No More Amur Cherries

I’ve been betrayed! For many good years of my life I’ve fostered a loving relationship with a cute little green haired, golden skinned creature. I’ve helped it grow and spread over many seasons but now I’ve had enough. It’s over.

Amur cherry trees are my former object of desire. They are beautiful trees of smaller stature that display golden peely bark and green leaves that are rarely attacked by fungi and insect. They grow very quickly, are attractive 12 months of the year and they rarely produce pesky fruit to clean up in August.

These cherries have been and still are so widely planted throughout the city because of their attractiveness and vigourous growth. Any given garden centre will have at least a dozen of them in stock but I just can’t recommend them any more.

I frequently get called to look at amur cherry trees that have grown well for several years and all of a sudden are showing terrible symptoms of decline. In almost every case, the tree dies. The symptoms range from stunted growth on one or two limbs, a general wilted look or widespread branch death. The exact cause of death isn’t as simple as one insect attacking them or a general lack of water and nutrients. Although I haven’t pinpointed the exact causes of tree death, I suspect heavily that it’s related to our cold climate combined with poor root structure.

Most amur cherries are grown in pots which can encourage roots to circle around the inside of the pot. When the tree is planted in the landscape, those circling roots grow in diameter and choke the main stem. This results in a vigourous tree wilting and dying over the course of a single season. The problem is repairable but only at time of planting and even so the fix is a challenge.

Even if we fixed the girdling root problem, we can’t fix the fact that our climate can be unforgiving to tree species whose range does not extend this far north. Even with a warmer climate we will still have fluctuating temperatures that will result in sunscald on bark tissues leading to wounds on the main trunk and larger branches.

Of course there are some exceptions and some of our clients are lucky enough to own a full sized amur cherry with a crown height of 30 feet or more. These trees are fantastic but they’re also very rare.

My list of recommended tree species for planting is likely growing as we figure out that more and more tree species can survive up here but it has gone down by one this year. I no longer recommend planting amur cherries unless you are a gambler and want to take your chances that your investment won’t die within 15 years of planting.