Gardening: The other Japanese cherries

While beautiful in bloom, Japanese cherries are prone to many diseases

Trees are a lot like cars, and of these, Japanese Cherries are often given a Cadillac-esc prestige.

But like Cadillacs, they are prone to breaking down, are rather cumbersome and are not particularly fuel efficient.

While beautiful in bloom, Japanese cherries are prone to many diseases, including root rot in wet soils, foliar blights – which can spread to other members of the Prunus family (plums, peaches, fruiting cherries) – and stem cankers.

They do not like sharing their growing space and will often out-compete surrounding shrubs for water or nutrients and they are infamous for heaving sidewalks, plugging septic fields and slaying lawnmowers with their massive surface roots.

Add to this their propensity to be in full bloom in the middle of our rainy season and their large ultimate size not fitting well into the smaller urban gardens of today, and I think it’s time to check out some of the newer imports.

Flowering crabapples much resemble Japanese cherries in bloom and are often mistaken for them when they flower a few weeks later. What’s different here is that most of these mature a much smaller tree (averaging between 15-20’ tall) and many have coloured foliage and tiny ornamental fruit that extends their aesthetic appeal to much later in the season.

While they are not without a few disease problems (scab and fireblight), flowering crabapples are reasonably well-behaved for rooting and they also come in a variety of crown forms, including rounded, weeping and columnar.

The best thing for you to do is to research which cultivars do best in your growing region and choose from these rather than just picking one for the colour you like.

The other often overlooked benefit here is that the fruit is edible and is highly prized by birds as a winter food, with the trees looking like they’ve been decorated for Christmas after the leaves drop.

You also don’t have to worry about the kids eating the occasional apple, and many ornamental crabapples make a tasty jelly when sweetened.

If you would like some larger fruits (about two inches long) that are good for canning (like my grandmother’s spiced crabapples with cloves), then consider planting ‘Dolgo’, as it produces quite heavily, is self-fertile (also a good cross-pollinator for regular apples) and is spectacular in bloom. I know of one townhouse complex in Pitt Meadows that is using these as small street trees that has been quite happy with that balance of beauty and front-yard food.

Last but not least is the fact that flowering crabapples are extremely cold hardy (Zones 3-4), so they also make good landscape candidates in the interior.

A few locally available cultivars to consider:

‘Louisa’ – A weeping form with single pink flowers, deep green foliage and tiny yellow apples.

• ‘Prairifire’ – an upright habit with a rounded crown, spectacular magenta-pink blooms, purplish foliage that becomes bronze in summer and persistent dark red fruits;

• ‘Red Sentinel’ – this RHS Award winning cultivar features white blooms (emerging from reddish-pink buds) in May, an upright form and red fruits that make an excellent jelly;

• ‘Thunderchild’ – a popular variety with a rounded crown, striking rose-pink flowers, persistent purple foliage and tiny ruby-red apples;

• ‘Spring Snow’ – a sterile cultivar (little or no fruits) with abundant white blossoms that are early and fragrant. Yellow autumn foliage.

You can also find more flowering crabapple selections on my website at www.mikesgardentop5plants.wordpress.com.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

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