Trees that flower in late winter are genetically wired to tolerate chilly temperatures, though still some blooms are damaged by extreme lows that are commonplace in late February and early March. But, when flowering is delayed by weeks, magnolias (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, above) and cherries move briskly from bud to bloom, and then quickly fade in warmer temperatures that they are ill equipped to handle.
With the delayed onset of spring temperatures it’s not surprising that the garden is suddenly filled with blooms from bulbs and trees that typically flower a few weeks earlier. Late winter flowering magnolias (Magnolia × loebneri ‘Merrill’, above) are in bloom alongside spring bloomers (Magnolia ‘Jane’, below), and cherries that are generally separated in flower by several weeks have begun to bloom only days apart. Though the flowers were missed in past weeks, today they’re magnificent, and the wait now seems worthwhile.
The light pink flowers of ‘Okame’ cherry (Prunus x incamp ‘Okame’, below) are often threatened by extreme temperatures in early March, though damage is rarely severe (as it is with the early flowering magnolias). Now, it would be surprising if nights in April were cold enough to result in injury. ‘Okame’ grows with a more compact and rounded shape than other cherries (that are considerably wider than tall), and thus it is appropriate for most smaller properties, though it is not as common. While the dense foliage and shallow roots of popular ‘Yoshino’ and ‘Kwanzan’ cherries make growing a lawn beneath the trees difficult, the upright form of ‘Okame’ hardly impedes lawn grasses.
The weeping Higan cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’, below) is a graceful tree in bloom, or even the silhouette of the bare branches through the winter. This tree is often grafted onto a straight six foot trunk, which slows its growth somewhat, but still it will grow to nearly thirty feet tall and wide. Too often I’ve seen the Higan cherry planted close by a walk or driveway until it must be butchered when it encroaches too far. All cherries should be given a wide berth, though ‘Okame’ and the white flowered weeping cherry ‘Snow Fountain’ (Prunus ‘Snofozam’) require only about half the space.
The Higan cherry in my garden is not grafted, and it grew quickly to fill an open area at the sunny border of the garden. Unfortunately, tall hornbeams (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’) and a ‘Fat Albert’ spruce (Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’) obstructed the view of the cherry for years, but then the hornbeams suffered an unknown malady that required their removal. The spruce was also removed after a collision with a Canadian chokecherry (Prunus virginiana ‘Schubert’) that was toppled in a storm, crushing branches on one side of the spruce (and also shearing a few large branches from the Higan cherry). Now, the cherry is in full, splendid view, and the hornbeams and spruce are not missed so badly.