We all get antsy to see the first hints of spring when the winter has been particularly miserable or gloomy. Some cherry trees (Prunus spp.) tend to flower in midwinter or later, scoffing at the weather and confusing us to think spring is indeed arriving very early. Realize that the fluctuating warm days and frosty nights can destroy the flower buds and blossoms on these trees, so make sure to plant them only in regions where they are fully hardy. Also consider siting them in a location protected from cold winds to preserve the flowers. In cold winter areas, these trees will delay bloom until spring, regardless.
February Pink Fuji Cherry
A variety of Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa), 'February Pink' will bloom anytime from midwinter to early spring as dictated by the temperature regime. Native to southwestern Japan, the Fuji cherry tree grows 20 to 25 feet tall and 16 to 20 feet wide. Prune off the lowermost branches to create a more classic tree-like shape. The pale pink blossoms dot the branches to create a snowflake-like cast, not a dense flowering display like many later spring-flowering cherry trees. Grow it in U.S. Department of Agriculture winter hardiness zones 5 through 8.
Also called the bell-flowered cherry, Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata) is native to the subtropical areas of southeastern China and Japan's Ryukyu Islands. It is not overly hardy, but grows best in USDA winter hardiness zones 7 through 9 where winters are mild and often too warm to coax other cherries to bloom. Anytime from midwinter into very early spring the bare branches don reddish rose buds and blossoms. As Michael Dirr of the University of Georgia observed, this tree blooms about the same time as witchhazels (Hamamelis spp.). Taiwan cherry grows 20 to 30 feet tall and wide.
The hybrid cherry tree 'Okame' resulted from crossing a Fuji cherry and a Taiwan cherry. The lavender-tinted pink buds and flowers open in late winter, dictated by weather and often affected by untimely frosts and bouts with subfreezing temperatures. Depending on climate, you either consider it a late winter blooming tree or the first sign of spring. It grows 20 to 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide as is appropriate to grow in USDA winter hardiness zones 5 though 8.