I live in Niagara Falls (Zone 6b) and have recently planted a second purpleleaf sand cherry; the first one has been in the ground since 2015. The older shrub is in the back yard and receives full sun, while the newly planted one in the front yard will receive a bit less sun (but still plenty throughout the course of the day, I hope).
My goal with both is to keep them from getting too leggy. What is the best way to prune them to keep them full and bushy? Once they are established, is coppicing an option with these shrubs?
Last year I did some fairly light maintenance pruning on sand cherry #1 and am wondering if I should be more aggressive this year. It’s looking a bit leggy so far this spring. I like the idea of allowing #1 to grow into a small tree (that is, to reach its full stature).
Ideally, I’d like to keep sand cherry #2 to a height of around 4-5 ft, if that’s possible (it’s part of my foundation plantings). I placed it more than 10 feet from the house so it’s not really an issue of space but rather of aesthetics. Again, I like the tree-like, “branchy” look on the bottom but I’d prefer to keep #2 shorter overall.
I’ve read that these shrubs can be fairly short lived and are susceptible to pests and disease (I’ve seen the Japanese beetles attack #1 for the past two years, but it bounced back each time). Given all that, I still love them! They have a beautiful colour and I love their “branchiness” (that is, their sturdy branches, as opposed to the thin, twiggy ones!). I look forward to any advice on how to make the most of these lovely plants over the next decade. Thanks so much.
Purpleleaf sand cherry is a shrub that requires regular pruning if it is not to become too leggy and overgrown.
You should prune your purpleleaf sand cherries just after they finish flowering. This is because this shrub flowers on last years’ growth and pruning before then would reduce flowering in the current year.
When pruning you can cut up to 1/3 of the branches down to a few inches from the base and should remove any dead or diseased branches at the base. You should also remove crossing branches, leaving the strongest of two that rub together and in the case of crossing branches prune away the branch that points inwards. You can prune away dead or weak branches at any time of year.
Although you want to maintain the “branchiness” of your shrubs it is important to cut back 1/4 to 1/3 of the thickest most mature branches on a regular basis to open up the center of the shrub in order to promote airflow and vigorous growth.
Coppicing (cutting whole plant back to just above ground) is an option with both of your shrubs although they might not grow 5′ in a single year. If you are coppicing it is best to do this in the fall or in the early spring, when the plant is dormant.
Although the purple leaf sand cherry is a relatively short lived plant, with proper regular pruning you should be able to enjoy your shrubs for at least the next 10 years.