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Grow your own cherry blossom trees: 5 essential tips

March 2012 marks the centennial celebration of a monumental occasion: the gift of 3,020 cherry blossom trees from Tokyo to Washington, D.C. in 1912. The grove of trees, which has grown into a thriving orchard around the tidal basin of the capital, now attracts thousands of tourists who gather each March for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Next year’s two-week celebration marks the time of year when these trees produce their lush white-and-pink blossoms, bursting to life along the tidal basin. The cherry blossom tree, known in Japan as the sakura, is a symbol for the beautiful and transitory nature of life. The cherry blossoms only last for about a week once they bloom.

Because of its fleeting beauty, the sakura tree has become a national symbol of Japan, particularly being associated with the military personnel, who view life as transitory. Many Japanese follow the tradition of hanami or "flower viewing," the custom of celebrating the sakura bloom as it moves north across the island of Japan.

The somewhat unlikely fact that these trees thrive in the capital of the United States symbolizes an appreciation for Japanese culture and a lasting peace between the two nations. Orchards of cherry blossoms have also been adopted in other parts of the U.S., including Macon, Ga., San Diego, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. It also has become popular to grow the trees in private homes and gardens.

If you envy the beauty of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and want to have your very own sakura trees blossoming on your property, follow these 5 essential tips:

  1. Consult a professional. Don’t attempt to grow a cherry blossom tree if you are inexperienced. The tree is notoriously delicate and finicky. Expert gardeners, including professional landscapers, can determine the right planting conditions and care required to protect the tree from disease and damage.
  2. Make sure you have the right planting conditions. The most common forms of the sakura tree, such as the yoshino species planted in Washington, can grow up to 40 feet wide. Sakura are also self-pollinating, meaning that their blooms are most beautiful when they are grouped together. It is ideal to plant at least two of the trees 10 to 20 feet apart with plenty of room to expand. Sakura trees also require full sun, so do not plant them too close to the shade of buildings or other trees.
  3. Shelter the trees from extreme heat or cold. The sakura tree is delicate and will not tolerate over-exposure to heat or cold. Planting along a hillside and covering the roots with mulch can help protect the plant, but also make sure you purchase the best variety for your local climate. A local nursery can ensure you have the best tree for your climate.
  4. Use the right soil. Sakura trees require soil that is nutritious and moist but well-drained. They do best in soil that is deep and acidic. They are also sensitive to gaps in the soil that could let cold air seep in during the winter. If your lawn is shallow, basic, nutrient-poor, and has poor drainage, it will be hard for even the most skilled gardener to grow a sakura tree for you.
  5. Regularly check for disease. The sakura is prone to being overtaken by fungus and other disease; watch for any diseased branches and remove them early. To prevent inadvertently spreading disease, you should disinfect your pruning tools with alcohol.

If you choose the right type of tree, the right place to plant it and the right professional to tend to it, you can have a beautiful column of cherry blossoms for your garden. The trees’ dark color and angular branches lend a stark elegance to the landscape. If properly cared for, they also ensure you have your own springtime display of gorgeous pink and white blossoms.


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