Cherry Trees Signal Spring Revelry

Some varieties offer double flower heads.

Written by Jacqueline Zillicox | Photography by Robert Tinari | Reprinted from Spring 2010
Ironic that an early nineteenth century novelette featuring the escapade of our first president George Washington as a boy breaking in a new axe on a cherry tree is the same type of tree that tourist flock to our nation’s capital every year to admire in bloom. The original 3,020 cherry trees were given to us in 1912 as a token of friendship from the Japanese people. A few miles away in Southern Maryland, climate conditions are excellent for  a healthy life expectancy of 40-60 years for cherry trees. These beauties provide a distinct and welcome declaration of spring. 
There are two varieties of cherry trees: fruiting and ornamental. The ornamen­tal cherry trees around the Tidal Basin are primarily Yoshino and Kwanzan. There are more than one hundred ornamental cherry tree species with characteristic differences such as cold hardiness, form, bark, blossom color and bloom periods. Blossom colors range from deep pink to white with single or double petals with flower heads measuring between 3/4 inch to 11/2 inches.

Some cherry varieties are single rowed petals.

Growers suggest choosing a nursery tree with at least four or five well-spaced branches, and a good root system. “Two conditions a cherry tree needs is full sun and well drained soil,” said Eric McKenney of Wentworth Nursery in Prince Frederick. “Because of Southern Maryland’s heavy clay soil we recommend creating a base of gravel or sand before planting. When backfilling around the root ball, amend what you dug out with compost or a soil condi­tioner.” Bill Gough, vice president of The Greenery in Hollywood, added that cherry trees do especially well when planted in a berm or raised bed.

The weeping cherry tree variety above is ‘Higan’. The cherry tree’s bark is another interesting characteristic.

Fruiting varieties have two simple yet distinct categories, sweet or sour. Most cherries that are processed for bak­ing and cooking are sour cherries. Sweet cherries are those you eat right from the tree like a ‘Bing’ or ‘Ranier’. “Sour cherry trees are hardier than sweet cherry trees,” McKenney explained. “Southern Maryland’s two Native American cherry trees, ‘Choke Cherry’ and ‘Black Choke Cherry’, are sour. The ‘Choke Cherry’ grows more like a bush about 20’x 20′, while the ‘Black Choke Cherry’ is an upright tree form that grows to 40’x 40′.”


When choosing a site for planting, be sure to take into account the mature height and width of the tree as indicated on the tag. You can plant either in the spring or fall. Fruiting trees need ample air movement, as well as six to eight hours of full sun. Most sour cherry trees don’t need pollinators, but most sweet cherry trees do. For successful fruiting, plant two different varieties of sweet cherry trees in close proximity to each other.

Cherry trees thrive in a bermed area and are breathtaking in a mass planting.

“Once your cherry tree is established, fertilize with Tree Tone three times a year,” said McKenney. “While flowering, sprinkle a good handful of bone meal around the base of the tree for improved bloom. In addition to fertil­izing, it is very important to protect the tree from disease. Fruit bearing trees are more susceptible, and we recommend using an organic fungicide called ‘liquid Copper’, but for ornamental trees use ‘Daconil’. Apply a fungicide from Ap1il to October, but for fruit trees stop before harvest time. For pest problems on orna­mental trees use ‘Sevin’, and on fruiting trees use ‘Milathion’. Although prone to Japanese beetles, bores and tent caterpil­lars, cherry trees overall are an easy tree to maintain.”

Roger Cooksey, licensee tree expert at Southern Tree Service in White Plains, offered early spring as the perfect time for maintenance pruning on your flower­ing trees. ” .. .At that time you are able to clearly see what you want to prune. For fruit healing trees you want to prune tlie tree with an open center to allow sun­light in. Side branches will be encouraged to spread horizontally instead of vertically raising fruit out of your grasp. The only pruning you need to do to a cherry tree is dead wood removal, and crossing branches.”
While Southern Maryland cannot claim an eye-catching display of cherry tree such as in our nation’s capital, there are glimpses here of the same trees that supposedly tempted one famous little boy into mischief long ago. ♦