How to Grow and Care for Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

Purple leaf sand cherry tree with pink flowers in rows

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

If you're on the hunt for a beautiful flowering ornamental perfect for any landscape, the purple leaf sand cherry may be just what you're looking for. It is valued for its eye-catching purple foliage, which will grace your yard from early spring through autumn when the leaves turn a stunning bronze-green. The fast-growing tree can be planted in early spring and is relatively easy to grow in most zones, as it's good at adapting to a variety of soil and sun conditions.

Purple leaf sand cherry is a hybrid of Prunus cerasifera (purple leaf plum), a species from Asia, and and Prunus pumila (sand cherry), a species from North America.

Common Name Purple leaf sand cherry, plum leaf sand cherry
Botanical Name Prunus x cistena
Family Rosaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 6–10 ft. tall, 5–8 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Pink, white
Hardiness Zones 2–8 (USDA)
Native Area North America

Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Care

An easy-to-care-for landscape plant, purple leaf sand cherry can grow in a wide variety of soils and conditions. Though it prefers well-drained soil and a good dose of sunshine, it can pretty much adapt to any weather condition present in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8. Typically, the purple leaf sand cherry grows between 6 and 10 feet tall, making it a nice medium-size plant suited to most gardens. When the tree is young it has an oval shape and will arch and open more widely from the center as it reaches maturity.

You can expect the purple leaf sand cherry to bloom each spring after the foliage emerges. The light pink and white flowers are soon replaced by black or purple fruits come midsummer. Though unremarkable to humans, the fruits are an important source of food for many birds, including robins and cardinals, as well as the occasional coyote.

Unfortunately, purple leaf sand cherry is very susceptible to pests and diseases, which can shorten its overall lifespan.

Purple leaf sand cherry tree branch with small pink flowers and brown leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Purple leaf sand cherry tree branches with pink flowers against blue sky

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Purple leaf sand cherry tree with fluffy branches with pink flowers blowing in wind

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Purple leaf sand cherry tree branch with small white and pink flowers and brown leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Purple leaf sand cherry tree branches with reddish-brown leaves and white and pink flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Purple leaf sand cherry should be grown in full to partial sun. If it receives too much shade, the leaves will change to a bronze-green color too early on in the season (it normally happens in the fall). Additionally, the more sun the plant receives, the more lush its blooms will be.

Soil

Though adaptable to many different mixtures of soil, the purple leaf sand cherry thrives best in a moist but well-draining soil composition. The level of pH isn't important to the plant, but the drainage is, as its roots live close to the surface and are susceptible to rot.

Water

The purple leaf sand cherry needs to be watered regularly and is not drought tolerant. Typically, one watering per week will suffice, but more may be necessary if you've recently transplanted it, are going through a period of hot, dry weather, or the plant is in its first season of growth.

Temperature and Humidity

You won't really need to worry when it comes to maintaining the right temperature for your purple leaf sand cherry. The plant is pretty much all-weather hardy, able to withstand a wide variety of temperatures through both summer and winter, though plants grown in consistently colder weather may be smaller and produce fewer blooms. Additionally, it has no special humidity needs.

Fertilizer

Like any plant, the purple leaf sand cherry can benefit from the added nutrients fertilizer provides, but it is by no means necessary if you have the proper soil conditions. Still, you can fertilizer the plan every spring using a general, all-purpose mixture. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.

Other Types of Ornamental Cherries

Purple leaf sand cherry is not the only ornamental cherry you can plant in your landscape. Others include:

Pruning Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

Pruning should be done as needed after the flowers come in spring in order to maintain a tighter oval shape. Begin by trimming the oldest stems first, removing about a third of the existing growth, and leaving a few inches of the trunk exposed at the base. Always remove any branches or twigs that are damaged or dead. If desired, tighter pruning can be done to evoke the feel of an ornamental hedge.

Propagating Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

Propagating a hybrid plant like purple leaf sand cherry from seed can be very disappointing because it won't produce a plant that is identical to the parent. Instead, it is easy to propagate it from the suckers growing at its base. Early summer is a good time to do this, as the plant will have sent up a bunch of suckers, and there is enough time left in the growing season for the new plant to establish roots.

  1. Dig out a a few suckers using a trowel. Select the one with the most roots attached to it.
  2. Use a pot that is large enough to accommodate the roots of the sucker without girdling it. Fill it halfway with potting mix, place the sucker in it and fill it to the top with potting mix. Gently tamp down the soil around the sucker and water it well.
  3. Place the pot in a bright location but away from direct sunlight. Keep it evenly moist. Wait for at least one month, or until you see a good amount of new growth, before transplanting it in garden soil.

Potting and Repotting

Because of its shallow, spreading root system in combination with its size, purple leaf cherry is not a good shrub for container growing. It should be planted in the landscape.

Overwintering

The shrub is hardy to USDA zone 2 and does not need any winter protection.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Purple leaf sand cherry is especially susceptible to pests, including Japanese beetles which can do significant damage to its foliage. Other pests include the peach tree borer, scale, spider mites, aphids, leafhoppers, and tent caterpillars. Keep an eye out for telltale signs of pests, like lacy or hole-ridden leaves and the browning or withering of foliage.

The shrub is also at risk for several diseases, including honey fungus, leaf curl, cankers, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and bacterial leaf scorch.

Both issues with pests and diseases can cause the plant to experience an abbreviated lifespan of just 10 years or less.

How to Get Purple Leaf Sand Cherry to Bloom

If it does not get enough sunlight, the shrub will not bloom as lush as it should, so make sure to pick a location in full sun.

Common Problems with Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

The stems of the purple leaf sand cherry tend to peel and ooze sap, a trait that is particularly noticeable if the plant develops fissures or cankers. Additionally, its branches are prone to frost cracks. Because of these issues, as well as its susceptibility to pests and diseases, the shrub often has a lifespan of only 10 years, or even less.

FAQ
  • Is purple leaf sand cherry a tree or a shrub?

    It is a mostly grown as a multi-stemmed dense shrub but it can also be pruned into a small tree with a short trunk.

  • Is purple leaf sand cherry native?

    It is neither native nor introduced, the shrub is a cross-bred between two species One of them, Prunus pumila, is native to the northeastern United States.

  • How fast does purple leaf sand cherry grow?

    It grows fast, anywhere from 12 to 24 inches per year.

Japanese Beetle on a leaf
Cappi Thompson / Getty Images
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Purple Leaf Sand Cherry. College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois Extension.

  2. Prunus x cistena. Missouri Botanical Garden.