Wild cherry tree (Prunus avium) is a deciduous flowering and fruiting tree native to the UK, sometimes also known by the name of ‘gean’, although this name is more commonly used in Scotland. Wild cherry tree blossoms are a beautiful sight in spring, with masses of pure white flowers borne in pendulous clusters on a large, rounded tree. Small red cherry fruits follow in autumn and while these are edible, they sometimes have slightly bitter taste. Despite this, wild cherry is one of the parents of many cultivated varieties of culinary cherry trees.
Wild cherry tree leaves are green throughout spring and summer then turn gorgeous shades of red and gold in autumn, before falling. The red-brown wood is popular for use in making decorative furniture and musical instruments. Flowers, fruit, and leaves all provide valuable food for a variety of wildlife. Wild cherry is tough, hardy, and easy to grow in most soils except waterlogged ground, but this is a large tree only suited to big gardens or woodland planting. The double-flowered variety (Prunus avium ‘Plena’) gives the most ornamental value for garden planting.
How to grow wild cherry tree
Plant wild cherry trees in plenty of sun and in any reasonable soil that drains freely. Allow plenty of space for the tree to reach its mature size. Ideally plant while dormant. Stake and keep watered for the first year or so until established. Only prune wild cherry if essential, in summer.
Identifying wild cherry tree
White flowers borne in early to mid-spring in clusters are 5-petalled, cup-shaped, and up to 2cm across. Wild cherry tree bark looks attractive all year, being shiny and reddish-brown in colour. Green leaves are up to 15cm long, oval in shape with toothed edges, colouring brightly in autumn. Wild cherry flowers are similar to those of bird cherry (Prunus padus), though this species bears many flowers in clusters, has greyish-brown bark, and is found growing in damper soils.
Size, height and spread
Wild cherry is a deciduous tree that forms a rounded head of branches. The height of wild cherry is generally around 10-15 metres, but can be up to double that height when mature in favourable growing conditions.
Value to wildlife
Wild cherry tree is excellent for wildlife. Nectar and pollen-rich flowers provide food for bees and other insects, fruits are popular with birds and mammals, and the leaves are an important food plant for many moth caterpillars.
Where to plant wild cherry
Plant wild cherry in larger gardens, wild, and woodland areas.
How to plant wild cherry
Autumn is the ideal time to plant, so the tree can start to establish well before the growing season. Late winter to early spring is the next best time. However, container grown trees can be planted at any time of year if kept well watered for the rest of the growing season.
Dig a planting hole sufficiently wide for the roots to be spread out. Ensure the top of the root ball is at soil level, firm in well, water in, and mulch the soil with compost or chipped bark to improve moisture retention and discourage weed growth. Stake the tree with a short stake angled at 45 degrees and secured to the trunk using a tree tie.
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How to prune wild cherry
Only prune if essential as wild cherry is susceptible to diseases that can enter through pruning cuts. Make as few cuts as possible, and do so in summer when cuts heal quickly.
Pests and diseases
Wild cherry tree, like many Prunus species, is susceptible to bacterial cankers and silverleaf disease. Canker causes dieback of shoots and brown spots on leaves that fall out to leave holes. Silverleaf is so called because affected leaves develop a silvery sheen before the growth dies. Tackle by pruning out dead and infected wood, in July and August, cutting back to healthy growth.
Advice on buying wild cherry
- Only buy a wild cherry tree if you have the space for this large tree to grow. Otherwise choose from one of the many orgnamental or edible cherry varieties that are much more compact
- Field grown (bare rooted) wild cherry trees are widely available to buy when dormant, from November to March
- Specialist tree nurseries offer a range of sizes from small saplings to large specimen trees
- For planting outside of the dormant season, wild cherry may be available as a container grown tree from nurseries and garden centres and online