How to Grow and Care for Bush Cherry (Prunus tomentosa)

Spread the love

Everyone loves a cherry tree, but climbing up a ladder to pick the fruit is arduous and not always practical. The alternative is to leave the cherries for the birds to devour, which they certainly will!  

But, a bush cherry is fast-growing that will fruit after just a couple of years, and, best of all, even without pruning, it will not grow more than about 15 feet tall (4.57 meters). 

Bush cherry is a recognized species of small tree or shrub in the prunus genus. Native to parts of Asia, this plant now commonly grows in gardens throughout the world. 

This bush, also known as the Nanking Cherry, bears pretty pink blossoms in the spring that turn white as they age on the tree. Bush cherry is grown both for its early flowers and fruit.


Prunus tomentosa, the bush cherry, was first introduced into Europe and then into the USA in the late 1800s. 

Cherries have been eaten for many centuries. They are a favorite in the kitchen as well as a table fruit. 

When bush cherries were first introduced, they quickly became popular due to their faring better in colder regions, being a great fruit, and easy to pick.  

In Canada, plant breeders developed hybrid plants to perform in extremely cold temperatures. The results were positive. 

The bush cherry hybrids bore sweeter fruit than other cherries. The newly developed hybrids didn’t suffer from many pest problems either and produced fruit as early as their second year.

Plant Facts

Scientific namePrunus tomentosa
Common namesBush cherryNanking cherry, Nanking bush cherry
Height1 to 3 meters
WidthUp to 4 meters
USDA Plant Hardiness ZoneUSDA zones 3 to 6
Native toAsia
Blooming seasonspring
Flower colorsPink, white
Plant specific featuresProfuse blossom, followed by sweet but tart cherry fruits.

How to Plant and Grow a Bush Cherry

It is essential to plant at least two trees for successful cross-pollination. If you just plant one, you will not have any fruit.

Prepare the planting hole, which should be at least as deep as the container. The root ball should span twice the width of the hole. This will help the newly planted shrub’s roots settle into the soil in its new environment. 

Before attempting to release the plant from its container, water it well and leave it to soak. This will make removal much easier, and also lessen the risk of damaging the roots. Carefully remove the shrub or tree from the pot.

Place the plant in the hole, making sure it is straight and upright. Backfill with soil or soil mixed with compost. Tamp down and water it well.

Where to Plant

If possible, find a position in full sun in which to grow bush cherry. In its natural habitat, it will grow in different soil types. 

It will not grow near the roots of a black walnut tree. Black walnut produces a natural growth inhibitor, which many plants cannot tolerate. 

It’s important that the soil is well-draining. Once established, the bush cherry is drought-resistant and also unaffected by wind. Sometimes, they are planted as a hedge to create a windbreak.

When to Plant

In common with other fruit trees, Prunus tomentosa should be planted in the fall. This gives the trees time to establish over the winter and spring. 

Subsequently, they will be less stressed by the onset of hot, summer days. If you have to plant in the spring, then you will have to take more care to irrigate well.

Bush Cherry Care and Maintenance


As long as drainage is good, then you can plant bush cherry trees in many types of soil, with different pH levels. It can grow in dry conditions too.


Ensure sufficient water is provided after planting and until the plants have established strong root systems. Thereafter, these are drought-tolerant plants. 


When young, the bush cherry shrub should have extra phosphorus. This will promote strong root systems to develop. 

On fertilizer packaging, select a product with a high middle number (N-P-K) as it is the middle number that relates to phosphorus (P). Apply at the rate given by the manufacturer. 

Once the plant is fully established, then although it is less critical, a tree will still appreciate a fertilizer application every couple of years. A soil test will indicate whether there are any essential nutrients lacking.  

If so, you can select a fertilizer to correct this element deficiency. However, if a soil test isn’t done, or if nutrient levels are satisfactory, then use a slow-release, general purpose fertilizer. 

It’s never a good idea to fertilize late in the season; fertilizer promotes new growth which won’t have sufficient time to harden off before winter sets in.


Bush cherry shrubs or trees will still thrive if planted in partial shade. But, they will perform less well and their flowering and fruiting will be less prolific.

Planting in a sunny south or west-facing position is ideal. 

Pruning and Repotting

Dead or damaged branches should always be removed as soon as they are spotted. Leaving diseased or decaying vegetation can lead to disease and pest problems. Removal of dead wood is also the first step in thinning your plant. 

Once this is completed, you can continue to remove some branches back to the center. This will increase airflow around the main stem and in the middle of the plant. 

If the plant has been left or is neglected, it is a straightforward process to restore its size and shape by pruning. Remove up to a third of the plant at any one time, and remove branches on the inside as well as the outer branches. This will keep the air circulation through the cherry bush, and also give the plant a more balanced appearance.

Using shears, you can trim the top off the Prunus tomentosa. This will keep the shrub or tree in an attractive shape and manageable size. 

In the spring, if you remove new tips from a young plant’s new growth, you will encourage more growth and new branches. 


The best way to increase your plant stock at a low-cost is by taking cuttings in the early summer. Cuttings can be around 10 inches (25.4 cm) long. Using hormone rooting powder will assist and speed up the rooting process. 

If you want to take cuttings later in the year, take a hardwood cutting of around 10 inches (25.4 cm), that is taken from one-year-old wood. Simply plant the cuttings, keep them moist, and leave them to over-winter in the soil.

Prunus tomentosa can also be propagated from seed. If you are sowing seeds, there is no guarantee that the plant’s fruit will be the same as that of the parent plant. 

In order to germinate, the seeds need to be exposed to around 3 months of cold refrigeration before sowing. After this time has elapsed, in the spring, you can sow the seeds in pots or direct in the soil. 

Alternatively, you can sow the seeds directly in the ground in Autumn. The natural winter cold will perform the cold stratification for you. 

The disadvantage of this method, however, is that the seeds are vulnerable to being eaten by vermin, or to rot if the soil becomes too wet. 

Pests and diseases

There is a range of pests that can attack Prunus tomentosa, such as spider mites. The spider mite is rarely of major concern. It can be treated with a dose of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap weekly.

The fruit fly is more serious as small maggots develop in the fruit and render it unusable. The insect lays its eggs by making holes in the fruit. 

Then the maggots hatch and tunnel through the cherries. This pest is also known as the cherry maggot. 

The earlier fruiting trees are most susceptible to the maggot because the fruits ripen before the fruit fly has had a chance to spread and infest the plant. 

The most effective method to treat fruit flies is with pheromone traps, or by the application of an organic, selective insecticide.

Aphids can usually be ignored. If there is a large infestation, treat with an organic pesticide in the spring, when the flower buds start to develop and grow.

Temperature and Humidity

Once the bush cherry is established, it can withstand strong winds, as well as extremes of temperature –  both hot and cold. It will not however do well in places where humidity levels are very high, nor if very high temperatures are sustained.

Other Uses for Bush Cherry

This shrub or small tree is a great choice to use as a hedging plant. It will provide you with an attractive and edible screen or windbreak, and the plants will knit together in a relatively short time.

The flowers are fragrant and will attract insects and pollinators to your garden. Bush cherry provides food for wildlife in Summer.

Fruit is edible and can be eaten fresh, or processed into jam or jellies. A single, healthy, mature specimen will produce over 12 lbs of fruit.

Bush cherries are not viable to produce commercially. They are too fragile to ship and have a poor shelf life. 

However, some Russian plant breeders have succeeded in developing a hybrid with other prunus species and there are now large commercial plantations in Russia.

Types of Prunus Tomentosa You Can Grow

Nanking cherry, bush cherry, dwarf cherry, mountain cherry … the list of pseudonyms for this plant goes on and on!

The most well-known is the Nanking cherry. These flowers abundantly in March and fruits early in June. Birds can easily strip the fruit from the branches in just a day, so if you want to harvest the cherries, then you may wish to consider netting the tree. 

Mature, it will not grow more than about 10 feet (3.05 m) tall and about 5 feet (1.52 meters) wide. This variety makes a practical choice of bush cherry, with accessible and easy-to-harvest fruit.

Korean bush cherry is less prolific but has slightly sweeter fruits. It is also self-pollinating, eliminating the need to plant two or more. Nevertheless, it will still produce more fruit if you plant multiple plants.

Fall-ripening bush cherry is, obviously, a bush cherry that ripens later in the year. Including this variety with Nanking or Korean bush cherries will lead to a fruiting season that continues much longer during the year.

Fruit that is produced in the late part of summer is less susceptible to bird damage. At this time of year, many birds have finished feeding their young and there is a greater choice of food available to them. 

Another advantage of a fall-ripening bush cherry is that it is considerably more resilient to late-spring frost. 

Fall-ripening bush cherries are small trees. They will not grow more than around 5 feet (1.52 meters) in height or width when mature. 


The bush cherry can be rather short-lived. But, it isn’t often that you can find a plant that is as pretty as this in Spring and follows this with a good yield of fresh, tasty fruit in the summer. 

*image by kamira777/depositphotos

Spread the love