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The Yoshino Cherry Tree

The Yoshino cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis), also known as Japanese flowering cherry trees, are the gorgeous cherry trees you see most often if you go to cherry blossom festivals around the world. These cherry trees bloom during the spring with whitish-pink, almond-scented blossoms on stunning bare branches.

Yoshino cherry trees and the Washington Monument during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Yoshino cherry trees during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

The small Yoshino cherries are too bitter to be edible for humans, but they attract butterflies and birds to your garden. The history of this “fairy tale” tree is fascinating. Let’s dive in and explore everything about this beautiful historic tree.

History of the Yoshino Cherry Tree

In Japan, the ancient tradition of celebrating the blooming of cherry trees has been practiced for centuries. According to the National Park Service, the planting of cherry trees in Washington, D.C. originated in 1912. However, the idea actually came to fruition in 1885.

An Idea Is Born

A world traveler and diplomat named Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore returned from a visit to Japan and proposed the idea of planting Japanese cherry trees along the Potomac waterfront.

Unfortunately, her idea was largely ignored. Nevertheless, it didn’t change her mind, and for the next 24 years, Mrs. Scidmore approached the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds every time a new superintendent was sworn in.

The First Lady of the United States

In 1909, after a man named Dr. David Fairchild successfully demonstrated the value of cherry trees in D.C and Maryland, Eliza Scidmore made the decision to raise the money to purchase cherry trees and donate the trees to the city. To gain much-needed backing, she outlined her plan and sent a note to the First Lady of the United States: Helen Herron Taft.

As it turns out, the timing of Mrs. Scidmore’s idea was perfect. Mrs. Taft had lived in Japan and was aware of how beautiful flowering cherry trees were. It was Mrs. Taft who had the idea to make an “avenue” of the trees.

Japan’s Donation of Yoshino Cherry Trees

The day after Mrs. Taft wrote her letter, a Japanese chemist named Dr. Jokichi Takamine happened to be in Washington D.C. visiting with the Japanese consul, Mr. Midzuno.

When Dr. Takamine heard about Mrs. Taft’s letter, he took it upon himself to ask the First Lady if she would accept a donation of 2,000 trees to complete her avenue of cherry trees. The Mayor of Tokyo supported the idea and the Washington, D.C. cherry tree tradition was born.

The cherry trees were planted along the Potomac River, but the first batch ended up diseased and infested with nematodes and insects. That first batch was burned, but in 1912, 3,020 more cherry trees arrived.

The Ceremonial Planting of Two Yoshino Cherry Trees

On March 27, 1912, Mrs. Taft and the wife of the Japanese Ambassador planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the Tidal Basin’s north bank. It was from this humble gesture that the National Cherry Blossom Festival was born. Those first two trees are still standing to this day.

Yoshino Cherry Tree Characteristics

There are two different types of Yoshino cherry trees.

  • Yoshino flowering cherry tree
  • Yoshino weeping cherry tree

For this article, we’ll focus on the Yoshino flowering cherry tree because it’s the most popular and well-known.

Widely regarded as one of the most spectacular flowering cherry trees, with the Yoshino cherry tree in your garden, you’ll have thousands of blooms for a full two to three weeks every spring.

Here are some of the characteristics of the Yoshino flowering cherry tree.

  • Fragrant, whitish-pink flowers
  • Almond-scented blooms
  • Small berries that attract hundreds of butterflies and birds to your garden
  • Vase-like canopy
  • Exotic branching pattern
  • Heat-tolerant
  • Dark green leaves (they make wonderful shade trees)
  • Fast-growing
  • Adaptable to several soil varieties
  • Drought resistant once they’re established

The vase-like canopy unfurls from an upright, exotic branching pattern. The bark is smooth and gray, offering a stunning contrast with the gorgeous blooms.

Every blossom has five pale pink petals that mature into white petals, and every flower cluster has five to six blossoms.

Yoshino cherry tree blossom.
Yoshino tree cherry blossom.

In the summer, glossy green leaves that are ovate and serrated emerge. The leaves change to yellow, red, and orange in the fall before they drop in winter.

Planting Zones

Yoshino cherry trees grow beautifully in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8, from the East Coast to the West Coast. The exception to this is the hottest and coldest climates.

Size and Spacing

This cherry tree grows to a massive height of between 30-50 feet tall. Their spread is 25-40 feet. For best results, space your trees between 25-35 feet apart.

These cherry trees grow about 1-2 feet every year.

Pollination

Yoshino cherry tree pollination is done primarily through bees. Most bitter varieties of cherry trees are self-pollinating.

Bee pollinating a cherry blossom.
Bee pollinating a cherry blossom.

Tree Care

The best time to plant the Yoshino cherry tree is the spring and fall. The only true soil requirement for this tree is that the soil is moist. These trees grow well in all types of soil, including the following types.

  • Acidic
  • Sandy
  • Moist
  • Loamy
  • Clay

Sunlight

Yoshino cherry trees prefer full sun, although they will grow in partial shade. However, if you plant your trees in partial shade, they will produce fewer blooms.

Specifically, for maximum flowering, this tree needs at least six hours of unfiltered direct sunlight every day.

Watering

You will need to keep the soil around your trees moist, especially when it’s first growing its root system and becoming established. Yoshino cherry trees need approximately 40 inches of rain every year, and they’re not tolerant of long dry periods.

Test the moisture in the soil by inserting your index finger into the soil up to two inches. When the top two inches are dry, water for about 30 minutes with a garden hose. Essentially, this translates to about every three weeks in the fall and spring and every two weeks in the summer.

To help prevent moisture from evaporating, you can apply two to three inches of mulch around your tree. This will also allow you to further space out your waterings. When mulching, be sure to leave a several inch gap between the tree’s trunk and the mulch.

Pruning

While pruning isn’t a requirement for Yoshino cherry trees, if you see diseased, dead, or crowded branches, we recommend pruning them as they appear.

Also, if you want to prune your cherry trees for aesthetic reasons, you should prune them in early summer so that you don’t prune the buds.

Diseases & Care

This variety of cherry trees can attract pests such as spider mites and aphids. However, these are easily kept under control.

Common Uses For The Yoshino Cherry Tree

Yoshino cherry trees are grown for their beautiful blossoms. Although they produce fruit, cherries from this particular cherry tree are too bitter for human consumption.

However, because they attract bees and butterflies to your garden, these trees are a wonderful addition to the yard of any dedicated gardener. The Yoshino cherry tree has also spawned the beloved tradition of cherry blossom festivals.

Check out some edible cherry trees here. We even have loads of cherry recipes for you as well!

Cherry Blossom Festivals in Washington, D.C.

The Yoshino cherry tree is one of the first cherry trees to bloom every year, and these trees are a staple of the Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Macon, Georgia Yoshino Cherry Blossom Festival

Yoshino cherry trees are also celebrated at a hugely popular 10-day cherry blossom festival in Macon, Georgia every year. The tradition was started by a man named William A. Fickling, a realtor, after he discovered that a tree in his backyard was the same tree that famously grows along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

When Fickling returned home, he began propagating his Yoshino and started to share them freely with people in his community.

More than 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in Macon every year, and the city is referred to as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.

How to Host Your Own Cherry Blossom Party

In Japan, a cherry blossom party is called a Hanami (translation: flower viewing). We found an excellent article on Live Japan that lists all sorts of great ideas for your Hanami. Above all, cherry blossom parties are all about making the most of the blooms of the cherry trees. Here are some tips for hosting the best Hanami.

  • Plan for optimal viewing and make sure the weather is going to be nice.
  • Offer traditional food and drinks (or whatever your guests will enjoy).
  • Start in the early afternoon to make sure your guests have time to really enjoy the blossoms.
  • Explore fun decorations on Pinterest if you’re going to move your party indoors at dusk.
  • Consider watching an educational and entertaining YouTube video about the history of Yoshino cherry trees.

Where To Buy This Fruit Tree?

You can buy both the Yoshino flowering cherry tree and the Yoshino weeping cherry tree at Nature Hills Nursery.

Nature Hills Nursery notes that these trees are in very high demand and sell out quickly, so be sure to order as soon as you’re preparing to plant the trees.

Wrapping up The Yoshino Cherry Tree

If your garden doesn’t already have a Yoshino cherry tree, we highly recommend that you get one. Yoshino cherry trees will bring some magic to your yard and you will feel like you’re enjoying your own annual cherry blossom festival.

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