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Lets Go Japanese This April

Lets Go Japanese This April

The glorious Flowering Cherries have been a staple of the British landscape in April for hundreds of years.  Most of these however originated in China and Japan where they are a central motif to the worship of nature and the Spring.  They are now bred around the world for their elegant shape and exquisite flowers which range from brilliant white to the deepest pink.  Cherries belong to the large genus known as Prunus which also includes Plums, Almonds, Apricots, Peaches and evergreen plants such as the Common Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and the Portugal Laurel (Prunus Lusitanica) both of which make superb hedges.

Although synonymous with April flowering Cherries can start to bloom as early as November with the species P. Subhirtella Autumnalis.  This has either white or pink flowers, makes a medium sized tree and will continue flowering on bare stems during mild winters until March.

  

The April flowering cultivars start with the smaller varieties like Prunus Incisa 'Ko No Mai' which can be grown as a 1.5 metre bush or grafted onto a stem to make a very nice half standard lollypop tree with pale pink flowers.

More upright forms include the Flagpole Cherry or Prunus 'Amanagawa'.  It has light pink, fragrant flowers and is a very useful tree for a small garden.  'Royal Burgundy' is a fairly new variety with a goblet-shaped canopy. It reaches 4m tall by 3m in width and has rose-pink double blooms followed by contrasting burgundy leaves that turn a spectacular scarlet in the autumn.  Also look out for 'Snow Goose' which has pure white flowers and unusually long tassel-like stamens.

There are also weeping cherries such as the old favourite Cheals Weeping Cherry, Prunus Kiku-Shidare-Sakura (please don't ask me for a translation) with its double candy pink flowers and an eventual height and width of 4m.  It looks great underplanted with Bulbs, Tulips, Violas, Hellebores and Snowdrops.  Smaller cultivars like P. Subhirtella 'Pendula Rubra" has attractive arching branches and single pink flowers with a rosy flush to the base of the petals.  One of the most graceful weeping varieties is P. 'Snow Showers' which is covered in many white flowers in April and is about 3m in height.  There are really too many of these beautiful Cherries to mention but just a few are Prunus Serula (the Tibetan Cherry) with its extraordinary polished mahogany bark and dainty pinky white flowers and P. 'Amber Beauty' which has elegantly peeling amber bark.

When planting Cherries in a border or grass area, remove the turf, dig a hole about 45cm square to a depth of 45cm and add garden compost at the bottom.  Then remove the pot from your tree and place the root ball with the roots gently teased out in the hole so that it's top sits at the same level of ground surrounding the hole. Do not bury the stem as this can cause stem rot which destroys the bark and results in the death of the tree.  Back fill into the hole around the root ball with the excavated soil adding more compost and firm in well with the soles of your shoes.  Water using about 6 litres of water and check if more water is needed every 5 days.  Mulch around the tree with rotted farmyard manure, bark or soil improver compost.  This will help prevent the soil drying at the roots as the weather warms as well as preventing the growth of competitive weeds.  Finally, stake the tree for its first few years to prevent wind rock which can damage the roots.  A wooden tree stake 5cm in diameter and 180cm tall accompanied with a strong rubber tree tie is perfect. If rabbits are a problem in your area also put a guard around the stem.

So which one is my favourite?  Definitely Prunus 'Chocolate Ice'.  It has chocolate coloured leaves and single white flowers which glisten against the dark foliage.  Absolutely stunning! Whichever is your own favourite this spectacular period of spring colour can be enjoyed year after year and if you're lucky enough to actually visit Japan be sure that you see these wondrous trees in their natural environment.

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