Ornamental flowering cherries, which include many species of Prunus, begin flowering in late winter - and their delicate flowers bring a happy note when other plants are dormant. The prunus clan includes almond, cherry, peach and plum, which are all known in the productive orchard, but also have non-fruiting, flowering forms that are often referred to as 'cherry blossoms', 'blossom' trees or ornamental prunus.


Ornamental prunus trees, like the one pictured above, blanket Sydney gardens in shades of pink through late winter and spring.


All about cherry blossoms and Prunus

Ornamental prunus varieties have white, pale pink, deep pink or occasionally red single or double flowers, but don’t produce edible fruit. Some also have coloured leaves, which add to their attraction as an ornamental tree.

One of the best of these is the cherry plum (Prunus ceresifera ‘Nigra’), which has deep burgundy leaves and grows to around 5m high and 4m wide. Delicate pink flowers make a striking display in early spring before the leaves appear.

Also lovely in late winter and early spring are the delicate pink double flowers of the flowering peach (P. persica). There is also a variegated flowering peach (‘Versicolor’), which has flowers that range from the palest pink to a deep, almost reddish-pink, with some pale pink flowers striped with the darker colour. All flowering peaches are small to medium-sized trees (3m x 3m) and are readily available to buy and plant in winter as bare-rooted plants.

The most beautiful of all the ornamental blossom trees are the many forms of Japanese flowering cherry. Two of the most desirable are the white-flowered ‘Mt Fuji’ and the large, double, pink-flowered ‘Kanzan’. Cherries grow best in cool climates. Those that grow in warm temperate zones are often short-lived.

A recent introduction to the range of ornamental cherries is the weeping ‘Snow Fountains’, which has cascades of white flowers in early spring. It flowers well in warm temperate zones and reaches 2.5-4.5m high and around 2m wide.


Though you may know these trees as "cherry blossoms", many of them are actually flowering plums (left) or peaches (right).


Side benefits of ornamentals

Although flowering prunus are not grown for fruit production, their flowers do produce pollen that can help pollinate fruiting forms of prunus. The largely ornamental crabapples, such as Japanese crabapple (Malus floribunda), are also ornamental blossom trees that are beneficial to grow in or near an apple orchard for pollination. Although these trees are usually grown for their beautiful spring flowers, crabapples also have small fruits (known as crabs) that are beautiful to look at, but that can also be turned into jelly or fruit paste.


Cherry blossoms come in a variety of colours and shapes. On the left, a pink flower with single petals, and on the right, weeping white flowers.


Caring for your cherry blossoms

Blossom trees need little special care, but benefit from growing in rich, well-drained soils. They appreciate shelter while they're flowering and good watering as they re-leaf. Feed ornamentals annually in early spring with a complete fertiliser.

The main difference in their care from their fruiting relatives is that ornamentals can be pruned immediately after flowering. This keeps trees compact, but also removes any inedible fruit. Although the fruit is inedible to us, it can be targeted by fruit fly and may also be a trip hazard if it falls on hard surfaces such as paths or paving.

The main pest of ornamental prunus is the pear and cherry slug, which attacks cherry leaves in summer. Fungal diseases, including shot hole of prunus that disfigures the leaves of some ornamental flowering plums such as the cherry plum, also cause issues. Ornamental flowering peaches may develop peach leaf curl. Both of these diseases can be controlled organically with a copper or lime spray in winter before the trees re-leaf.

Ornamental cherries may develop gummosis, a condition where the stem oozes sap and dieback of some leaf tips. While it often indicates that the tree will die, painting damaged areas with a lime-based fungicide can keep the tree growing.