How to Grow Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

Purple leaf sand cherry tree with pink flowers in rows

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

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. Native to North America and considered either a medium-sized shrub or a small tree, the purple leaf sand cherry is often chosen 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 plant (clocking anywhere from 13 inches to 24 inches per year) 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.

The purple leaf sand cherry is a member of the Rosaceae family (so it's related to roses) and is actually a hybrid of a species from Asia and a species from North America, having been developed at South Dakota University in 1910 from Prunus cerasifera (purple leaf plum) and Prunus pumila (sand cherry).

Botanical Name Prunus x cistena
Common Name Purpleleaf sand cherry, plum leaf sand cherry
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Mature Size 6–10 ft. tall, 5–8 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Light pink, white
Hardiness Zones 2–8 (USDA)
Native Area North America

Purpleleaf 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 to be between 6 and 10 feet tall, making it a nice medium-size plant suited to most gardens. When the plant is young it has an oval shape and will arch and open more widely from in 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 mid-summer. 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.

The stems of the purple leaf sand cherry will be red-brown to dark gray and tend to ooze sap, a trait that is particularly noticeable if the plant develops fissures or cankers. Additionally, the 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 seasonal 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.

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.

Common Pests/Diseases

Unfortunately, the purple leaf sand cherry is especially susceptible to pests, including Japanese beetles which can do significant damage to its foliage. Other pests include the peachtree 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 purple leaf sand cherry is also at risk for several diseases, including honey fungus, leaf curl, cankers, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and bacterial leaf scorch. Additionally, its branches are prone to frost cracks.

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

Japanese Beetle on a leaf
Cappi Thompson / Getty Images
Article Sources
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  1. Purple Leaf Sand Cherry. College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois Extension.

  2. Prunus x cistena. Missouri Botanical Garden.