Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Reverting Weeping Cherry

a pink flowering weeping cherry tree with reverted white flowering straight branches

Hello fellow readers, What’s this about trees reverting back to their roots? Marcia from Columbia, NJ, sent a photo of her pink flowering weeping cherry. “There are two large boughs with pure white blossoms.” The tree looks like it has a spikey haircut as the white branches are sticking up while the rest of the tree gracefully weeps. “Should I cut the straight branches,” she asked?

a pink flowering weeping cherry tree with reverted white flowering straight branches

Marcia’s Reverting Weeping Cherry

Weeping Cherry trees are often grafted.

Weeping cherry trees are often top-grafted trees. The weepy part of the tree, the scion, is grafted onto the rootstock of what the trade calls a standard (a single trunk) to create the umbrella-like shape. Marcia’s tree rootstock is likely from a white flowering cherry.

Before pruning a weeping cherry, I read to confirm if it’s a natural or a grafted tree by looking for a graft knot on the trunk. Typically it’s just below or about a foot under the crown (the branches). But I thought all weeping cherries were grafted. So on with the research cap.

Grafted versus Natural Weeping Cherry

My favorite nurseryman, Ben Jansen of Jansen Nursery in Florida, NY, said the reversion might be due to a poorly done graft or one that didn’t take well. He explained that the commonly sold Weeping Higan Flowering Cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’) is the hardier rootstock of Sargent Cherry (P. sargentii), a trunk of Yoshino Cherry (P. × yedoensis) and the canopy of Higan Cherry (P.subhirtella).

Ben suggested I reach out to J Frank Schmidt and Sons in Boring, Oregon, a wholesale grower well known for introducing new plants, to find out what a “naturally grown” weeping cherry is. Nancy Buley, their Communications Director, kindly gave me a crash course on how weeping cherry, and other weeping trees, are grown.

Why Weeping Cherries Weep

She explained weeping trees weep because “they don’t have apical dominance that makes plants stand upright.”  Essentially they’d scramble on the ground if not trained to grow upright before weeping.

very old pink flowering weeping cherry with a bulging graft union

A mature Weeping Cherry with a large graft union. Photo: Msact at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“A natural weeping cherry, rather than grafted, grows on its natural (its own) root, rather than the rootstock of another cherry tree. We unnaturally get it to stand alone by staking it at whatever height we wish for it to weep,” Nancy said.

How to prune branches of a reverting weeping cherry. 

Naturally grown weeping cherry will not revert. The upward growing branches will eventually arch down. If you prune them off, the tree will lose its weeping shape. So let them be.

But if a grafted tree, follow the straight branches to where they originate on the trunk and see if they’re below the graft union where the weeping part begins. If so, when the plant is dormant in late fall or early spring, prune the straight branches off at their origin with a clean cut. Messy cuts may inspire more sprouting from the same wound. If the straight stem is above the graft, let it grow to weep.

Because a newly reverted branch or stem tends to grow faster than the weeping ones, it’s best to cut them rather than wait too long, causing a gap or disfiguring the tree, taking years to fill in.

No Big Haircuts Please. 

Regarding the length of the canopy, no big haircuts, please. Cut branches ideally no more than six inches off the ground as severely shortening them may weaken the grafted part and encourage the rootstock to dominate. Though I can’t say that I blame the tree. There’s something comforting about returning to your roots.

Garden Dilemmas? (and your favorite Podcast App.)

There’s more to the story in Episode 55 of the podcast:

About J Frank Schmidt and Sons and E. P. Jansen Nursery




Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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