Cherry trees can be a little finicky to keep happy and healthy, right?
But their unique and wonderful blossom alone brings so much to a garden that it’s worth learning a bit about how to keep them happy.
I’m here to share with you how to save a dying cherry tree from the most common causes. Hopefully, your cherry tree has many more years of life ahead of it!
- Quick Read
- Why is My Cherry Tree Dying?
- Find the Remedy
- Prevention is Always the Best Cure
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To figure out why your cherry tree is dying, you’ll need to look at the most obvious symptoms and do some investigating. You can only fix the problems when you know what they are.
Most commonly, too much water will result in fungal diseases or overall failure to thrive, too little water or nutrients will result in limp, curling leaves and no fruiting, frost damage will result in the tips of the branches dying back, while different diseases have quite distinct characteristics that should be fairly easy to spot.
Once you’ve identified the issue, you can decide on the remedy.
Keep reading for more detail!
Why is My Cherry Tree Dying?
First up, before you can decide how to save a dying cherry blossom tree, you need to figure out the reason it’s dying. Once you’ve got some idea of what’s going wrong, you can figure out whether it’s possible to fix the issue and save the tree, or whether you’re better off starting again. (And yes, unfortunately starting again might be necessary.)
Common reasons for cherry tree failure include:
Inappropriate amount of water
Cherry trees are pretty sensitive to the water they’re given. They’re not super happy with either extreme. The best way to determine whether your cherry tree is over or under-watered is the same way you would check a house plant – feeling the soil.
Put your finger into the top few inches of soil. If the soil is completely dry then the tree needs more water, if it is still pretty wet a few hours after watering, then it’s probably experiencing the effects of overwatering coupled with inadequate soil drainage.
Too much water:
The tree will likely start to display signs of fungal diseases and rot that result in the yellowing of leaves which then fall off.
Too little water:
Too little water can also result in the yellowing and dropping of leaves, but they’ll likely curl and start to look dry first as the tree tries to conserve water. An underwatered cherry tree also won’t fruit.
Frost damage is fairly easy to identify as your region will have had to experience below-freezing temperatures, and the tips of the branches on your cherry tree will appear blackened and dead.
Lack of nutrients or an imbalance of nutrients.
If you have a cherry tree that is failing to thrive and is displaying similar symptoms to the point above, but you know that it is not a climate issue, then it may be a nutrient problem.
Too high a concentration of certain nutrients, or not enough, can cause a cherry tree to suffer in the same way that a person with a poor diet suffers from malnutrition. Similarly, if the pH of the soil is too far outside of the optimum range for cherry trees (6-7) then the tree will have problems absorbing the nutrients it needs.
Pests or disease.
Last but not least, cherry trees are prone to a number of pests and diseases that can wreak havoc on the tree’s health.
The most common are:
- Cherry Leaf Spot – More common in orchards than home gardens, presents as small pink-white spots on the underside of leaves that eventually cause holes and leaf drops.
- Powdery Mildew – Appears like a white powder on the upper side of the leaves and prevents adequate photosynthesis, gradually killing the leaves.
- Brown Rot – First appears as cankers and then gradually the branches die back.
- Black Knot – A fungal disease that presents as visible black knots on the bark.
- Rust – A fungal disease that looks like rust on the leaves and causes them to die.
- Silver Leaf – A fungal disease in the bark that causes leaves in that vicinity to turn silver.
Find the Remedy
Aside from the most obvious solution to over-watering (reducing the amount of irrigation), the problem is more difficult to fix if the issue is with lack of drainage in the soil. If your cherry tree is in a pot or is still small enough to easily dig up, then it might we worth amending the soil to increase its drainage.
If you’re not sure whether drainage is the issue, you may have to do a little digging (pun intended) to determine the soil type. If you have a soil type that is rich in clay then drainage is likely an issue.
Luckily, this is easy to fix! Simply give your cherry tree more water and it should hopefully start to recover.
You can make your life a lot easier by setting up an irrigation system using soaker hoses. Soaker hoses are by far the superior form of irrigation for all parts of your garden. If that’s a little too much work, at least invest in a hose cart with wheels to save dragging a heavy hose or watering cans about your yard!
If you don’t have an unlimited water supply then harnessing rainwater for garden use is an excellent thing to do. If you’re new to the concept of harvesting rainwater, have a read of this article.
If the variety of cherry trees that you have is not well suited to the hardiness zone that you live in, it may suffer from extremes in temperature.
Frost damage is a common problem for cherry trees that prefer warmer climates. If frost damage occurs, remove the dead tips of the tree to make way for healthy, new growth in the spring.
To prevent frost damage from occurring, choose a protected location for your tree, ideally south facing for maximum sun and warmth. If you can plant it up against a wall, this might help provide protection from northerly winds. The wall may also absorb some of the sun’s heat during the day and then release it slowly overnight, helping to prevent dips in temperature.
If the tree is small enough, it’s highly recommended to cover it with a frost cloth for cold winter nights. Just remember to remove the cloth during the day so that the tree can get some sun and ventilation.
At the other end of the scale, if you live in a warmer climate than your cherry tree is adapted to cope with, then you may instead choose to plant in a north-facing location where it can be a little protected from the heat of the sun.
It will also be important to ensure that the tree gets adequate water.
Inadequate nutrients are usually a result of poor quality soil which can be relatively easily fixed but may take some time.
Apply a thick layer of aged compost and mulch to the ground underneath the tree, reaching as far as the drip line (the outer perimeter of the tree’s branches). Be sure to leave a small gap around the trunk of the tree so that the added moisture doesn’t cause damage.
Over time and with rain or irrigation, the nutrients from the compost will travel down into the soil where the tree’s roots can access them. Meanwhile, mulching will help the soil to retain moisture and increase good quality organic matter over time. [Pro tip: grass clippings make excellent mulch!]
If you’re not making your own compost yet, there’s no time like the present to begin your heap and save money by turning your food scraps into food for your garden. I have a guide to the best compost tumblers that will make starting up a breeze. Simply collect your kitchen scraps in a kitchen compost bin and then add them to the tumbler when it gets full.
Pests or Disease
- Cherry Leaf Spot – Generally the only treatment is a fungicide but this disease is rarely a problem for individual trees in a garden, it’s more an issue in large mono-crops of cherry trees.
- Powdery Mildew – Keep the tree well pruned in order to keep the branches dry and well aerated. Depending on the size of your tree and the extent of the problem, home remedies like baking soda or milk sprays can help, together with removing infected branches. If the problem is severe, a fungicide may be necessary.
- Brown Rot – Remove and burn all affected wood.
- Black Knot – Remove all affected branches to 6 inches below the infection site and knots on the trunk as you see them. Be sure to burn the diseased wood.
- Rust – A sulfur and lime fungicide is the most common treatment.
- Silver Leaf – Remove all affected branches and burn them, seal the wound sites with appropriate paint to prevent the disease from entering fresh cuts.
Prevention is Always the Best Cure
While sometimes finding yourself the owner of a sick cherry tree is unavoidable, there are things that you can do to keep your cherry tree as healthy as possible and minimize its chances of succumbing to disease.
Select the Right Variety
Choosing the right variety of cherry trees for your climate, and if possible, selecting a variety that has been bred to be resistant to common diseases such as rust, is a really important first step. This could save you a lot of work and effort down the road.
Next, keeping your tree well pruned is important for the prevention of a number of diseases because it allows for adequate aeration, preventing moisture buildup which is a precursor for fungal infections.
If you’re new to pruning, make sure you do a little research before you make the first cut. There is a bit of an art to it and you don’t get a do-over! Read this article to start.
Mulch, Compost and Water
The regular application of aged compost and mulch is good practice in nearly every part of your garden and your cherry tree is no different.
Mulching and composting around the drip lines help the tree hold on to water and nutrients in dry conditions. It also helps to keep the soil healthy, and healthy soil makes for a healthy tree.
Be mindful of how much water your tree needs by keeping an eye on the soil around the base of the tree. You want to avoid the top few inches of soil being either bone dry or wetter than a damp laundry for too long.
Don’t be the Vector
Lastly, make sure that any pruning tools you use are cleaned and sanitized in a weak bleach solution to ensure that you are not spreading disease.
Also, make sure that you dispose of any diseased wood appropriately and that pests and diseases on other plants and trees in the garden are kept under control. Powdery mildew in particular can affect a lot of different plants.
As you can see, cherry trees can encounter a lot of problems. As always, prevention is the best cure, but if you do find yourself with a sick tree, there are things that you can do to save it.
Hopefully, with the help of this article, you are familiar with some of the ways how to save a dying cherry tree.
Did you find this article helpful? Did you manage to successfully save your dying cherry tree? Please let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!