A Cherished Tree for A Cherished Reason

Weeping cherry in bloom

A couple of weeks ago I had photos of my newly pruned ornamental cherry.  That tree is one of the most special trees on our property even though it has no intrinsic wildlife value. It was given to us as a gift to commemorate the death of my Dad in 1999.

It was already quite mature in 1999 when it was gifted to us and it has only matured more beautifully in its place. It blooms quite nicely every spring (and I am looking forward to this year’s bloom now that it has been pruned!) Its beautiful weeping canopy is visible from 1/4 mile away.

We live on a curvy street–and as soon as a car turns the curve and heads in the direction of our house, if that tree is in bloom, it’s visible. It’s like a beacon. It’s just amazing.

Small trees are something of a rarity in the landscape simply by definition. A tree is a tree partly because of its height. But this tree has stayed nicely under 7 feet, although its spread is much wider.

Cherry trees have a storied past in our country, although whether our first President really did cut one down is perhaps more an urban legend–or self–promoting myth–than reality. Still, they play a role in our American history. 

While we do have native cherries, most were brought here from Europe.  And the lovely small ornamental flowering cherry trees that many home gardeners now covet today are generally imported from Asia. For a great post on ornamental cherry trees, and the great selection available to home gardeners, here is this primer from Trees.com.

Our ornamental cherry has proven to be free from every type of disease and insect (with the exception of an occasional nibble from a passing Japanese beetle–but nothing too troublesome).  It has survived several droughts without supplemental watering and has never received fertilizer–but then again, everything in my yard gets tough love. Worst of all, it has been mangled by pruning from The Spoiler and his lawn mower.

Sometimes, just like with house plants, too much love (once a plant is established) can be a bad thing!

More Winter Pruning

Unpruned Japanese Maple

On Monday I showed some photos of my weeping Snow Fountain cherry after it had been pruned. Unfortunately I had no photos of it before it had been pruned, but I think the photo of this Japanese maple, above, will give you some idea of what it might have been like–except the cherry was in worse shape!

I can still handle pruning the Japanese maple and do prune it every couple of years. The unfortunate thing about this maple is that it sweeps out over our driveway–and so it is more susceptible to the Spoiler’s “hacking” every time it comes too close to his car. I just learn to park a little further from it, and therefore to enjoy its leaves. He has to hack it back. You can see where he has “chopped” the ends that hang over the driveway.

Branches in need of pruning

This year it’s definitely a little overdue for some pruning. You can see all the deadwood–evident by the light color. Only the vibrant red twigs are alive.

Part of the problem is that our weather the last couple of years has been a bit topsy turvy. I don’t want to prune too early and spark growth. And then we have no “spring” when there should be spring–say in March. There’s just nothing but terrible weather during the time when I should prune. And then it’s leafing out in the snows of April and I’m saying to myself, “oops, I screwed up again.” But it’s tough to get out and prune in February.

Maybe I will call the lovely ornamental pruner back who did the cherry tree after all. If this year gets away from us again like that, I am going to have to!

Winter Pruning

Snow Fountain Cherry

Normally this time of year, I am out lecturing about all sorts of things, including pruning. This year, because of the pandemic, no. I am not one of those speakers who has decided to present via computer, although I am enjoying other speakers who have decided to do so. I work on screens daily–I don’t want to come home and work with them in the evening. Gardening had been my escape from that.

One of the things I used to talk about when I spoke to clubs about pruning was to know your limitations. I always said that it was far better to call in a professional to prune large trees than to attempt to do it yourself. And while this cherry wasn’t “large” in the sense of height, its limbs were extremely congested. We decided that we needed a professional to come thin it out for us.

You can tell by the size of some of the limbs that were removed here–and by the girth of the trunk–that this tree is quite mature. Not only did I not have the strength to prune this tree properly, but I also didn’t have the proper tools to do it cleanly. And that’s equally important.

Cherries, particularly these with a weeping habit, can be prone to disease, especially if not pruned correctly. The last thing I wanted to do was bungle this.

No, I didn’t cut the top off the tree in the photo. I am trying to show you the huge circle underneath where there is no vegetation. That’s how large the branch canopy used to be. Now, with the branch canopy opened up, light will get underneath the tree so that my beautiful moss can fill in there.

I have seen these trees shorn at the bottom, just like a someone took a bowl and placed it on top and cut around the base. Clearly that’s not the proper pruning method.

The Spoiler’s method was to just hack off anything that got in the lawn mower’s way–also not proper.

This is the proper way to prune–from the inside out, to open up the tree. I can’t wait to see it bloom!