Sand Cherry Plant Care: How To Grow A Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

Sand Cherry Plant Care: How To Grow A Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

By: Amy Grant

Plum leaf sand cherry, also referred to as purple leaf sand cherry plants, is a medium sized ornamental shrub or small tree that when mature reaches a height of approximately 8 feet (2.4 m.) tall by 8 feet wide. This easy care plant makes a great addition to the landscape.

About Plum Leaf Sand Cherry

Purple leaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena) is a member of the Rose family. Prunus is Latin for ‘plum’ while cistena is the Sioux word for ‘baby’ in reference to its smallish size. The “x” is indicative of the shrub’s hybridism.

This Prunus hybrid is useful as an ornamental specimen due to its beautiful red, maroon, or purple foliage. The shrub grows at a moderate rate and is suitable in USDA zones 2-8. The parent plants of sandcherry bush hail from Western Asia (Prunus cerasifera) and the Northeastern United States (Prunus pumila).

This purplish-red leafed plant has an oval growth habit gradually maturing into an arched form and opening out from the center of the shrub. The stunning 2-inch (5 cm.) long, serrated foliage emerges crimson-purple and remains throughout the summer, gradually changing to a green-bronze hue in the fall.

Around early spring, the plant’s pink buds open into whitish-pink flowers – the same time as the red foliage. The innocuous blooms become small black-purple fruit barely noticeable without contrast to the purple foliage in July. The multiple gray-brown trunks are prone to trunk fissuring and cankers, which ooze sap.

How to Grow a Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

This specimen is urban tolerant and establishes rapidly to lend a brilliant pop of color to the landscape. So how do you grow a purple leaf sand cherry?

Sand cherry is readily available through the local nursery and/or propagated via rooted stem cuttings. Sand cherry is sensitive to being transplanted in the autumn, so extra care should be taken in amending the soil, fertilizing, mulching heavily and watering thoroughly.

Ideally, you should plant the purple leaf sand cherry in full to partial sun exposure in moist, well-draining soil. However, the sand cherry bush is adaptable to lesser soils, drought, heat and over aggressive pruning.

Sand Cherry Plant Care

Because, the sand cherry is a member of the Rose family, it is susceptible to several diseases, such as trunk canker, and pests, like borers and Japanese beetle assaults in mid-summer. It also has a short lifespan at between 10 to 15 years primarily due to assault by pests or diseases.

Other than these issues, the sand cherry plant care is relatively fuss free and is tolerant of a variety of conditions – hardy in cold winters and hot summers. Prune the sand cherry bush to remove heavy branching that will weigh the plant down. It can even be pruned into a formal hedge or used in borders, at entranceways or in group plantings.

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How to Propagate Sand Cherries

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Many plants in the Prunus genus have been dubbed "sand cherry" for their tiny fruit and ability to withstand significant drought. However, only the purpleleaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena) is commonly seen in the home landscape throughout Sunset's Climate Zones A3 and 1 to 22. These large ornamental bushes produce an abundance of flowers in the spring, endearing them to their owners. Propagating purpleleaf sand cherries from softwood cuttings is a simple procedure. Watch your sand cherry for new, vigorous growth in early spring. Begin checking the new growth's fitness for cuttings once it reaches about 4 inches long and has growing leaves. Bend the new growth at a 90 degree angle -- if it snaps like a green bean, it is time to harvest the cuttings.

Fill a pot to within 1/2 inch of the top with a commercial peat-based soilless seed starting medium. Water it thoroughly. Allow the pot to drain, then water it again -- peat can be difficult to coax moisture into when it has been dry. Allow the peat to drain overnight before harvesting your cuttings.

Select a section of new growth and cut it close to the original sand cherry, leaving no more than a 1/4-inch stub. Measure 4 to 6 inches from the end of the cutting and cut just below the nearest node -- the place where a leaf joins the stem. Strip the leaves from bottom half of the cutting.

Dip the bottom of the cutting into the rooting hormone and immediately push it through the peat in the pot, at least 1 inch deep. Cover the pot with a zip-top bag and secure it with a rubber band around the pot ring. Repeat Steps 2 through 4 for each cutting.

Check the cutting daily, watering as needed to prevent the soil from drying out. Watch for new leaves as a sign that the plant has rooted. Remove the plastic bag gradually once the new roots have formed, keeping it off for longer periods each day, for about two weeks. Discard the bag.


Sand Cherry Spacing from Trees and Perennials

Because they don't tolerate shade, plant sand cherries outside the canopy of a tree. When you plant the 6-foot sand cherry near a tree with a canopy of 20 feet, it's spaced at a distance of 13 feet. The same process applies to perennials -- planted next to a perennial with an 18-inch spread, space the sand cherry 45 inches from the perennial. Monitor all plants as they grow, and adjust as necessary to accommodate individual plant development.


Based on the fact that you have two sand cherry trees that somehow got planted in the same hole - the issue is plant spacing and cross-pollination - check out this link: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/faq/do-i-need-plant-more-one-cherry-tree-pollination-and-fruit-set

How Close Can You Plant a Sand Cherry to Other Plants?

While there are several factors to consider when making decisions about plant spacing, respect the minimum distances for plant health and cultivation. Sand cherries are vigorous, distinctive shrubs that aren't difficult to grow, but they do require sun to retain their best characteristics. Avoid crowding and shading from companion plants.

Sand Cherry Shrubs

Western sand cherry (Prunus bessayi) is a winter-hardy shrub for USDA planting zones 3 to 6, as wide as it is tall, with an open, spreading habit. A popular ornamental hybrid is the "Purpleleaf" sand cherry (Prunus x cistena), which has reddish-purple foliage. It's one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring, with the flowers emerging before the leaves. You can plant sand cherries as a hedge, massed for border planting or where the purple foliage will contrast with surrounding plants. Sand cherries need full sun and moist, well-drained soil conditions.

Sand Cherry Spacing from Shrubs

Sand cherries are generally 5 to 6 feet in height and width, although there is some variation, depending on the cultivar. When planted as hedging, or in groups, space them at 5 or 6 feet on center from each other. If planted near a different species, add half the spread of the second species to half the spread of the sand cherry. That means you should plant a 6-foot sand cherry located next to honeysuckle (Lonicera species, zones 3 to 7) with a spread of 8 feet, a minimum of 6 1/2 feet from the honeysuckle.

Cherry Spacing from Trees and Perennials

Because they don't tolerate shade, plant sand cherries outside the canopy of a tree. When you plant the 6-foot sand cherry near a tree with a canopy of 20 feet, it's spaced at a distance of 13 feet. The same process applies to perennials -- planted next to a perennial with an 18-inch spread, space the sand cherry 45 inches from the perennial. Monitor all plants as they grow, and adjust as necessary to accommodate individual plant development.

The common name "sand cherry" refers to several species of fruiting shrubs within the genus Prunus. Species such as the purple-leaf sand cherry (P. x cistena) are widely cultivated within the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 to 8 for their ornamental, red-tinged foliage and purplish fruit, which attracts songbirds during the summer. The shrubs require little ongoing maintenance and will resist drought and heat with minimal damage once established. However, regular irrigation, annual feeding, and occasional pruning will help them look their best.

1 - Plant sand cherries in a bed with full sun and fertile, fast-draining soil to encourage dense foliage growth and a deep, penetrating root system. Avoid planting them under overhanging shrubbery or trees since the shade and lack of air circulation will encourage insect pests and disease.

2 - Spread a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch around the base of sand cherries during their first few years in the garden. Leave a 3-inch space between the base of the trunk and the mulch to allow moisture to escape from the soil.

3 - Water sand cherries weekly to a 5-inch depth during their first summer in the garden to help them establish a productive root system. Let the top inch or so of soil dry out between watering to discourage fungal infections.

4 - Decrease watering after the plant's first year. Water only during periods of prolonged heat or drought. Add water at the base of the shrub rather than spraying from above since excess moisture among the foliage will create an ideal environment for bacterial leaf spot.

5 - Feed sand cherries yearly in early spring before new growth emerges. Apply a 12-12-12 fertilizer at half strength around the base of the trunk. Water slowly and deeply after feeding to push the fertilizer deep into the soil.

6 - Prune sand cherries to limit their size in winter when the shrubs are dormant. Remove up to one-third of the branch growth. Make the cuts straight across just above a pair of leaf nodes using sharp, freshly cleaned pruning shears.

7 - Prune sand cherries to improve their shape in spring after the flowers fade. Remove no more than one-third of the total branch length when pruning. Thin the interior of the shrub to encourage an open shape. Remove crossed branches to encourage airflow.

8 - Inspect sand cherries for signs of insect pests and disease year-round. Pay closer attention in spring as the soil warms. Look for cottony masses under the foliage, pale brown nodules on the stems, and a general lack of vigor among the branches.

9 - Treat infestations by pruning off the affected branches. Spray the sand cherry with a diluted solution of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Monitor the soil moisture, and improve drainage or increase watering if the soil is too wet or dry.


How To Prune a Purple-Leaf Sand Cherry

Hardy but short-lived shrubs that produce cherry-like “drupes” in fall, the purple-leaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena) will generally require very little pruning, but it does require regular pruning to keep its shape. The branches of sand cherry shrubs that are left to grow naturally without pruning eventually fall over, leaving the bush with an open center and an undesirable shape. As long as they are planted in full sun in well-drained soil, they are not fussy about the composition or pH of the soil in which they grow.

Prune when transplanting. If you are transplanting a newly purchased bare root sand cherry, begin by pruning out any roots that are broken, diseased or growing in a circular pattern using the pruning clippers. For container-grown shrubs, omit this step. If you are planting a hedgerow of sand cherries, prune back each individual plant before planting, so it is about 6 inches high.

  • Hardy but short-lived shrubs that produce cherry-like “drupes” in fall, the purple-leaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena) will generally require very little pruning, but it does require regular pruning to keep its shape.
  • The branches of sand cherry shrubs that are left to grow naturally without pruning eventually fall over, leaving the bush with an open center and an undesirable shape.

Prune established sand cherry shrubs in early spring, before growth begins. Remove any dead, diseased or crossing branches by cutting them off as close to the base of the plant as possible. Use the pruning clippers on smaller branches and the pruning saw on larger branches.

Cut out one-fourth to one-third of the thickest, most mature branches, making the cut near the base of the bush. Use the pruning clippers or the pruning saw on larger branches if they are too big to cut with the pruning clippers. This will open up the center of the bush and encourage it to produce new, vigorous-growing branches.

Prune back the previous year's growth. Make the cut so that about 2 inches of the previous year's growth remains on the shrub. Prune just above an outward-facing bud, which will force the new branch to grow out from the center of the plant, creating a shrub with a center that is open enough to allow light and air to get to all of its branches.

  • Prune established sand cherry shrubs in early spring, before growth begins.
  • Make the cut so that about 2 inches of the previous year's growth remains on the shrub.

Rejuvenate a neglected or overgrown purple-leaf sand cherry by hard pruning all of its branches down to within 6 inches of the ground in late winter, before its initial spring growth spurt.

Even with yearly pruning and careful cultivation, purple-leaf sand cherries become more susceptible to pests and diseases after they reach the age of 10 years and and begin to decline in health and vigor. The best solution is to remove the shrub and plant a new specimen.


Watch the video: Goldfinch in Purpleleaf Sand Cherry