Prunus is a genus of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs including ornamental flowering cherries and plums.
Ornamental cherries and plums bloom in spring. They bear pink or white flowers 1 to 2 inches in diameter; the flowers are borne in clusters that mass along the stems or droop beneath them. The flowers can be single—one ring of petals—or double with numerous overlapping petals.
Cherry and plum blossoms appear in early spring before or at the same time the leaves begin to unfold. The single-flowered varieties often produce edible miniature fruits similar to the fruits of varieties cultivated for their fruit. (Prunus cultivated for fruit are not listed here.)
Most ornamental Prunus are fast growers; they can grow from about 8 to 20 feet in six to eight years. Many of the trees are large enough to offer shade. Many of the shrubs can be used as informal or formal hedges or screens and some can be trained as single or multi-stemmed small trees.
The Prunus genus includes a few ornamental flowering almonds and peaches. A few are listed below.
Ornamental Prunus trees and shrubs can be divided into two classes: evergreens and deciduous.
- Evergreen trees and shrubs are commonly used as structure plants: hedges, screens, shade trees, and street trees.
- Deciduous flowering trees and shrubs are commonly planted for their springtime display of blooms as well as their shape and form.
For more about Prunus shrubs see How to Grow Prunus Shrubs–Laurels.
Get to Know Prunus
- Plant type: Evergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs
- Growing zones and range: Zones 4 to 9 depending on the species
- Hardiness: Hardy, can withstand frost and some freezing
- Height and width: Size varies with species and variety; trees commonly grow to about 25 feet (7.5m) tall and wide.
- Foliage: Alternate, pointed, oval leaves 2 to 6 inches (5-15cm) long; cherry leaves are commonly saw-toothed; many have autumn leaf color and attractive bark
- Flowers: Prunus members have five-petaled or double pink or white flowers often borne in large rounded or elongated clusters
- Bloom time: Spring
- Uses: Vary with species: shade tree, street tree, specimen tree, screen, hedge
- Common name: Flowering cherries, plums, peaches, almonds, and others
- Botanical name: Prunus
- Family name: Rosaceae
Where to Plant Prunus
- Grow Prunus trees and shrubs in full sun as a general rule. Deciduous species need full sun. Evergreen species can be grown in full sun or partial shade.
- Prunus trees and shrubs grow best in humus-rich, well-drained soil. When possible prepare the soil to 24 inches (61cm) deep or more. Prepare a hole 1½ as deep and twice as wide as the root ball of the tree or shrub to be transplanted.
When to Plant Prunus
- Plant Prunus trees and shrubs between mid to late autumn and early spring. Avoid planting during frosty periods.
Planting and Spacing Prunus
- Space Prunus trees and shrubs according to their width and height as maturity, slightly closer if you are planting shrubs for a hedge or screen. Spacing will vary with variety.
How to Water and Feed Prunus
- Keep the soil evenly moist. Slow, deep watering will direct tree and shrub roots deep into the soil. Light surface water—similar to watering a lawn—will result in shallow and wide-spreading roots.
- Fertilize Prunus trees and shrubs with an all-purpose fertilizer in spring.
- Avoid overfeeding which can stimulate succulent growth that is susceptible to pests and diseases.
- Mulch to the dripline of trees and shrubs to conserve soil moisture.
- Deciduous trees and shrubs will not need pruning apart from removing broken, dead, or diseased wood. They can be pruned in mid-summer to maintain shape.
- Prune after flowering.
Prunus Pests and Diseases
- Prunus are susceptible to the following diseases: bacterial canker, silver leaf, wither tip, and spur blight.
- Prunus can be attacked by the following pest insects: borers, scale, aphids, and tent caterpillars.
- Sow seeds of species in gritty compost in a cold frame in fall or spring.
- Take greenwood cuttings of deciduous species in early summer.
- Take semi-ripe cuttings of evergreens in mid-summer.
- Graft in late winter or early spring.
Prunus Varieties to Grow
Ornamental Cherry Trees
- Prunus campanulata, Taiwan flowering cherry: Slender, upright-growing small tree to 25 feet tall and wide; densely branched; single, bell-shaped drooping flowers in clusters of two to five are bright purplish-pink appear in early spring.
- P. ‘Okame’: Upright, oval tree to 25 feet tall by 20 feet wide; dark green textured foliage; leaves yellow-orange in autumn; single, carmine-pink flowers in very early spring.
- P. sargentii, Sargent cherry: Upright spreading tree forms rounded crown 40 to 60 feet tall and wide; orange-red fall color; single blush pink flowers in clusters of two to four. ‘Columnaris’ is a narrower, erect cultivar.
- P. serrula: Round-headed tree with willow-like leaves grows to 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide; beautiful, glossy, mahogany red bark; small white flowers appear mid-spring almost hidden by leaves.
- P. serrulata: Known by its many varieties, some are listed below.
- P.s. ‘Kanzan’: Stiffly upright narrow tree forms an inverted cone, grows to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide; large, double, deep rosy pink pendant flowers in clusters; blossoms appear with or before young red leaves in mid-spring.
- P.s. ‘Royal Burgandy’: Habit and size similar to ‘Kwanzan’; flowers similar to ‘Kwanzan’ but deeper pink with red stems.
- P.s. ‘Shirotae’ (‘Mt. Fuji’): Strong horizontal branched tree to 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide; striking yellow-orange autumn foliage; semidouble flowers pink in bud, white when fully open in early spring, aging to purplish pink.
- P.s. ‘Snow Fountains’ (‘White Fountain’): Small tree with a slightly curving trunk, weeping branches reach to the ground, grow 12 to 15 feet tall and wide; single white flowers in early spring.
- P. x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’: Loosely branched bushy tree with flattened crown grows 25 to 30 feet tall and wide; double white or pinkish-white blooms in spring and fall in warm-winter regions.
- P. x. s. ‘Pendula’: weeping Higan cherry: Usually sold grafted at 5 to 6 feet tall on upright growing understock; graceful branches hand down, often to the ground; grows 10 to 12 feet tall and wide; a profuse show of small, pale pink single flowers in early spring.
- P. x yedoensis, Yoshino flowering cherry, Potomac cherry: Horizontal branches, graceful, open pattern grows to 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide; single flowers are light pink to nearly white blooming in early spring; this is the ornamental cherry planted around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.
- P. x y. ‘Akebono’: Same as P. x yedoensis with pinker flowers; grows to 25 feet tall and wide; disease resistant.
Ornamental Plum Trees
- Prunus x bilreana: Graceful tree grows 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide; double, fragrant pink to rose flowers.
- P. cerasifera ‘Krauter Vesuvius’: Upright, oval-shaped tree grows 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide; blackish-purple foliage; single light pink flower; little or no fruit.
- P. c. ‘Mt. St. Helens’: Upright spreading tree with rounded crown grows to 20 feet tall and wide; leaves are rich purple color; fragrant, single white to pale pink flowers.
- P.c. ‘Newport’: Upright spreading tree with rounded crown grows to 20 feet tall and wide; foliage is dark purple in summer, reddish in autumn; fragrant, single white to pale pink flowers.
- P.c. ‘Pissardii’ (‘Atropurpurea’): Rounded habit grows quickly to 25 feet tall and 35 feet wide; coppery red leaves, turn red in autumn; single white flowers; produces a heavy crop of red 1-inch-wide fruit.
- P.c. ‘Thundercloud’: Rounded habit to 20 feet tall and wide; dark coppery leaves; fragrant, single light pink to white flowers; sometimes sets red fruit.
Other Prunus Shrubs and Small Trees
- Prunus americana, wild plum: Shrub or small tree to 15 feet tall and wide; clusters of single white flowers; yellow to red sour fruit that can be used to make jelly.
- P. angustifolia, Chickasaw plum: Evergreen shrub with thorny branches; small white flowers appear before leaves in late winter followed by small dark berries used for jelly.
- P. besseyi, western sand cherry: Deciduous shrub spreads to 5 feet tall and wide; white flowers are followed by blue-black berries used to make jellies.
- P. caroliniana, Carolina cherry: Upright shrub to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide can be sheared for a formal hedge or trained to a single tree trunk; small, fragrant creamy-white flowers; grows best in coastal regions.
- P. x cisterna, purple-leaf sand cherry: Deciduous shrub to 10 feet tall with reddish-purple foliage and fragrant pink flowers followed by purple-black fruit.
- P. glandulosa, dwarf flowering almond: Deciduous shrub grows to 5 feet tall and wide; light green leaves; white or pink flowers.
- P. ilicifolia: Evergreen small tree or large shrub can be used as a hedge or screen.
- P. i. illicifolia, holly leaf cherry: Evergreen shrub grows to 10 feet tall and 25 feet wide; deep green holly-like leaves; fragrant creamy white flowers in narrow spikes followed by reddish-purple fruit.
- P. i. lyonii, Catalina cherry: Evergreen tree grows to 45 feet tall and 30 feet wide; often seen as a large shrub; smooth-edged leaves; fruit similar to P. illicifolia.
- P. laurocerasus, English laurel, cherry laurel: Evergreen shrub fast-growing to 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide; leathery oblong leaves; creamy white flowers are often hidden by leaves followed by small black fruit; several cultivars.
- P. laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’, Otto Luyken cherry laurel: Evergreen shrub grows 3 to 4 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide; dark green leaves.
- P. lusitanaica, Portuguese cherry laurel: Evergreen densely branched shrub grows 10 to 20 feet tall and wide; can be trained to a single trunk and used as a street tree; glossy dark green leaves; small, creamy white flowers.
- P. maackii, Amur choke-cherry: Deciduous tree with a rounded habit can be trained to single or multiple trunks; smooth exfoliating bark with glistening metallic bands; dangling clusters of small white flowers in mid to late spring; black fruit ripens in summer.
- P. maritima, beach plum: Deciduous dense suckering shrub grows to 6 feet tall with white flowers in mid-spring followed by dull purple fruits in late summer and can be used for jellies.,
- P. mume: Deciduous gnarled tree grows to 20 feet tall and wide, neither a true apricot nor plum; white to dark red blossoms followed by yellow to green edible fruit.
- P. tenella, dwarf Russian almond: Deciduous suckering shrub grows 2 to 5 feet tall; glossy leaves with deep pink flowers in mid-spring.
- P. tomentosa, Nanking cherry: Deciduous shrub grows to 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide with the shiny, reddish-brown, peeling park; dull green leaves; small fragrant white flowers followed by edible scarlet fruit.
- P. triloba, flowering almond: Deciduous tree or treelike shrub grows to 10 feet tall and wide; may be single or multi-stemmed; dark green leaves; pink flowers.
- P. virginiana, choke-cherry: Deciduous shrub or tree grows to 20 feet tall and wide, suckering habit; fragrant white flowers in slender clusters; bright red to pale yellow leaves in autumn; dark red to black fruit; leaves and fruit are toxic to livestock.
Ornamental flowering peaches produce blossoms about 1½ inches wide in late winter and early spring before the trees leaf out. Ornamental peaches are more widely adapted than peaches grown for their edible fruit (not listed here).
Flowering peaches include ‘Early Double Pink’, ‘Early Double Red’, ‘Early Double White’, ‘Helen Borchers’, ‘Late Double Red’, ‘Peppermint Stick’, ‘Weeping Double Pink’, ‘Weeping Double Red’, ‘Weeping Double White’, and ‘White Icicle’.
Flowering Cherry Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Which flowering cherry trees have leaves that unfold brown and then turn yellow?
A: Two cherries you describe are Sargent Cherry with single pink blossoms and Kwanzan with double pink flowers.
Q: Can I grow a flowering cherry tree for shade–most seem small?
A: The Sargent cherry is both a flowering and shade tree suitable for the home garden. It grows to about 40 feet tall and equally wide. The branches are lined with pink flowers in spring; reddish-tinged leaves follow the flowers. The leaves turn dark green in summer and red in fall.