Plants & Gardens Blog

Eight Things You Probably Don’t Know About Flowering Cherry Trees

Thousands of visitors have been flocking to Brooklyn Botanic Garden this spring, and every spring, to view our collection of flowering cherries. They may be the most beloved trees in New York City. Still, there are many things most people don’t realize about these beautiful pink- and white-blossomed plants. Here are some little-known facts.

They make fruit.

Well, many of them do, anyway. Though these trees were bred for flowers, not fruit, some do produce small cherries, which appear during the summer. They’re too sour for people to eat, but birds like them.

Any given tree may only be in full bloom for about a week.

Cherry blossom season usually lasts about a month from the earliest bloomers—this year the ever-blooming cherry (Prunus sargentii 'Fudan-zakura')—to the latest, usually the ‘Kanzan’ (P. ‘Kanzan’) and the ‘Ukon’ (P. serrulata ‘Ukon’). But an individual tree may only be in bloom for a week or two, depending on the weather. Of course, if they were in bloom all the time, they wouldn’t be so special.

Which cherries are blossoming right now? Visit the CherryWatch Blossom Status Map to find out.

They don’t live long.

Like their blossoms, flowering cherry trees themselves are fairly ephemeral too, at least as trees go. Most cultivars live only 30 to 40 years. Brooklyn Botanic Garden's collection includes some of the oldest specimens in North America, though—the two weeping higan cherries (Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’) at the north end of Cherry Walk. Those were part of the original 1921 planting.

Flowering cherries actually don’t belong in a traditional Japanese garden.

Conifers, maples, azaleas, and mosses are all much more common in traditional Japanese gardens, which are created to showcase year-round seasonal interest. In Japan, flowering cherries, with their short blooming period, symbolize the ephemeral. They’re more likely to be planted in parks, where hanami is pretty much celebrated as a drunken picnic. Office workers make their interns go out early in the morning with a blanket to stake out a spot under the cherry trees—kind of like movie nights in Bryant Park. Then later everyone shows up with the food and sake. Still, compared with cherry festivals in the U.S., they are rather solemn events where everyone contemplates the impermanence of life.

Here in Brooklyn, it would be hard to have a Japanese garden without including a plant so closely associated with Japanese culture. That’s why BBG horticulturists have always included flowering cherries in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.

The blossoms change colors.

Many are dark pink when in bud, lighter pink when they first blossom, and then eventually pale pink or white. There are some interesting variations on this, though. The blossoms of ‘Ukon’, for instance, progress from greenish yellow to white, and then pink.

The trees on Cherry Esplanade have five times the typical number of petals per flower.

Cherry blossom species naturally have five petals, but some cultivars are bred for fuller blossoms and have many more. The pink double blossoms of ‘Kanzan’ have as many as 28 petals each. Interestingly, in Japan, many people would consider this rather gaudy. There, the most popular cherry blossom is the Yoshino (Prunus × yedoensis), which has five white petals and is treasured for its delicate, simple form.

Take virtual strolls to savor cherry trees at peak bloom in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and on Cherry Esplanade.

The flowering cherries on sale at home improvement stores are Franken-trees.

You see these around a lot—they look like mops or umbrellas or octopus trees. They are probably weeping higan branches grafted onto to a cherry with a straight trunk that was cut off at five feet tall. I don’t blame people for buying them because they’re one of the only widely available options. It’s a shame, though, because they are often really weak and unhealthy. If you look around a little, you can probably find upright higan or Yoshino cultivars for sale, which I think are much nicer options.

This year aside, they are blooming earlier every year.

Lots of people think this year’s cherry blossoms are “late” since the trees flowered so much later than they did last year. But this year’s bloom times are actually pretty close to what used to be normal. The overall trend is for them to blossom a little earlier each year. That’s due to climate change. It wasn’t that long ago that Sakura Matsuri was scheduled for the first weekend in May, which corresponded pretty well with Cherry Esplanade's being in bloom. Now, more often then not, it’s sometime in April.

Read More:

Get cultivation tips and learn to choose the right flowering cherry cultivar for your own garden.

Learn how experts identify different cultivars of cherry trees.

Apricots, peaches, crabapples, and other trees also flower in the spring. Learn how to tell them all apart.

Brian Funk is a landscape designer and master ­gardener. He is also the curator of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and the Japanese Tree Peony Collection at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

    Discussion

  • Gavin July 3, 2021

    Looks like I have a similar problem to Wanda September 10, 2020. I have blossom trees that were planted late September. It is now July and the leaves have never really grown any larger, and one of the trees lost its leaves completely. There are buds on all branches that never sprouted and have stayed dormant. The limbs are still bendable and if I lightly scratch on the bark the underneath is green. Can you please explain what is going on? I hope they aren’t dying.

  • Prem May 15, 2021

    Cherry blossom in my front yard flower profusely every year. Now petals have fallen down, but I saw two big flowers appeared on one branch. I guess may be fruit bearing. Any other idea?

  • Korin Pathammavong April 13, 2021

    Last year in late spring I planted two yoshino cherry blossoms that were already about 5-6ft tall and this year I did not get any flower blossoms.  I have been searching and haven’t found out why this is the case? Are they too young, did I get a couple hybrids that won’t ever bloom? I was so excited to plant these and didn’t get to experience their flowering beauty. Please tell me what you think the issue could be? Or do I just need to have more patience?

  • Wanda September 10, 2020

    I have two yoshino cherry trees that were planted early June. It is now September and the leaves have never really grown any larger, and one of the trees lost its leaves completely. There are buds on all branches that never sprouted and have stayed dormant. The limbs are still bendable and if I lightly scratch on the bark the underneath is green. Can you please explain what is going on? I hope they aren’t dying.

  • Jacqui Cooke May 6, 2020

    I planted my weeping blossom tree in the front garden when we moved in here a year ago. Prestatyn, North Wales UK. It is approx 4 ft tall, in the centre of our front garden getting all afternoon sun. It looks healthy, branches are growing well, the trunk is thickening etc., but only produced leaves so far this year, in May 2020. The soil is well -drained sandy soil as we live near the beach. I’ve tried searching for advice, but to no avail. Is it just too young? Many thanks for any advice. Jacqui.

  • [email protected] April 15, 2020

    I have a nine-month-old tree in my garden which is doing well but there is a proliferation of branches growing at the base of the stem just above the ground. Should these be removed?

  • Angela Q March 31, 2020

    Hi I live in zone 9 I’m pretty sure, Cedar Key, Florida. I was just wondering if there is a Cherry Blossom tree that would grow good in my area. They have ALWAYS been my favorite trees and I’d love to start my own. Thank you,Ang.

  • PHILIP SALOW August 20, 2019

    Are cherry trees and cherry blossom trees one and the same? (I’ve never seen fruit on the many cherry blossom trees in my neighborhood, nor have I ever seen blossoms on the one big
    cherry tree in my area). Thank you.

  • J. Scott Davis May 5, 2019

    I planted a Japanese Cherry Blossom in my front yard 6 years ago, It is about 5 ‘ tall. When it blooms there are usually only 4 to 6 pink beautiful blossoms. I have added some fertilizer which is helping it to have more leaves and I finally realized it has been putting off runners from the roots. I had been cutting them down at first because I thought they were weeds, until I noticed the runner had the same exact leaf structure. I have one now that’s a foot tall that I put bricks around to keep it safe. I look forward to it growing up there. Is that the right thing to do or should I cut it from the root and move away from the mother tree?

  • Rebecca April 4, 2019

    Hi, I just bought a weeping Yoshino cherry. Will it grow well in a 20 gal. container? I live in a townhome community and they discourage planting anything in what they consider common area even though it’s my yard.

  • Amy Schmid November 25, 2018

    This year we moved from our townhouse where I had planted a gorgeous pink blooming ‘Kanzan’ cherry tree. After we moved to a house, we planted a Yoshino cherry tree in our front yard. I can’t wait to see the blooms on this tree next spring!!

  • Blanche October 14, 2018

    Hi BBG, just wondering — I recently purchased a flowering cherry tree from my local nursery. Just planted it, it’s a good height and budding slowly. I live south-coastal in Western Australia! Is it going blossom? Thanks, Blanche

  • Ellen August 12, 2018

    We’ve had a lot of rain and my flowering cherry tree’s leaves turned brown. Does this mean it’s dying?

  • Annie July 31, 2018

    My tree is only a year and a half old. It had a few flowers this spring and looked great. However, after a very wet, hot summer we have many dead/dying leaves, mostly on the bottom. We put a Jobs fertilizer stick in the ground and sprayed a fungicide on it. It still looks sick. My daughter gave me this so I’d feel terrible if I killed it. Can you help?

  • Barbara karp June 26, 2018

    I have two flowering fruit trees either cherry or apple, never any fruit but beautiful blossoms. One is about 15 years and one 3 years. No complaints, had the most prolific blossoms this year but now many leaves are turning orange/brown and shedding. What happened?

  • Library/GRC June 14, 2018

    Hi, Louise, lack of foliage production is an indication that the tree is declining. Please take a look at the BBG Staff response to Laura’s query, below. You might also find the article Flowering Cherry Trees from Garden Design magazine helpful; click on the tabs Planting a Cherry Tree and Ornamental Cherry Care as well!

  • mary June 10, 2018

    The leaves on my Japanese flowering cherry are dying. They have holes in them. What do I do?

  • Louise June 4, 2018

    My flowering cherry tree has flowered but is not producing full foliage, what should I do?

  • BBG Staff May 16, 2018

    Hi, Laura, without seeing your tree, we cannot accurately assess why it has not put on new growth. There are many variables involved, including environmental factors such as sunlight, water, soil nutrients, how the nursery cared for the tree, how the tree was planted, and so on. It may just need a season or two to settle in.

    In the meantime, make sure your tree is getting enough sunlight, at least 6 hours per day. Water is critical in the first two seasons—depending on tree size, 10–20 gallons per week. Top dress the soil around your tree with about an inch of compost in spring and fall. Check for pest or disease symptoms, such as spots on leaves and sap or goo oozing from the branches or trunk. Are other plants growing nearby doing well? If not, there could be a problem with soil drainage or soil nutrients. Consider hiring an arborist to visit and assess your tree.

    To learn more about ornamental cherries and how they grow, check out the BBG article Pretty in Pink.

  • Laura Hughes May 8, 2018

    I have a Yoshino cherry tree that I planted a year ago. I don’t think that it has grown in the past year at all. It has sprouted new leaves this spring, but no new growth. What can I do to encourage new growth?

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Image, top of page: Rebecca Bullene