7 Simple Steps To Prune Your Flowering Cherry Tree

Pink drooping cherry blossoms called yae-beni-shidare bloom

Is your flowering cherry tree looking like it woke up with a severe case of bed head? Well, it may be time to break out the pruning shears. What are the best ways to prune your flowering cherry tree?

Properly pruning flowering cherry trees encourages flowering and fresh growth. It also removes dead branches and abnormalities. You should prune your flowering cherry tree in the late winter, early spring, or immediately after blooming using pruning sheers while removing any damaged branches.

Keep reading to learn the best ways to prune your flowering cherry trees, and when to manage this task. Even if you have no experience in trimming trees, you will have the confidence and know-how to trim your flowering cherry tree and keep it healthy for many years to come.

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Why Do Flowering Cherry Trees Need Pruning?

Ornamental trees like the flowering cherry need regular maintenance to remain healthy, encourage new growth and allow the beautiful blooms to greet you with bright vitality every spring. Without proper pruning, the tree can overcrowd itself, branches can rub across each other, leaving open wounds. This can make it look rather unattractive in your yard. 

The blossoms are quite beautiful, and they may bring a pleasant scent to your garden.

Some trees, like the flowering cherry tree, also have dense growth patterns and, left alone, will become too dense to be properly healthy. Pruning once a year will thin them out and help to reduce the possibility of fungal growth because of the increased sunlight and airflow between branches and foliage. 

If you are looking into different types of ornamental, or mock, cherry trees, you can find information here in our article about the types of mock cherry trees and where they grow!

Pruning Keeps The Tree Healthy

Regular pruning on your flowering cherry tree will extend the life of your tree by keeping it healthy. Removing dead and afflicted branches allows the tree to grow stronger because it spends less energy on problem areas. Pruning also eases overcrowding of branches and removes branches rubbing across each other, which could cause problems later on. 

When you prune and trim your tree properly, it keeps the canopy—the top, the foliage-covered section of the tree—open and able to get plenty of airflow and sunlight. This helps make the foliage and flowers resist fungal growth as the airflow removes more of the problematic spores.

Regular pruning also removes weaker branches, which could break off and open the tree up to pests and infections. 

Overgrown and improperly maintained trees can become weak and unhealthy. If the branches and foliage of the tree are too dense, this can weaken the tree. Dead branches can accumulate and cause more problems as well.

Not to mention, when a tree is not pruned properly, it just makes the tree look bad and unattractive.  

Pruning Is Preventative Maintenance

Pruning your trees also lets you see and remove potential problems before they can manifest into bigger issues. When you are pruning your trees, you can see if there is something wrong with them, almost like your yearly checkup at the doctor. 

Sometimes rubbing branches can open up the bark and expose the inside of the tree, leaving the area weak and susceptible to infections. While pruning, you will notice little signs such as weakness, pests capable of harming the tree, or infections you need to remove before the tree needs professional care.  

Proper Pruning Does Not Harm The Tree

When you perform regular, proper pruning, it helps to strengthen the tree. Pruning removes afflicted and infected branches and leaves, leaving energy for the tree to focus on regular growth, making the tree stronger and healthier.

Trees can heal themselves faster after a proper trimming. If pruning is not maintained, branches can break off, leaving hard to heal wounds that open up the tree for infections and pests. It’s just like if we get a cut and do not treat it properly, it takes longer to heal, and can cause bigger problems later on. 

Pruning Makes The Tree More Attractive

Trees in the forest, growing wild, with branches all over the place, moss creeping up the trunk and dripping off the branches, have a certain rugged appeal. However, most people do not want a wild, unruly-looking mess in their front yards or gardens.

You bought a flowering cherry tree to show off the beautiful blooms, attractive bark on the trunk, and the appealing shape of the canopy. By following this guide, you can keep your tree appealing and attractive.

When you do not trim your flowering cherry tree, it can quickly start to look unkempt, and be a big eyesore compared to the neatly trimmed hedges and lush carpet of maintained grass. Pruning your tree keeps the attractive shape, encourages more blooms, and healthy, full foliage, adding to the overall appeal to your yard.

When Should You Prune A Flowering Cherry Tree?

Branches of a flowering cherry tree prunus serrulata bursting with pink blooms in the spring sunshine

Now you know why a flowering cherry tree needs to be pruned, so let’s get into the proper times you should trim your tree. Yes, there are certain times when it is beneficial to trim your tree, and others when it is not advised. 

If you prune your trees at improper times, you could do more harm than good. It may send your tree into shock, effectively showing down growth for a season, and causing it to look sickly. Trees have growing stages. In the winter they lay dormant, and grow little, if at all, while in fall they are trying to store up energy for the long, cold winter. 

Not all trees are the same, and you can prune some during dormant stages without harm, but in this article, we are only focusing on flowering cherry trees. If you have questions about when or how much you can prune other trees on your property, please consult a professional arborist or tree specialist to answer your questions. 

Below we will go over the best times for pruning your flowering cherry trees are.

Trim Cherry Trees In Late Winter Or Early Spring

Do not start the pruning on your flowering cherry tree in late fall or early winter because the tree is trying to store up energy for the long dormant season. It will not have the proper time or energy to seal off the open cuts made from pruning.

Wait until late winter or early spring for your area to do most of your cherry tree pruning because the tree is about to exit the dormant stage and it will be more able to heal itself where the branches were cut. The tree will have plenty of energy to deal with the pruning at this time of the growth period. This is also the time for your heavier pruning. 

During late winter or early spring, pruning will be easier because all the foliage is gone, and you can see the branches better. There will not be a thick canopy of leaves getting in the way and blocking the view. You can better see if branches are rubbing on each other, where the dead wood is, and if there are any unhealthy areas you need to remove. 

Trim Immediately After Blooming

You can also start your pruning after the cherry tree has finished blooming to help promote new growth and production of more flowers next year. Do not wait long after the blooms have fallen, though. Trim immediately after blooming, or wait until next season.

During this time, keep the pruning light. Just trim off smaller branches to promote better growth and accentuate the shape of the tree you are looking for. Leave larger branches and heavier trimming for late winter or early spring. 

How To Prune Your Flowering Cherry Tree Properly

Woman cut cherry tree branch with pruning shears. Spring gardening

First off you want to stand back to get a good feel for your tree and notice the natural growth patterns. Does it droop down like an umbrella, does it grow upward toward the sun, or does it bush out in an oval or circular pattern? Contour your tree to the natural shape it takes on.

This also helps you to formulate a plan for pruning your tree. 

Make sure you have time to step back and look at the progress after each cut. It pays to be methodical, or you could end up with a lopsided tree that has lost all its beautiful appeal.

1. Remove Unhealthy Branches

When cutting back the branches or removing unhealthy branches, cut them back to a healthy part of the tree. Do not leave a long piece of stub sticking out, as this could cause the branch to continue rotting. Cut it back to a healthy side shoot, as this will promote the section to grow stronger.

If you have to remove an entire branch, you want to cut it just above the branch collar. The branch collar is where the bark around the bottom of the branch looks wrinkled up. You want to cut straight as possible just above the branch collar to help the tree heal itself faster.

Cuts need to be straight, clean, and cut with a properly sized tool. If the cut is frayed, crushed, or the branch splits while cutting, get a larger tool and cut it again. 

Hand shears are for branches only about the width of a pencil to ½ of an inch. Loppers will cut branches up to 1½ inches thick, whereas the saw will cut larger branches. 

If a branch breaks during the cut, clean it up and make the cut as clean as possible, so it is easier for the tree to heal itself.

2. Do Not “Top” Your Tree

“Topping” a tree refers to cutting nearly all the growth off a tree to shorten the height or restrict its growth. This practice will severely shorten the life of a tree and opens it up to a host of problems it may never recover from. 

Topping a tree is really never a good idea. It removes the main leader and branches, which can leave the tree wounded and unable to heal properly. This practice can also shorten the life of the tree greatly.

3. Remove Any Dead Branches

Now that you are ready to trim, look for any dead, or damaged growth on your flowering cherry tree and remove those first. Once all the undesirable branches are gone from the tree, again step back from the tree to see what it looks like now. 

It’s easy to start trimming, get into the “zone” and then realize you may have gotten a little overzealous. Now it looks like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. 

4. Clean Out The Tree’s Canopy

Next, you want to clear the clutter and open up the canopy. You are not looking to cut the top completely off, but you want the tree opened up. This is so air can easily circulate through the fully leafed-out branches. 

A good rule of thumb here is to be able to see patches of sky through the canopy of your flowering cherry tree. Opening it up like this also allows sunlight to penetrate the inner and lower branches and leaves. This helps the tree grow stronger, healthier, and produce more food for itself. 

Again, after each cut, stand back and look at the tree and plan your next section to trim. There is no rush! You would not rush a fine painting, so do not rush the trimming of your tree either. 

5. Remove Undesirable Branches

Look out for branches crossing or rubbing on each other. Rubbing branches can open up wounds and expose the tree to afflictions. Cut one of these branches off to prevent further problems. 

The same goes for branches crossing each other. They may not be causing a problem now, but during a growing season, the branches could start rubbing or even start growing into each other. 

Other branches to look out for are branches shooting straight up, or water sprouts. The problem with water sprouts is they typically grow faster than other branches on the tree and can break off easily with gusts of wind. Remove any water sprouts you see. 

Any branches of the flowering cherry tree growing toward the inside of the tree or other branches need to be removed next. These types of branches will only cause problems, and it is best to trim them off before they can. 

You want to be left with branches growing outward in uniform patterns. They need to be relatively evenly spaced, neat, and open enough to allow plenty of airflow. 

6. Trim Any Suckers

Suckers are small branches at the bottom of the tree along with its root system. These suckers do exactly as they are called—they suck energy from the rest of the tree. They are an attempt to grow more branches.

However, the problem, aside from usually looking unattractive, is they take a lot of energy and slow the growth of the rest of the tree. 

Remove these suckers from the base of the tree and any other branches along the trunk to keep the attractive allure of your flowering cherry. 

7. Step Back And Take Another Look

Now that you have trimmed the canopy, removed any dead, broken, or abnormal-looking branches, and cleared away any suckers at the base of your tree, how does it look? Is it looking lean and healthy?

Trim off any small growth growing outside of the natural habit of the tree. You want to shape it now to make it look more attractive and uniform. This part of the pruning should be light and only to accentuate the tree because you have done all the heavy pruning before this step.

If your tree looks pleasing and you are happy with the look, congratulations, you have successfully trimmed your flowering cherry tree! Now all you need to do is clean up the trimmed branches and clean and disinfect your tools for later use. 

What Tools Do You Need For Cherry Tree Pruning?

Hands with gloves of gardener doing maintenance work, pruning the tree

Before you hack away at your cherry tree, make sure you have the proper equipment. You will need:

  • A pair of hand pruning shears or anvil shears
  • A pair of loppers for branches over an inch and a half in diameter
  • Pruning saw for larger branches
  • Gardening gloves
  • Step ladder for higher branches

The THANOS A1101 Extendable Anvil Loppers are a great option if you are looking for tools to prune your larger trees. They can easily chop through branches 2 inches in diameter. It can also be adjusted to lengths between 27 and 40 inches to fit your needs.

If you already have these tools in your shed or garage and have been using them, make sure you clean and disinfect them before trimming your ornamental cherry. You can use a 70% rubbing alcohol to clean the cutting surfaces of these tools.

Disinfecting your blades before using them will prevent cross-contamination between trees and other plants. Once the tools are clean and disinfected, do not forget to oil them to prevent rust. 

If you are still uncomfortable about pruning your tree, or if it is very tall and you are not completely comfortable on a ladder, then consult a professional in your area. Make sure they have experience with ornamental trees and will not just lop all the branches off.

Wound Paints Are Not Needed

In the gardening section of your local hardware store, there are undoubtedly plenty of tree stump sealants, or wound paints claiming to help promote the health and vitality of trees after trimming them. Maybe you have seen the black or white telltale markings on trees after they have been trimmed, but you do not need these.

They come in convenient spray cans and tell claim you need the product, but a tree is better off taking care of its own wounds. Trees have their own arsenal to deal with pruning wounds. If pruning is done at the proper time, then it does not harm the tree and they can heal themselves easily.

The article, Caring for Cherry Trees in Washington DC by the National Park Service, says they no longer use wound paints for cherry trees! Wound paints are no longer seen as an effective way to prevent or reduce decay, or insect infestations on flowering cherry trees.

  

There You Have It!

Flowering cherry trees are a beautiful addition to your yard or garden and, with a little maintenance, they will continue to grace your space with years of beauty.  

As you have read, proper pruning during the correct time is beneficial for a tree’s overall longevity. Pruning keeps the tree strong, growing better, encourages more blooms and foliage, and is necessary for the extended life of a tree.

Here are the 7 simple steps to prune your flowering cherry tree:

  1. Remove unhealthy branches
  2. Do not “top” your tree
  3. Remove and dead branches
  4. Clean out the tree’s canopy
  5. Remove undesirable branches
  6. Trim and suckers
  7. Step back and take another look

Pruning your flowering cherry trees need not be a daunting or monumental task. With the right tools, a small dose of know-how, and a little elbow grease, you can trim them yourself and, keep your outdoor investment growing beautifully for many years.

References:

Guimond, C. M., Lang, G. A., & Andrews, P. K. (1998). Timing and Severity of Summer Pruning Affects Flower Initiation and Shoot Regrowth in Sweet Cherry. HortScience33(4), 647–649.

Douglas, S. (2001, August). Pruning: An introduction to why, how, and when. CT.gov – Connecticut’s Official State Website. https://portal.ct.gov/CAES/Plant-Science-Day/2001/Pruning

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