pink cherry blossoms

Blooming ornamental cherry tree

Updated: August 8, 2022

About flowering cherry trees

  • Ornamental flowering cherry trees belong to the rose (Rosaceae) family of plants.
  • They are attractive trees for Maryland landscapes but are subject to problems associated with insect pests, diseases, and weather extremes. Their lifespan ranges from 20-25 years in the typical landscape.
  • Most diseases are favored by wet seasons. 
  • A large number of the problems observed on trees are not caused by pests or diseases. Typically, they are caused by nonliving factors or abiotic problems which can include: drought, excessive rainfall, weather extremes, low sunlight, compacted soil; planting too deeply; applying too much mulch; and/or root damage from cultivation around the root system. 

Growing ornamental cherry trees in Maryland

Site

Select a site that receives full sun or at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. 

Ornamental cherry trees grow well in fertile soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. Soil needs to be well-drained. 

Planting Trees and Shrubs

Spacing and mature size

There are numerous species and cultivars of ornamental cherry trees that range in size, growth habit, and width. Select a site that can accommodate the tree's mature size and width. 

Don't crowd trees. Poor air circulation traps humidity and keeps leaves wet for a longer period of time.

Disease and insect resistant plants

Example of a resistant tree:

Pruning

Proper pruning and training can help prevent or minimize problems by:

  • improving air circulation within the tree, thus reducing the potential for foliar diseases; 
  • improving tree strength and inducing branching;
  • removing dead or broken branches which may encourage disease/insect problems.
  • Refer to our guide to pruning trees

Watering and Mulch

If there is less than 1” of rainfall per week, water newly planted trees to maintain even soil moisture. Mulch to hold in moisture and to protect the trunk from lawnmower and weed trimmer damage.

Fertilization

Fertilize trees if a soil test indicates a nutrient deficiency and adjust soil pH if recommended by the soil testing lab. Soil pH affects the availability of nutrients to plants.

Preventing problems

Cherries tend to have shorter lives when grown as ornamental trees. Their lifespan is about 20-25 years. 

  • Anything that stresses them may encourage insect (especially borers) and disease problems. Stressors include drought, physical damage to the trunk, compacted or poorly drained soil, defoliation, winter damage, poor planting stock, etc.
  • Do not apply mulch too deeply. Mulch should be no more than 2-3” deep and keep it 6” away from the base of the trunk to prevent vole damage, borer problems, and trunk diseases. 
  • Prune out water sprouts and root suckers.

Maryland native ornamental fruit trees

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) 
Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) - however, is prone to rust diseases
American wild plum (Prunus americana)
C
rabapple (Malus coronaria) - (PDF) plant disease-resistant cultivars

Prunus and Malus species are especially valuable to native wildlife; they support high numbers of native butterfly and moth species (Tallamy, 2007). The caterpillars of these insects are essential food for young birds (Narango, et.al., 2018).

Troubleshoot a declining cherry tree

Begin by examining the 6-8 inch area just above and below the soil line and look for the following

1. Is gummy sap present?
Gummosis is extruded sap from any damaged area of the bark and can be caused by a variety of environmental conditions (e.g., soil saturated with water). Peachtree borers are associated with heavy gummosis along the lower trunk and may extend below the soil level. The tree produces the gum as an attack response to the borer. 

2. Is there evidence of vole feeding?
Voles (meadow mice) can girdle and kill a tree by feeding at the base of the trunk. Damage is more likely during a cold winter with deep snow cover.

3. Do you notice cankers and browning of the tissue under the bark?
Scrape away some of the tree bark (especially on the most symptomatic side of the tree). This indicates Phytophthora root rot or Verticillium wilt. These soil-borne fungal diseases are more prevalent on wet soils. The foliage of infected trees tends to yellow gradually and drop during the summer.

4. With the bark scraped away, can you see white, fan-shaped fungal mats between bark and wood?
This is Armillaria root rot. Infected trees tend to collapse in mid-summer.

 

Abiotic problems and disorders of ornamental cheryy trees

Gummosis

dried sap on tree trunk
Photo: Ellen Hartranft

Gummosis is the oozing of sap from wounds caused by borers, mechanical injury, stress, or cankers. Gummosis caused by disease is distinguishable from insect damage and mechanical injuries because sawdust or pieces of bark are not mixed in the sap, as it would be with insect or mechanical damage. 

 

Stress

Stress or abiotic problems can be broken down into three areas:

curled leaves from drought stress
Drought-stressed leaves
  • Environmental - Tend to be weather-related, drought, too wet, extreme hot or cold temperatures, climate change are examples.
  • Poor planting care and site conditions - Begins from how the tree was planted - was it planted too deeply, are the roots still caged in burlap or a wire basket, is there too much mulch up against the trunk? Is there proper drainage, is the soil compacted, or does the tree receive enough sun?
  • Physical damage - trunk damage (typically from deer or voles, lawnmowers, or weed trimmers), damaged or girdled roots, or embedded wire or cords strangling the trunk. 

 

Wildlife

trunk gnawing damage to an arborvitae
Vole damage to a tree trunk
  • Ornamental flowering fruit trees may need protection from deer. Use hardware cloth to loosely enclose the trunks of trees vulnerable to deer feeding. Where deer pressure is heavy, try rotating various commercial repellents. Hanging small cakes of deodorant soap from branches may also be helpful.
  • Protect young trees from vole damage by surrounding the lower trunk with hardware cloth, which should extend 2-3 inches below soil level.

Voles

Rabbits

Deer

Mechanical damage

crabapple tree trunk damaged by a lawnmower or weed trimmer
Damage from weed trimmer or mower. Mechanical wounds at the base of the tree.
Photo: Jason Sharman, Vitalitree, Bugwood.org
  • Mechanical wounds are entry places for disease, insects, and can slowly kill the tree. Prevention is the best way to avoid this from happening. 
  • Protect trees from lawnmower and string trimmer damage. Place a 2-3” layer of mulch in a wide circle around the trunk to eliminate the need for close trimming of unwanted grass. Keep the mulch 6” away from the trunk. 

Diseases of ornamental cherry trees

Black knot

black knot on cherry
Black knot on cherry tree branch
Photo: David L. Clement, University of Maryland

Black Knot

Black, gnarled swellings along twigs and branches. It is easier to find after trees have lost their leaves in the fall and through the winter. 

Management

Prune out and dispose of infected wood below visible damage.

Cankers

Various fungal and bacterial diseases (especially Cytospora canker): Enters through insect feeding or lawnmower wounds, frost cracks, or hail damage.

CankersPhytophthoraVerticillium wiltArmillaria root rot: dark or loose bark usually sunken. Fungal growth is sometimes visible under loose bark.

Cherry shot hole disease

cherry leaf spot symptoms
Cherry leaf spot symptoms
Photo: David L. Clement, University of Maryland

Cherry leaf spot or cherry shot hole 

  • Cherry shot-hole disease is a "catch-all" phrase referring to the symptom of tiny round holes (about ⅛” in diameter) in leaves of cherry trees. It can occur early in the season and is worse during wet springs. Eventually, leaves turn yellow and fall off the tree prematurely. 

Brown rot

brown rot symptoms
Brown rot symptoms
Photo: David L. Clement, University of Maryland
  • Brown rot is a fungal infection that attacks flowering cherry trees, especially the cultivar 'Kwansan', later in spring just as the flowers are starting to fade. 

Insect pests of ornamental cherry trees

Borers

weeping hole at the bottom of a peach tree trunk
Peachtree borer damage

Peachtree and lesserpeach tree borer

  • These are two similar pests that attack different parts of cherry trees.
  • Peachtree borer larvae grow into thick-bodied 1-inch-long larvae with brown heads that burrow through the inner bark of cherry, peach, and nectarine trees at or just below the base of the tree. One borer can kill a small tree; two or more may kill larger trees.
  • The lesserpeach tree borer adult lays its eggs on the trunks and limbs of peach and nectarine trees, often in or around wounds and cankers caused by the Leucostoma fungus.
  • The activities of both borers results in oozing of amber gum (gummosis) from the holes, which often contains sawdust-like insect frass (larval excrement).
  • The gum is produced by the tree as a defensive response to the injury.
  • When lesserpeach tree borer wounds are found on small branches, they should be cut out and destroyed.
thick sap running from a wound on a peach tree trunk

Gummosis can be a sign of peachtree borer activity

 

Caterpillars

fall webworm caterpillars
Fall webworm
Photo: David L. Clement, University of Maryland

Fall webworm

tent caterpillar nest
Eastern tent caterpillar

Eastern tent caterpillars

Scale

White prunicola scale
White prunicola scale on stems

Preferred host plants are in the Prunus (cherry) family.

White prunicola scale

 

Japanese beetle

Japanese beetles on a damaged leaf
Japanese beetles on a skeletonized leaf
Photo: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

Plants in the rose family are preferred J. beetle host plants. 

Authors: Mary Kay Malinoski (retired), Jon Traunfeld, David Clement, University of Maryland Extension Specialists, Home and Garden Information Center, 2006. Revised 3/2020.

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