Flowering cherry trees, kissing cousins to prunes, plums and almonds, are beloved for those fragrant pastel clouds of blossom that cluster around otherwise bare branches---just the sight to delight the winter-weary spirit. It's no wonder that people from around the globe flock to Washington D.C. each year for the spectacular annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Fortunately for even the beginning gardener, flowering cherries are easy to grow.
Plant flowering cherries much like a garden-variety fruit tree, though pick a more poetic setting. A sunny location in full sun is ideal, along with rich, well-drained soil. Adequate soil drainage helps prevent anaerobic soil diseases and stunted or dead trees due to root suffocation.
Water the cherry trees before planting, thoroughly saturating the soil for container plants. Soak bare root trees for 12 to 24 hours in a bucket or other container filled with sufficient water to cover the entire root area. For bare root plants, trim away any visibly damaged roots.
Cultivate and prepare the soil while the trees hydrate. Loamy, well-drained soil will require little improvement beyond more compost, but heavy clay soils need sand, sandy soils need clay and both need plenty of extra organic matter. Dig deeply to mix and aerate soils, using shovel and spade as needed, then rake the surface smooth.
Dig a hole for each tree about 18 to 24 inches deep and somewhat wider than the root spread. Creating a slight mound in the centre will help stabilise the tree as it gets established.
Place the tree in the hole atop the central mound, gently fill the hole with soil and tamp it all down with the shovel and then your feet---taking special care to avoid damaging the tree. Water thoroughly, making sure the root zone is initially saturated. Add 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch, covering the entire planting area. Irrigate deeply as needed throughout drier months.
Consult local Master Gardeners for suggested varieties of flowering cherry trees. The Higan cherry, for example, is relatively long-lived and very heat, cold and stress tolerant. The double-flowered Mazzard cherry and the Sargent cherry also are resist winter cold. Pruning is rarely needed for flowering cherries except to remove crossing branches or dead and diseased wood. Stake trees if needed, but keep in mind that young trees need "exercise" to develop strength and flexibility.
Many flowering cherries are vulnerable to pests and diseases, and their bark is thin and easily wounded by trimmers and mowers. Maintain good tree health by fertilising regularly and irrigating during dry periods.