Why Cherry Tree Leaves Turn Yellow: Causes and Solutions

cherry tree with yellow leaves

Gardeners often notice their cherry trees developing yellow leaves at some point during the growing season. While other deciduous trees also go through periods of yellowing, cherry trees seem especially prone to this phenomenon.

Yellowing leaves on your cherry tree may naturally worry you. However, in most cases it does not indicate a terminal illness for your tree. By understanding the reasons behind this occurrence, you can take steps to return your cherry tree’s leaves to their lush green glory.

Main Causes of Yellowing Leaves on Cherry Trees

There are four primary causes behind yellowing leaves on a cherry tree:

  • Nutrient deficiencies in the soil
  • Environmental stressors
  • Pests, diseases, or fungi
  • Natural leaf aging

Below we dive deeper into the specific reasons in each category and how to identify them.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Lack of key nutrients in the soil is one of the most common reasons for yellow cherry tree leaves. The main nutrient deficiencies that can cause leaf discoloration are:

  • Nitrogen: Overall yellowing of leaves across the whole tree generally signals a shortage of nitrogen. Cherry trees need high levels of nitrogen for vigorous leaf growth and fruit production. Without enough nitrogen, the leaves turn completely yellow or yellowish-green.
  • Iron: An iron deficiency shows up as yellowing between the leaf veins, while the veins remain dark green. This gives the leaves a spindly “skeletonized” look. Iron is essential for creating chlorophyll to keep leaves green.

While these two deficiencies are the most likely causes, lacking other nutrients like sulfur, manganese, magnesium, and zinc can also sometimes trigger leaf yellowing on cherry trees.

Environmental Stressors

Difficult environmental conditions can stress the cherry tree and cause leaves to turn yellow as a result. Some key environmental stressors are:

  • Over or under-watering: Too much moisture around the roots denies them oxygen, while too little water also directly stresses the tree.
  • Temperature extremes: Early spring frosts or late fall freezes can damage leaves. Midsummer heat waves can also scorch leaves yellow.
  • Heavy winds: Strong winds can batter the cherry tree, causing cell damage within leaves that leads to spotty yellowing.
  • Root damage: Construction work, soil compaction, or disturbance within the tree’s drip line can crush or sever absorbing roots. This impedes water/nutrient transport to leaves.

With environmental issues, leaf yellowing may start in isolated branches that are most affected, rather than occurring evenly across the whole canopy.

Pests, Diseases, and Fungi

Various infectious agents that attack the vascular system or leaf tissue itself can also turn cherry tree leaves yellow. Common culprits include:

  • Aphids: These tiny sap-sucking insects spread quickly and can swarm young leaves and shoots. The loss of plant fluids causes yellowing. Other sap feeders like leafhoppers and spider mites can also spread rapidly.
  • Fungal diseases: Leaf spot, powdery mildew, rust, and scab fungi can all take hold if conditions are right. They disrupt leaf cell functions, leading to yellowing and leaf drop. Wet weather promotes their spread.
  • Bacterial diseases: Bacteria like pseudomonas attack the tree’s vascular tissues, causing water/nutrient transport issues that spread yellowing in branches or entire trees.

With pest and disease problems, leaf yellowing often starts in one part of the tree canopy and spreads from there. Look for visual signs like sticky honeydew, webbing, speckling damage, or dark moldy areas.

Natural Leaf Aging

Finally, cherry trees naturally drop some of their older leaves in late summer/autumn as part of their growth cycle. The tree withdraws nutrients from aging leaves, causing them to turn yellow then brown. These leaves often start higher up in the inner canopy where older branches with poorer air circulation reside.

So some autumn yellowing and leaf drop is perfectly normal. It allows sunlight to penetrate to lower branches and helps stimulate the tree to set new flower buds for the next spring.

As long as the yellowing is only affecting a portion of the tree’s leaves, and is not accompanied by lots of dead twigs or branches higher up, this natural aging process is nothing to worry about.

What To Do If Your Cherry Tree Has Yellow Leaves

If your cherry tree has yellow instead of lush green leaves, take the following steps:

  1. Identify the cause – Check which sections of leaves are affected and look for accompanying symptoms to diagnose the issue. The table below summarizes differences:
CauseLocationOther Symptoms
Nutrient DeficiencyAcross whole treeNone, possible slower growth
Environmental StressIsolated branchesLeaf scorching, dead twigs
Pests/DiseasesSections or clustersHoneydew, webs, dark mold
Natural AgingInterior upper branchesLeaf drop
  1. Improve growing conditions – Rule out environmental stressors first. Ensure:
    • Soil pH between 6-7
    • Water 1-2 inches per week
    • Prevent soil compaction
    • Mulch around tree base
  2. Address nutrient deficiencies – If leaves are evenly pale yellow, fertilize the soil around your cherry’s drip line with nitrogen-heavy mixes in early spring. Foliar iron sprays can also supplement iron uptake.
  3. Use integrated pest management – For pest and disease outbreaks:
    • Remove heavily infected leaves/branches
    • Apply organic neem oil or insecticidal soap sprays
    • Avoid excessive pesticide applications
  4. Prune older interior branches – Thin overcrowded branching inside the canopy to stimulate new growth. Remove inner limbs showing dying leaves/twigs.

Taking a systematic approach should get your cherry tree leaves back to a lush green in no time!

Why Proper Care for Cherry Trees Is Important

Giving your cherry tree the care it needs in terms of water, nutrients, and appropriate growing conditions makes it more resilient against environmental fluctuations and disease pressure. Think of it as creating strong immunity!

Here are some key reasons to keep your cherry tree in optimal health with lush green foliage:

  • Promotes flower bud development: Your cherry tree sets next year’s flower buds in summer and fall. Good nutrition ensures great blossom potential.
  • Enables energy storage: The sugars made in green leaves get stored over winter in roots and woody tissue as future food for growth.
  • Sustains fruit production: Those sweet cherries come from well-fed trees! Proper nutrition and leaf coverage support better fruit yields.
  • Maintains tree longevity: Taking good care of your cherry tree helps it live a long, quality life of 50+ years.

So give your cherry tree what it needs, and it will reward you for years to come! Let’s recap the top tips:

Cherry Tree Care Quick Tips

  • Water thoroughly in early spring, summer, and fall (if rainfall under 1 inch per week)
  • Fertilize each spring with a nitrogen-rich tree food
  • Apply iron supplements if yellowing leaves have dark green veins
  • Prune interior branches every 2-3 years for better air movement
  • Protect bark/roots from mower damage (mulch buffer helps)
  • Monitor for pests like aphids; use organic sprays if infested
  • Manage fungal disease by removing infected leaves
  • Protect from harsh winds, temperature swings with proper site selection


It’s common for many cherry trees to develop yellowing leaves at some point, whether from nutrients shortages, environmental factors, or pests pressuring the tree. But armed with the information above, you can get to the root cause and restore your cherry tree foliage to emerald green in no time.

Be sure to provide your cherry tree the proper growing conditions and care that matches its needs. The small efforts invested will reward you with an exceptionally verdant, fruitful, and long-lasting specimen that graces your landscape for years of enjoyment.

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