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Several species of flowering cherries bloom in spring and are widely grown in gardens, parks or along boulevards to create a beautiful spring spectacle. Since the flower buds and blossoms develop on twigs that matured last summer and fall, schedule major pruning tasks for mid to late spring immediately after the flowering display wanes. Trim away dead branches any time of year.
While mature flowering cherry trees don't need frequent annual pruning, younger, newly planted trees may benefit from selective pruning to develop the strongest branching structures and form. Flowering cherries include Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata), hybrid Okame cherry (Prunus Okame), Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis), Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata), Higan cherry (Prunus subhirtella) and Sargent cherry (Prunus sargentii). All cherry trees flower, but the term flowering cherries is used to distinguish those trees that produce flowers and do not yield a viable edible cherry fruit crop.
When to prune
Light pruning of branches may be done as needed across the spring, summer or fall without major disruption to any flowering cherry tree's health. Gardeners normally choose to prune after flowering ends, as pruning at inopportune times removes flower buds that make the trees look so stunning in spring. Wait until the flowering display wanes and prune as needed to remedy structural or other branch issues. Try to complete pruning as early in spring as possible. Generally speaking, avoid pruning in early fall since you don't want any new growth to appear and be killed by the first fall frosts.
In warmer winter regions, flowering begins early, such as in March in the south, but it is delayed until April farther north. Adjust pruning times accordingly. Pruning in the south is best done by the end of April, while the end of May is the cut-off in more northern regions.
Hand pruners readily cut branches less than 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) in diameter. Larger branches need to be cut with loppers or a pruning saw. Make pruning cuts 0.5 cm to 1.5 cm (1/4 to 1/2 inch) above a lower branch junction, trunk or leaf. If you encounter diseased branch tissue or an infestation of insects or pest eggs, make the necessary pruning cuts, but douse the pruning implement with rubbing alcohol to sterilise the blades. You don't want to inadvertently be spreading disease or pests to other branches or other trees in your garden.
- Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service; Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs; Michael Dana and Philip Carpenter; April 2001
- University of Kentucky; Pruning Landscape Trees; M.L. Witt, et al.
- "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs"; Michael A. Dirr; 1997
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty