Purple leaf sand cherry: rejuvenate-able?

deejeFebruary 6, 2007

Apologies for inventing new words, but I couldn't think of how else to say it!

The previous owners of our house were not gardeners, and so I'm now dealing with 15-year-old foundation plantings that have outgrown their space or were poorly placed from the beginning. One of them is a purple leaf sand cherry (prunus cistena) that's quite leggy - sort of gawky looking -- with not a lot of foliage, but with a lot of bare wood at the bottom.

I've not had enough sun to plant one of these before, so I'm not sure what to do with it, but it definitely looks unhappy. Is this the sort of shrub you can cut back severely to rejuvenate it? Or am I better off yanking it and replacing it with another shrub?

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Cut down low right after bloom this year. Leave a stool of old wood well above the ground, say several inches or more. It's like spur pruning of an a fruit tree espalier or flowering quince, only the spurs are on the ground.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2007 at 1:38AM
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Sounds simple enough; thanks, bboy! I'll whack 'er down this spring and hope it takes off!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2007 at 8:46PM
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hoyess(z5 ON Can)


I had the same problem on our property. With some I cut 50% of the branches to within 12" of the ground, left the rest for form for a year. By the next year there was enough growth to cut out the other 50% & I never really lost anything in the garden.

This year I had two others that were overgrown in another bed & given where they were cut them right to the ground (about 12" left -- they were 6 feet high). I expect them to grow back up to 4-5 feet by this fall.

Also, with those that are now rejuvinated I treat them a lot like red-twig dogwood. After blooming I cut out about 25-30% of the thicker branches about 12" from the ground, cut the others down about 1 -2 feet for height & shape. They've stayed a really nice shape and the branches 1) keep at nice brighter glow rather than that dull gray and 2) I don't have winter damage from breakage which was a real problem before.

Have fun

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 12:58PM
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Ooh, thank you, hoyess, that clarifies it even more! At our last place we had a stand of red-twig dogwood along the back of our property line, and I thinned/re-shaped them just as you described.

I'm at the office now, so I can't look outside to be sure - but I believe our sandcherry has a central leader from which most of the branching sprouts, starting maybe 9" up from the ground. It's as though the previous owners thought about trying to shape a tree/standard form out of the shrub, but gave up. Would that in any way change how you'd prune it back?

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 4:37PM
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hoyess(z5 ON Can)

Hmm that's a tuffy even mine had at least three or four branches when I cut them back hard. I think I'd stick with the idea of cutting back hard 50% of the branches to saying 3" above the top of the "stump" and see if you can force some branching. Pick the biggest ones although you may have a mis-shappen plant this year. Cut the rest down by 1/2 height. Also can you top up the soil and effectively burry the stump some? Sandcherries are also notorious for suckering and you may get a few close to the original that could start your new "bush". Those you don't want cut out below the soil line.

Having hacked at the 10 or so in the yard here, I'm convinced they are pretty hard to kill!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 9:07PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

These sprouty types that are prone to blighting off can and in some sites should be hard pruned every year after bloom. Another familiar example is flowering almond.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 9:50PM
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Well, now I want to go out with the pruning saw RIGHT NOW and have at it... except that it's below zero and windy and I shouldn't do it until after its spring bloom. But I'm eager to get to it and see if I can make something healthy-looking out of this poor thing. Thank you, everyone!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2007 at 8:21AM
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I have a purple leaf sand cherry tree (low growing - only about 7 feet high) that was put in as part of a landscaping project around 10 years ago. It always bloomed and had nice foliage. Within the last few years, however, there has been relatively little growth on many of the branches. Most of the growth is concentrated up near the top of the tree only. It seems to be trying to bud from top to bottom, with the lowest branches basically dead. What should I do? Do they only live a certain number of years and could it be on the way out?
Last year it suffered greatly by an attack of Japanese Beetles. Almost all the leaves were eaten, but the lack of growth also began a year or two before that. I've read some postings about pruning these back.
The other thing that wonders me is that the bark looks weird - all peeled and the tree itself has always needed staking since it never seemed real solid. And yet, despite all these things it always grew well.
Any suggestions welcomed. I hate to lose this tree.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 1:13PM
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This is a very interesting thread to me because we just moved into a 15 yr. old house last year. We spent much of last fall thinning out the very, very overgrown bushes and trees. Our neighbors told us that the previous owners (lived there 4 years prior to us) did nothing in the yard except mow the grass. One thing I was excited about was purple leaf sand cherry but it turned out to look much like you folks are describing. The local nursery told me to cut it back last fall and fertilize it this spring. But they also told me the lifespan is only about 10 years. I don't know if that is true or not. I did what they said and this spring it looks much better. After reading these threads I think I should have cut it back even further though. I don't have any advice, just wanted to join in.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 5:11PM
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OK - I need help here too - I have two of these on either end of the side of my garage (east side) and last year the neighbor boy came over to prune and cut them back to about a foot tall EXCEPT for a few stragglers that are now looking awful - they are 3' long and go every-which way - the plants look ridiculous - what now??

    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 8:41PM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

You may want to wait a little while if this is your first summer with it. As far as bare legs go, mine looks like that about now, but in a few weeks will look quite filled in.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 1:40PM
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westy1941(Boulder County, CO)

Mine looks like hell from improper pruning by the gifter. I took it thinking I could shape it into a tree form. Will his be a waste of time an energy?


    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 3:10AM
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Let me see if I am interpreting a few of these posts correctly....ok...I'm the one who wrtoe that only some of the top few branches of my purple leaf sandcherry tree have any growth. The rest looks basically dead. The central trunk (only about 3 inches thick) comes up for maybe 3-4 feet before there are ANY branches at all. All the branches are above this point. Are some of you suggesting that I actually lop off the entire tree down to just a bare trunk in the hopes that some suckers will come off the bottom??? Or would it be better to just prune alot of the dead stuff off. The problem, too, is that all the growth is situated on one side of the tree...so no matter what I do it'll come out looking lopsided and imbalanced. Someone else said these trees only live around 10 years. This one is just about that old. I hate to lose it, but could it be time to just replace it?


    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 12:46PM
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glen3a(Winnipeg MB 3A)

Not sure Keith, if it only has new growth on one side of the shrub and even then it's pretty sparse, maybe the only hope is to cut off the trunk down to the base in hopes that it sprouts new growth. (or leave some of the sprouts near the bottom). The one advantage is that it has an established root system and if it is to bounce back it will do so quite quickly.

Due to unusually cold fall weather, my sandcherry (and sour cherry shrub) winterkilled to the ground one winter. That year it grew back to about 4 feet high, the next year it was about six feet high.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 3:16PM
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Thanks....I'll think on it and get some feedback from the landscaper that put it in....I'm not big on drastic moves (I know I have too soft a hand when it comes to the shears, etc.)...but I might just try it.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2007 at 5:29PM
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Hi there! I stumbled across this thread and thought I would give it a try with my question. I too love my sand cherry - the one I have now is the second I've ever had! Because the spot my recent one sits in now is partially shaded it seems to have taken a while (4 years) to take off, but it's definitely going now. Because the top branches were pointing straight up by fall last year (picture bart simpson's hair), I pruned it back quite drastically last fall. I want it fairly bushy as it grows, if I can. It's about 5 feet tall now, and once again the branches along the top are growing straight up! They have grown about 1 - 2 feet this spring already! Can I snip the tips of those top branches to hopefully encourage those top branches to bush out more? Or is it too late/early for that? Or should I just leave it as is?

Your input would be hugely appreciated! Thanks!!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 1:03PM
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How rejuvenate-able is a purple leaf sand cherry recovering from scale? I'm afraid that pruning it "improperly" cherry will kill it. More than 50% of the bush (almost 6 feet tall) has wilted and looks dead. After spraying with an insecticide, the scale attack seems to have abated. One side of the bush seems to have survived.
How do I trim it without killing the entire bush? Even the crown stems look dead. The last time I trimmed a woody bush, I killed it.
Please help! I love that bush/tree!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2009 at 10:16AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Take 1/3 of the oldest stems down to the ground...if there are on 1-2 main stems I would trim out all the diseased growth.

How old is it by the way? Their lifespan is 8 - 12 years.

In optimal conditions they may live to 15 years...mine is going on 13 years.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2009 at 2:36PM
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I don't know how old it is- it came with the house and I've been here almost 4 years. I'll try your suggestion. Should I then spray it with that dormant oil stuff in the fall to keep the scale away?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 12:26PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I don't have much experience with the scale...never seen one infected with it either.

If you know its scale only use sprays as directed.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 2:37PM
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Funny, ours is about 20 years, still fine and pruned like a small tree. Have never cut it back as suggested but then never really had problems with it. We just trim to keep the branches above and out of the way when mowing. It is about 12 ft and nearly as wide.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 1:40PM
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Reading this post had given me hope that I'll have a shrub looking plant by fall! We moved it in the fall last year. While redoing our backyard. The leaves shriveled up and died.

Figured it struggling to survive next to a walnut tree then the transplant was to much. Was told that the rootball needed to be about the same size as the shrub with the shrub being cut back when transplanted. Couldn't recall the size of the rootball. So I pruned it back extremely hard.

Was shocked to see sprouts shooting off it this spring! Then kicked myself for being so harsh pruning. That is when I decided to search pruning them back harsh. And came across this post!

I am no longer in dread when I see my sand cherry now. I can't get over how big it has shot up in less than a weeks time as well.

Thank for all the information it was quite appreciated.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:13AM
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