries are attractive when they bloom in the spring, they are not well adapted to our area. Consider using alternative flowering trees that produce abundant blooms and are better suited to our climate.
Timothy Daly is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.