Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Flowering Cherry Hedge Plants

Flowering cherry hedge plants are the focus of numerous television infomercials and online promotional campaigns. Advertisements for flowering cherry hedges were showing up in Popular Science Magazine as long ago as 1978. Advertisers claim these plants produce dense, long-lasting spring blooms and up to 10,000 cherries each growing season. Little genuine mystery, however, surrounds these plants. They're actually the same wild sand cherries that American settlers cultivated in 19th-century Great Plains home gardens.


University of Nebraska professor Charles E. Bessey extolled the virtues of the wild sand cherry (Prunus pumila) shrub as a home orchard plant in 1892. Cornell University horticulturist and professor Liberty Hyde Bailey described a second variety of sand cherry in the Cornell University Experiment Station Bulletin 70 in August 1894. Bailey's bushy shrub was more compact and had larger, wider leaves than those of the more willowy P. pumila. Bailey proposed naming the smaller plant Prunus besseyi in Bessey's honor. Some sources refer to the shrub as Prunus pumila var. besseyi.

Native Range

Sand cherry, or the flowering cherry hedge plant, grows wild from Michigan across the upper Midwest into Montana and the Great Basin. Oregon and Arkansas have wild populations. The shrub thrives on sunny to partly shady roadsides, prairies, woodland edges and stream banks. Exceptional cold hardiness lets sand cherries survive to United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 3, where winter temperatures can approach minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Sand cherry, as its name suggests, is happiest in sandy soil of average moisture. This adaptable plant, however, also tolerates loam or clay soils and hot, dry conditions.


Deciduous sand cherry's greenish-gray leaf color is unusual among Prunus family plant foliage. The oval, toothed leaves emerge after the shrub's 1/2-inch, white April and May flowers. Bee-pollinated blooms produce edible, 3/4-inch mid- to late summer cherries. The sour fruit ripens to glossy blackish-purple. Flowering cherry hedge's foliage becomes bronze to red before dropping in the fall, adding a third season of ornamental interest.


Songbirds and wildlife feed on the cherries. The fruit also makes tasty preserves and pies. Many birds use the plants as roosts or for nesting material. The shrub's compact form is ideal, as those infomercials claim, for ornamental hedges. Plant the largely pest- and disease-resistant cherries 5 to 6 feet apart to allow for their sprawling habit. They grow in full sun -- for maximum flowering and fruiting -- to partial shade. Established plantings seldom need additional water.

Tags: flowering, cherry, hedge, plants, cherry hedge, Cornell University, Prunus pumila, sand cherries, sand cherry, these plants