Cherry blossom trees are adored for their beautiful spring blooms, which have come to symbolize renewal and the fleeting nature of life. But with some varieties growing as large as 30 feet tall and wide, many of us in small gardens and urban spaces simply don’t have room for an immense flowering cherry tree.
The good news is that certain cherry trees take well to pruning and training methods that can keep them at a petite size. So you can still enjoy the elegant blooms and autumn leaf hues in even the smallest yard or balcony container.
With diligent pruning and care, it’s possible to maintain a dwarf cherry blossom that reaches no more than 8-10 feet at maturity. Read on to learn how to choose, plant, prune, and tend to a charming miniature cherry tree.
Why Keep Cherry Trees Small
Beyond fitting into smaller areas, there are a few great reasons you may want to limit the size of your ornamental cherry tree:
- Aesthetics: A little tree makes a lovely focal point without overwhelming the space. You can highlight it in prime viewing areas.
- Ease of Care: From pruning to harvesting fruit, a compact tree is simpler to maintain. You can reach all branches and blossoms without a ladder.
- Flower Power: When a cherry tree’s growth is restricted, more energy gets channeled into flower production rather than wood and foliage growth. An abundance of cheerful blooms is the payoff!
Of course a dainty cherry won’t match the grand, graceful spread of a full-size specimen. But the trade-off of a sweet smaller tree can be worth it.
Things to Consider Before Choosing a Dwarf Cherry
Before deciding if a petite cherry tree is right for your yard, think over these key considerations:
- Patience Is Required: Keeping any tree pruned to a fraction of its natural size is an ongoing endeavor. It takes dedication to regular maintenance pruning.
- Alternatives Exist: If the care demands seem too much, there are other compact ornamental trees like crabapples, juneberries, dwarf red maples and purple leaf plums that offer lovely spring flowers and fall color.
- Natural Compact Varieties: Some types of Japanese flowering cherry are naturally more compact (under 15 feet at maturity) so require less pruning intervention.
If you believe you can commit to diligent pruning, a dwarf cherry tree can be a fabulous addition. Let’s look first at selecting an appropriate cultivar.
How to Choose a Cherry Tree Variety Suited to Staying Small
To make life easier, start by selecting a tree with genetics naturally predisposed to staying small:
Your best bets come from the group of trees classified as Japanese flowering cherries. Within this diverse group exist certain species and named cultivars specifically bred for ornamental purposes to stay diminutive.
The star performer is ‘Kojo-no-mai’, which typically reaches just six to eight feet tall at maturity. Its profuse pale pink double blooms make it one of the most beloved miniatures.
For the iconic cotton candy look, ‘Pink Cloud‘ is a top choice. This variety stays under ten feet while producing clouds of single blush pink blossoms.
No matter which petite variety you choose, employing pruning techniques will be needed to really keep growth suppressed to low heights between six and ten feet tall.
Key Pruning Methods to Restrict Growth
A strict pruning regimen is critical for stunting a cherry tree’s ultimate size. Here are the top techniques to incorporate:
Pruning off new shoots while growth is active during summer forces the tree to channel energy into healing cuts rather than extending more branches. This is the number one strategy for dwarfing trees.
Target vertical “water sprouts” and fast growing branches, pruning back to just above a leaf node. This triggers stem thickening and flower bud formation rather than elongation.
Aim to do this every 2-3 weeks through early summer. It can seem drastic but remember – our goal is a little tree!
Like pruning up top controls canopy growth, cutting back roots every 2-3 years reduces the root system’s ability to supply water and nutrients. This stunts vegetation growth.
Use a sharp spade to make a narrow, shallow slice cutting cleanly through roots all around the tree. Move the tree to one side, make slice, backfill, repeat on all sides.
Maintaining an Open Canopy
As your dwarf cherry tree matures, diligently prune to create an open “vaselike” canopy shape. Allow light penetration by:
- Removing inward-facing branches
- Thinning congested areas
- Reducing secondary branching so each main branch is visible along its whole length
This form enhances air circulation and light exposure too, supporting better flowering and fruit production.
Continue pruning every year – there’s no such thing as a “maintenance free” compact cherry tree! But the work pays off in gorgeous annual flower displays.
Other Care Tips for Miniature Cherry Trees
Beyond pruning, a few other care strategies support compact growth:
- Grow In Containers: Restricting root space by planting in pots automatically dwarfs trees. Use a 15-20 gallon container and prune back circling roots annually.
- Fertilize Lightly: Avoid overdoing nitrogen which stimulates rapid green growth. A balanced organic fertilizer once yearly is ideal.
- Water Carefully: Prevent excessive soil moisture that can spur fast top and root growth. Allow drying between waterings.
Careful soil and moisture management prevents invigorating your tree too much! Think “tough love” to keep your petite cherry truly mini.
Overcoming Challenges: Dieback and Flowering
At times the stringent pruning required to dwarf cherry trees can have negative impacts, but solutions exist!
If too much live wood is removed at once, tender young trees can experience dieback where entire branches fail to leaf out come spring.
You can avoid this through:
- Making more conservative pruning cuts
- Focusing summer pruning mainly on tip removal rather than heading back large branches
- Cleanly pruning just above healthy buds or branches
Adjust your pruning plan if dieback occurs, allowing more moderate growth for a period before resuming stricter cuts.
Getting Flowers on a Mini Cherry
Ironically, the intensive pruning that keeps trees small can also deprive them of enough growth to bloom well. But a few cultural tips promote flowers:
- Wait to prune until after blossoms fade completely
- Use a high phosphorus fertilizer to stimulate blooms
- Allow some vertical watersprouts to extend before cutting back in summer – these often initiate flower buds
With careful timing of cuts and training some upward but not outward growth, you can enjoy flowers even on a bonsai-sized cherry tree.
Enjoying Your Petite Cherry Tree
When successfully kept to under ten feet tall, a Japanese flowering cherry tree has all kinds of great landscape uses:
- Accent planting in perennial or rock gardens
- Focal point specimen on patios & entryways
- Poolside plantings
- Container planting to move around yard for seasonal joy
- Espaliered as living art on fences or walls
- Grouped in a miniature orchard
You can highlight your petite tree in so many creative ways. The most exciting benefit is being able to tuck cherry blossom beauty into even the most compact garden!
Key Takeaways on Keeping Cherry Trees Small
- With consistent pruning, soil management and varietal selection, flowering cherry trees can be maintained at 6 to 10 feet tall
- The best candidates are compact Japanese species and named cultivars bred for ornamental use
- Summer pruning back new growth is most critical for restricting size long term
- An open canopy shape enhances flowering and fruiting
- Patience and commitment is required to keep cuts on track year after year
- The reward is enjoying floriferous cherry blooms no matter your garden’s size!
I hope this guide gives you confidence in installing a delightful little cherry tree suited to your available space. Though they demand some care upkeep, the glowing spring flowers and autumn leaf tints make it worthwhile.