Colour-changing cherries

This is one of a new series of posts based on real questions I have been asked. Feel free to add to the answers or include your ideas and experiences.

Most of the shrubs and trees we grow are propagated by cuttings or, perhaps, even seeds. But a few are propagated by grafting. These are plants that do not root very easily as cuttings. The desired plants are physically united with a less desirable plant with roots, usually grown from seed and closely related. Grafting takes skill and is expensive so is not used unless necessary. In some cases it is used to amend the shape of the plant such as weeping forms that would just be ground cover if on their own roots but become umbrella-shaped trees and shrubs when grafted onto a tall stem. This is the case with the horrid ‘Kilmarnock’ willow and weeping cherries which is where our next question comes in.

Someone asked how they could stop their weeping cherry from producing upward growth. They said it had been ‘pruned incorrectly, but although this has been rectified for the last few years, reversion is still taking place’.

It is common for the rootstock, the part of the plant onto which the desired plant is grafted, to send up shoots. It is an annual job for me to remove suckers from my twisted hazel, witch hazel and apples. So far there are no suckers on my roses, but these are commonly found in most gardens. Usually the suckers have slightly different leaves so can be identified by their look as well as their origin.

With this cherry, which was grafted onto a tall stem to allow the weeping branches to display properly, the stem has produced upright stems near the top which are not easy to identify at first. But their upright growth habit is the give-away. Once these shoots start to bloom it is easy to tell them apart because they will have small, white flowers rather than double pink blooms. On a small, weeping cherry it is relatively easy to prune these out but on larger cherries it is a job for a tree surgeon. You often see two-toned cherry trees and the ‘wild’ cherry part of the tree soon dominates so you end up with masses of small, white flowers with just a smattering of double pink.

The questioner asked about pruning and pruning in itself should not have caused the appearance of the suckers unless the tree was severely cut back. Pruning is not something that should be regularly done with cherries because the wounds can be infected with disease but if it must be done it must be in summer, when the tree is in leaf, even when it comes to removing unwanted growth.

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