6 Reasons Why Cherry Trees Make Great Shade Trees

Choke cherry tree edge of pond

Shade trees are a wonderful addition to the yard, providing a cool oasis on a hot summer day. While some shade trees are better than others, cherry trees run near the top of the list for a few different reasons.

Cherry trees make great shade trees because they are tall with a large canopy that provides plenty of shade. They are also extremely colorful with edible fruit and flowers that will attract wildlife. Cherry trees generally grow at a quick rate of 2ft per year, giving you shade quicker than other trees.

If you’re thinking about planting a shade tree, consider a cherry tree! Read on to learn why cherry trees make great shade trees.

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Are Cherry Trees Good Shade Trees?

Cherry trees are part of the genus prunus and belong to the rose family. There are many different kinds of cherry trees, which can make picking a shade tree a little confusing.

There are three basic types of cherry trees:

  • Sour cherry
  • Sweet cherry
  • Flowering cherry

If you’re picturing the beautiful blooming cherry trees commonly associated with Japan or Washington D.C., you’re thinking of flowering cherries. Sour and sweet cherry trees are the ones that produce the fruit we all know and love.

Each cherry tree has unique characteristics that make them appealing shade trees. One of the most important aspects of a shade tree is its ability to provide shade!

Most species of cherry trees grow tall and wide enough to provide adequate shade. A few species are considered better shade trees than others.

Some of the best cherry shade trees include:

  • Kwanzan cherry (Japanese flowering cherry)
  • Sargent cherry
  • Black cherry
  • Sweet cherry
  • Yoshino cherry (Tokyo cherry)

The Yoshino cherry, black cherry, and Sargent cherry all have a rapid growth rate, meaning they can grow 24 inches or more per year. This is an excellent quality to have in a shade tree as it won’t take as long for the tree to grow tall enough to provide shade.

The Kwanzan cherry and sweet cherry have medium growth rates, which is still faster than some other species of shade trees such as Japanese maple and eastern Hemlock.

Shade? Check. Decent growth rate? Check.

One other thing that makes cherry trees good shade trees is that they are adaptable to different conditions.

According to North Carolina State University, black cherry trees are one of the most adaptable when it comes to hardiness zones. They can survive anywhere from zone 2a to 8a, which covers most of the United States except the extreme southern regions.

Most other species can survive around zones 5 through 8, with some variation. The Kwanzan and Yoshino cherry trees are the most adaptable to different soil and PH types.

The answer to ‘are cherry trees good shade trees’ is a definite yes! Let’s check out some of the specifics.

Cherry Trees Provide Lots Of Shade

What would a shade tree be if it didn’t provide shade?! Luckily, cherry trees have dense, upright branches that spread out to provide you and your yard with tons of shade.

According to an article in the Journal of Horticultural Science, trees with spreading, open canopies tend to provide the best shade.

Except for sweet cherry and black cherry, most other cherry trees have a spreading, open canopy shape that is the perfect form for a shade tree. 

Black cherry and sweet cherry tend to have more of a pyramid shape, but they more than make up for it by having a taller height at maturity.

To give you an idea of which cherry trees provide the best shade, here is a table with some of the most popular cherry trees and their height/spread:

Cherry Tree VarietyHeightSpread (Width)Growth RateShape
Kwanzan Cherry15-25’10-20’MediumRounded, vase
Sargent Cherry20-30’20-30’FastUpright, rounded
Black Cherry60-80’30-60’FastPyramid
Sweet CherryUp to 65’30’MediumCone-shaped
Yoshino30-40’20-50’FastRounded, spreading, vase-shaped

As you can tell, some cherry trees like the Yoshino may not grow as tall, but they have a very wide, spreading canopy that provides plenty of shade.

To make sure your cherry tree grows in the best possible shape to provide shade, prune the tree yearly. This will encourage flowering and new growth and also give you a way to shape your tree how you want it.

You can read about the simple steps to prune your cherry tree here.

Cherry Trees Are Interesting All Year Long

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There are plenty of choices out there when it comes to shade trees. The question is, do you want a boring old shade tree or one that keeps the yard interesting all year?

Cherry trees are known for their beautiful blossoms and delicious fruit. But spring isn’t the only time these trees will provide amazing color and interest in the yard.

  • Spring: In the spring, your cherry tree will blossom with beautiful, fragrant flowers. Typical cherry trees have either white or pink flowers.
  • Summer: During the summer, cherry trees show off the fruit that gave them their name. The Kwanzan, Sargent, and Yoshino have black cherries, while the black cherry and sweet cherry trees show off red, purple, and yellow cherries, depending on the cultivar.
  • Fall: We all know fall is the time for leaves to show off, and cherry trees do not disappoint! Depending on the variety, you may see gold, yellow, orange, red, or burgundy-colored leaves.
  • Winter: You may not utilize your shade tree as much in the winter, but cherry trees still provide an interesting landscape piece. The bark has a chance to shine in the winter, showing off its glossy coat and lenticels (horizontal pores).

No matter what time of year it is, your cherry tree is going to spruce up your yard and make your neighbors slow down to admire it!

Cherry Trees Attract Birds And Butterflies

We’re not talking about the annoying wildlife like raccoons or coyotes. Cherry trees produce fruit in the form of cherries and also provide nectar from their flowers.

Cherry trees attract a variety of birds that feed on the fruit. They also are hosts to a wide variety of butterflies. Lastly, cherry trees attract pollinators like hummingbirds, bees, and adult butterflies.

If you enjoy watching wildlife, then planting a cherry tree is an excellent choice for your yard!

Sour cherry trees are typically too tart to eat raw. Unless you plan to use them in a pie, sour cherries are for the birds – literally! You can expect to see turkeys and deer in addition to songbirds.

In terms of butterflies, you may see:

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Coral Hairstreak
  • Spring Azure
  • Viceroy
  • Red-spotted Purple

Compared to other shade trees, cherry trees tend to be more attractive to wildlife simply because of the fact they produce fruit. For example, oak trees have acorns that attract deer and squirrels but they do not really attract birds or pollinators.

If you want to get a little closer to the butterflies and other pollinators, consider installing a bench or swing under your cherry tree to observe these lovely creatures up close.

FDW’s Garden Bench has floral roses weaved into the bronze bench, fitting perfectly with the cherry tree theme (cherry trees are part of the rose family!)

Cherry Tree Blossoms Are Beautiful And Fragrant

Shade trees aren’t always the most interesting trees. They may provide cool shade, sure, but what else?

Cherry trees give your yard some shade AND a burst of color and fragrance. When you sit beneath a cherry tree, you can breathe in deep and take in the scents of spring.

Aesthetics are important in the yard. You don’t want a tree that looks droopy or lopsided. Cherry trees have a pleasing appearance and give off a lovely scent in the spring and summer.

You can read more about cherry blossoms and their fragrance here.

Cherry Trees Have A Fast Growth Rate

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Planting a new shade tree is an exciting time. Soon, though, the excitement wears off and you realize you have a long way to go before your tree will provide any shade.

Growth rate is an important factor when selecting a shade tree for the yard. You don’t want to wait 30 years before you can enjoy the shade!

Most cherry trees have a fast growth rate, meaning they grow an average of at least 2 feet per year, sometimes more. At that rate, your cherry tree will be reaching 10 feet in just 5 years!

Soil, light, and water conditions will affect how fast your cherry tree grows. For the best growth rate possible, take into consideration these factors:

  • Soil Type: According to Ohio State University, cherry trees grow the best in well-draining soils. They will not do well in an area that sits in water or has compacted soil.
  • PH: Try to aim for a neutral to slightly acidic PH for cherry trees. Somewhere between 6 and 7 is ideal.
  • Water: When your cherry tree is first established, you should water it thoroughly to encourage deep root growth. Once the tree is established, provide water only when there is no rain in the forecast or if you’ve only received light rain (less than 1 inch.)
  • Sun: Cherry trees will grow the fastest when planted in full sun. They can survive some shade, but the growth may be stunted. Take a look at our guide on why cherry trees grow best in full sun!
  • Nutrients: Cherry trees are not heavy feeders, but they will benefit from light fertilizing in spring before the flowers begin to blossom. Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer like Lilly Miller Morcrop Tomato & Vegetable Food which has a 5-10-10 NPK ratio.

One thing to note about fertilizers is that you don’t want to apply them too late in the season. This can prevent your cherry tree from hardening off for the winter season. It’s recommended to stop fertilizing around mid-summer.

Cherry Trees Provide Fruit

One of the biggest advantages of planting a cherry tree is that you get fresh, delicious fruit right from your yard.

Remember how we mentioned sweet and sour cherry trees? If you’re planning on harvesting the cherries, you may want to consider if you want sweet cherries or tart cherries.

Sour cherries are better for pies, jams, and cobblers, whereas sweet cherries are better for eating raw or topping ice cream and milkshakes.

If you’re leaning towards sweet cherries, just know that you’ll have to plant two trees for them to bear fruit, as sweet cherry trees are not self-fruitful. 

Sour cherry trees are self-fruitful and can produce fruit with just a single tree.

Some of the best sour cherry varieties include:

  • Montmorency
  • English Morello
  • Evans
  • Early Richmond

Some of the best sweet cherry varieties include:

  • Bing
  • Lapins
  • Ranier
  • Lambert

Flowering cherries like Yoshino and Kwanzan have showy fruit, but they are not very tasty and it’s not recommended to eat them. If you’d like more options, take a peak at our guide on mock cherry tree varieties here.

The Best Places To Plant A Cherry Tree

Sold on planting a cherry tree? Good choice! Now, the next question is where should you plant it in your yard?

When choosing a site for your cherry tree, there are a few things to take into consideration.

Give Your Cherry Tree Enough Space

It’s not recommended to plant your cherry tree right next to another tree or close to the house. Cherry trees need enough space to grow without being crowded.

For instance at my childhood home, we have a choke cherry tree planted near the edge of our pond (image below.)

Choke cherry tree edge of pond

It has ample space to grow and the roots almost always have a water source unless the summer is SUPER dry.

Cherry trees are susceptible to a few problems such as leaf spot and powdery mildew. This can be minimized by planting your cherry tree in a very open area away from buildings and other trees.

The more space your cherry tree has, the better air circulation there is between the branches and leaves. This helps keep moisture from building up on the branches and leaves.

Pruning is another way you can help your cherry tree receive plenty of air circulation and minimize the chances of pests and ailments. Pruning should be done in the winter when your cherry tree is dormant.

Give Your Cherry Tree Enough Sun

Planting your cherry tree in the shade of your home or in the shade of another tree will stunt its growth.

Here’s a shot of the other cherry tree at our family home, a weeping cherry tree, which is out in the front yard getting PLENTY of sun.

Weeping cherry tree in yard

Of course you’d really have to trim a weeping cherry tree to make it a decent shade tree, but this one just grows pretty freely and has never had any significant issues 🙂

Pick a spot in your yard that receives plenty of sun, at least 6 hours per day. By giving your cherry tree enough sun, you’ll promote faster growth and better health.

Plant Your Cherry Tree At The Right Time

Just because you picked out your cherry tree in the summer doesn’t mean you should plant it right away.

Spring and Fall are the two best times to plant a cherry tree. The ground is typically too frozen in the winter and the summer is too hot for the trees to properly take hold in their new home.

Why Plant A Cherry Tree?

What makes a cherry tree better for shade than an oak or maple tree? ‘Better’ is a relative term and depends mostly on what you want out of your shade tree.

Cherry trees are a little higher maintenance than maples, oaks, and birches. They need to be pruned and can struggle in shade or poor soil conditions.

Cherry trees are also pretty susceptible to bugs including aphids, caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and boring insects.

With that being said, you can’t beat a cherry tree when it comes to a showy shade tree. Their edible fruits make them even more appealing as a shade tree, especially if you enjoy harvesting fruits and veggies from your own backyard.

Roots are an understandable concern of many homeowners when they plant a tree. We don’t want roots to mess with the foundation or sidewalks, and we don’t want them to heave up the soil and cause mowing problems.

Luckily, cherry trees rarely cause problems with their roots. They usually do not break the surface or cause problems with underground water lines. You can plant your cherry tree with peace of mind that, even when it’s fully grown, its roots won’t cause problems.

That’s All For Now!

Shade trees are a great addition to the yard. They provide a cool spot on hot summer days and are often the statement piece of our yards.

Cherry trees make good shade trees for a few different reasons:

  • Wide canopy
  • Interest all year long – spring blooms, summer fruit, fall leaves, winter bark
  • Fruit & flowers attract wildlife
  • Blossoms are fragrant & showy
  • Fast growth rate
  • Provide fruit

There are pros and cons to planting a cherry tree when compared to other shade trees. The best attributes of a cherry tree are that they are very showy and they provide fruit.

Check with a local professional to see what type of cherry tree is the best for your location!

References

Goncalves, B., Correia, C. M., Silva, A. P., Bacelar, E. A., Santos, A., & Moutinho-Pereira, J. M. (2008, May 20). Leaf structure and function of sweet cherry tree (Prunus avium L.) cultivars with open and dense canopies. Horticultural Science, 116(4), 381-387.

Konarska, J., Lindberg, F., Larsson, A., Thorsson, S., & Holmer, B. (2014). Transmissivity of solar radiation through crowns of single urban trees – application for outdoor thermal comfort modeling. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 117, 363-376.

Lauri, P. E., & Claverie, J. (2008). Sweet cherry tree architecture, physiology and management: Towards an integrated view. ISHS Acta Horticulturae, 795, 605-614.

Loewe, V. M., Gonzalez O., M., & Balzarini, M. (2013, October 15). Wild cherry tree (Prunus avium L.) growth in pure and mixed plantations in South America. Forest Ecology and Management, 306, 31-41.

Sitarek, M., & Sas-Paszt, L. (2014). Sweet Cherry Root System Structure Depends On The Rootstock/Cultivar Combination. ISHS Acta Horticulturae, 1020, 233-237.

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