Weeping cherry trees must be included in any Top 10 list of cascading specimens. Although they are short-lived (being prone to pest attacks and diseases), they are spectacular bloomers for the spring landscape. Here in North America, we owe a debt to Japan for some of these splendid droopers, such as the Higan. In fact, below I mention four additional Asian entries that do not have a weeping habit, so as not to shortchange the contribution to our spring yards from the Orient, which is significant.
The weeping Higan cherry can be grown in USDA planting zones 4-8. Weeping Higans (Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula') produce pink to white flowers in profusion if grown in full sun and in a well-drained soil. This weeping cherry tree attains a height of 20-30 feet tall and a spread 15-25 feet. Like the other Prunus trees presented here, this is an ornamental, meaning you would not plant it if your goal were to grow a sweet, eating cherry such as a Bing (Prunus avium 'Bing').
The Prunus serrulata species (Japanese cherry) has a few drooping cultivars, among which are Prunus serrulata 'Kiku-shidare-zakura,' better known as "Cheal's weeping cherry tree" (zones 5-8). It has double, pink flowers and grows to be 10-15 feet tall and wide. It has the same sun and soil requirements as weeping Higan.
Snow Fountains (Prunus 'Snow Fountains' or 'Snofozam') is a weeping cherry tree suitable for landscapes in zones 5-8.
Plant height at maturity is 8-15 feet, with a spread of 6-8 feet wide. Snow Fountains also blooms best in full sun and in soil that drains well. A slow-growing ornamental, its branches cascade right down to the ground. For a closeup picture of the blossoms of this spring-blooming favorite, see my photo at the top of the page.
Snow Fountains, Cheal's, weeping Higan, and the other seven entries on this Top 10 list make excellent focal points in your landscaping. I will relate the essential facts about those other entries shortly. But while on the subject of cherry blossoms and the Prunus genus, it is hard to pass over four other widely grown specimens that happen to have an upright (that is, non-weeping) form. A widely used Japanese cherry tree in North America, Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan' (zones 5-8) grows 15-25 feet tall (15-25 feet wide), and its display of pink, double flowers (less often, white) will be most impressive when it is grown in a spot with full sunshine and good drainage. Preferring the same growing conditions is the even more popular Yoshino (Prunus x yedoensis, zones 5-8). While not a weeping cherry tree, its form is less upright than Kwanzan's. Its maximum height is only 20 feet, and the color of its blossoms is white or pink. Its flowers, unlike Kwanzan's, are single, but most people think it the more graceful of the two trees.
Another cherry with an upright habit, the purple leaf sand cherry tree (Prunus x cistena) is suitable for growing in zones 3-8. As with the other types of cherries, the sand cherry likes a lot of sunshine and needs to be planted in ground that drains well. It can grow to be as tall as 14 feet at maturity, with a spread of up to 10 feet. It has fragrant flowers. But as you may have guessed from its name, this ornamental cherry is grown for its colorful leaves. The base color is purple, a coloration it retains throughout the summer (albeit with diminishing luster as the summer wears on). But generous amounts of red are present in this purple foliage both during spring and fall. Purple leaf sand cherry is at its best during the spring season, when it furnishes your yard both colorful foliage and lovely flowers.
Pink flowering almond shrub is another gorgeous bloomer from the Orient in the Prunus genus with an upright habit that enjoys plenty of sunshine and a well-drained soil.
Weeping Japanese Red Maples, Willows, Pussy Willow Trees
As much as the spring landscape may be dominated by weeping cherry trees, the graceful cherries do not hold a monopoly on this fascinating tree form. Weeping Japanese red maple tree (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Tamukeyama') is a weeping, laceleaf (or "thread leaf") type of Japanese maple, bearing purple foliage that turns red in the fall. It reaches a height of 8 feet and a attains a spread of 12 feet. Cold-hardy to zone 5, this cascading tree also stands up rather well to the heat of warmer climates. But perhaps the most popular choice of all for weeping Japanese maples is Crimson Queen.
For a weeping willow tree with bright green leaves in spring, plant Salix babylonica. This weeping willow is one of the first trees to come into leaf in spring. Furthermore, its branches turn a nice yellow color as early as February, heralding spring. It is also one of the last trees to lose its foliage in fall. Green summer foliage yields to a yellow color in autumn. Its height is 40 feet, its spread 30 feet, and you can grow it in planting zones 4-9.
The weeping willow is a majestic, fast-growing tree. Its branches separate into many thin stems that droop airily to the ground. The weeping willow displays narrow leaves on its classic pendulous branches. This lance-shaped foliage sometimes has a silky underside that glistens on a sunny, windy day. This specimen is typical of the willow family in that it prefers to grow in wet areas, making it a good choice for what is often a problem area on a landscape.
Salix alba 'Niobe', meanwhile, is the golden weeping willow. Golden weeping willow outdoes even the green variety for cold hardiness, being hardy to zone 2. Whichever weeping willow you grow, this old-time favorite richly deserves inclusion on my Top 10 list of weeping trees.
For approximately four weeks in early spring, the weeping pussy willow tree (Salix caprea 'pendula') is draped in the silvery-gray catkins that we have come to associate so strongly with spring's eventual arrival. But these catkins are larger than those found on the wild bushes, and they stud branches that droop down to the ground, making this a tree not just of spring interest, but of year-round interest. The catkins are succeeded by shiny, greenish-gray deciduous foliage.
This dwarf reaches a height of 6-7 feet, with a spread of 5-6 feet. Weeping pussy willows prefer full sun and moist soil. Their recommended growing zones are 4-8.
Weeping Blue Cedars, Birches, Mulberry Trees, Crabapples
The white, or "weeping" mulberry tree is a dioecious specimen, and there are distinct male and female cultivars. Like the pussy willow just covered, this tree is a dwarf. Morus alba 'Chaparral' is the male cultivar. It will produce no fruit and is grown, rather, for its weeping habit, alone. The fruiting, female cultivar is Morus alba 'Pendula'. The fruit succeeds a greenish-white bloom and is not only edible and attractive but is also useful for attracting wild birds. But its fruit also makes it one of the messiest trees. The advantage in growing the male is that you will not have to deal with this mess. For optimal fruiting on the female cultivar, grow it in full sun. It is suited to zones 4 to 8. Its height is 6-8 feet, with a spread of 8-12 feet.
The Red Jade weeping crabapple (Malus 'Red Jade') bears a white flower that becomes an ornamental red fruit. This fruit persists throughout the winter, attracting wild birds that eat them in February and March as emergency food. Not only does it sport a weeping habit, but its contorted trunk lends additional interest to your landscaping, even in winter when the tree is bare. It is hardy to zone 3.
Young's weeping birch (Betula pendula 'Youngii') is a 6-12-foot-tall dwarf variety. This birch tree makes for an attractive landscaping specimen, not only because of its weeping habit but also because of its bark. For Young's weeping birch has the classic white bark that peels, providing a unique texture. Plant it in zones 3-9.
Weeping blue Alaskan cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Glauca Pendula') is a small tree (10 feet at maturity) that can be grown in zones 4-7. Not a true cedar, it is sometimes referred to as a "false cypress" -- because, indeed, it is not a true cypress either. It seems they had to work overtime to come up with a suitable common name for this evergreen.
Weeping blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) is another weeping evergreen. This superb ornamental tree can be grown in zones 6–9. Pendant limbs drip with icy-blue needles. This slow grower prefers full sun and is a drought-tolerant tree.
It is difficult to provide dimensions for weeping blue Atlas cedar. It really depends on what you do with it. If you stake it, you can train it to grow 10-12 feet high, from which height it will cascade down. But if you do not stake it, the plant will look like an amorphous blob bubbling over on the ground. Weeping blue Atlas cedar will grow about 1 foot per year. Like weeping blue Alaskan cedar, this tree's powder-blue foliage provides year-round visual interest.
Can't get enough of spring's splendor? Browse pictures of flowering trees here (perhaps you will want to grow one of these beauties, yourself).