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How to Prune Japanese Cherry Trees

flowering of Japanese cherry tree (sakura) image by Petro Feketa from

In 1912, the Japanese government gave the United States 3,000 cherry trees as a gift. To this day, the cherry tree is an emblem of Washington D.C. thanks to the seasonal bloom of those cherry trees. Many Japanese cherry tree varieties, such as Yoshino cherry, are ornamental trees that are grown for blossoms and foliage instead of fruit. The trees grow up to 20 feet in height and produce pink or white blossoms from early to mid spring.

Time pruning your tree for a point just after the tree flowers. Pruning prior to the blooming season could cause you to remove blooms before they have the chance to open.

Prepare your tools for pruning by sharpening and sterilizing them. Sharpen tools by pointing the blade away from you and drawing a sharpening stone down the length of the blade. Wear gloves while you sharpen the blade to prevent injury. Mix a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Soak a clean cloth in this solution and wipe the blades to sterilize them. Wipe the blades again in between pruning trees and after removing any diseased wood.

Examine your tree before pruning and mark any branches for removal by tying them with a piece of survey tape. Determine all branches to be removed before you make your first cut to avoid mistakes in pruning.

Remove branches smaller than ½ inch in diameter with pruning shears. Branches that are 1 ½ inch in diameter or smaller may be pinched off with branch loppers. Prune branches that are larger with a pruning saw by sawing a third of the way through the bottom of the limb 4 inches from the point where you wish to remove the limb. Remove the limb by making a second cut 2 inches further down the limb and sawing from the top through the limb to the bottom. Make your final cut where the limb meets the trunk by sawing from the bark ridge where the limb meets the trunk and downward at a 45-degree angle.

Prune away broken, dead or diseased branches. Remove branches that grow inward toward the tree’s trunk or cross through the canopy of the tree. Remove branches that rub one another to prevent tree damage. Take off waterspout limbs, which are tiny limbs that grow upward from larger branches as well as suckers, which are tiny trees that grow off from the primary trunk or from the roots.


Most flowering Japanese cherry trees do not require structural pruning to support fruit bearing. These trees look best when allowed to assume a natural shape. Most pruning should be conducted to correct problems in growth as outlined in Step 5.

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