Weeping Cherry Trees

And Other Cascading Favorites for Your Must-Have List

Weeping cherry trees with light pink flowers.
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Weeping cherry trees (Prunus spp.) must be included in any list of best cascading specimens. Although they are short-lived (being prone to pest attacks and diseases), they are spectacular bloomers for the spring landscape. We owe a debt to Japan for some of these splendid droopers, such as the weeping Higan. All of the members of the Prunus genus covered here want to be grown in full sun and in a well-drained soil.

The weeping Higan cherry can be grown in USDA planting zones 4 to 8. Weeping Higans (Prunus subhirtella Pendula) produce masses of pink to white flowers. This weeping cherry tree attains a height of 20 to 30 feet tall and a spread 15 to 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 to 8). It has double, pink flowers and grows to be 10 to 15 feet tall and wide.

Snow Fountains (Prunus Snow Fountains or Snofozam) is a weeping cherry tree suitable for landscapes in zones 5 to 8. Plant height at maturity is 8 to 15 feet, with a spread of 6 to 8 feet. A slow-growing ornamental, its branches cascade right down to the ground.

Snow Fountains, Cheal's, weeping Higan, and the other weeping trees on this list make excellent focal points in your landscaping. We'll get back to them shortly. But while on the subject of cherry blossoms and trees of Japanese origin, it is hard to pass over four other widely grown specimens that happen to have an upright form.

Japanese Cherries With an Upright Habit

A widely used Japanese cherry tree in North America, Prunus serrulata Kwanzan (zones 5 to 8) grows 15 to 25 feet tall (15 to 25 feet wide), and it puts out a display of pink, double flowers (less often, white). Preferring the same growing conditions is the even more popular Yoshino (Prunus x yedoensis, zones 5 to 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 to 8. 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 some fading 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.

Yet another type of cherry with an upright habit is the cherry plum (or the "Myrobalan plum"), known botanically as Prunus cerasifera. This kind is of interest mainly because it has fragrant white flowers. Although it's a shrub, it can become as tall as 30 feet, so it could easily be pruned so as to be tree-like by removing its lower limbs. It's suited to full sun and zones 4 to 8. Another shrub-form plant in the Prunus genus is cherry laurel (P. laurocerasus). It's not really a "laurel" (Kalmia) at all, but its foliage reminds people of mountain laurels. The species plant (grown in zones 6 to 8, full sun to partial shade) gets pretty big (10 to 18 feet in height, with a spread of 20 to 25 feet) so landscape designers are much more likely to use the more compact cultivar, Otto Luyken laurel.

Pink flowering almond shrub (Prunus glandulosa Rosea Plena) is another gorgeous bloomer from the Orient in this genus with an upright habit. As a bush (rather than a tree), it is a good choice for homeowners who want to enjoy the delicate flowers of the Prunus genus in spring but who don't have enough space to grow a tree.

Pink Cherry Blossom
Maria Mosolova / Getty Images

Weeping Japanese Maples, Weeping Redbuds

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 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 (Acer palmatum dissectum Crimson Queen). Both Tamukeyama and Crimson Queen can be grown either in full sun/partial sun or partial shade, but they want a soil that drains very well.

Weeping redbud (Cercis canadensis Covey) drips with lavender flowers in spring. They are replaced in summer with heart-shaped leaves, which turn a cheerful yellow in fall. This small tree grows to just 5 to 6 feet tall, with a spread of 6 to 8 feet. It is best-suited to zones 5 to 9.

Red Japanese Maple Leaves
Red Japanese maple tree. Photo by Benjawan Sittidech / Getty Images

Weeping Willows

For a weeping willow tree with bright green leaves in spring, plant Salix babylonicaThis 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, giving hope of spring's return. 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 to 9. All of the specimens in the willow family covered here want to grow in wet areas (making them good choices for what are often problem areas) and in full sun to partial shade.

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 classicly pendulous branches. This lance-shaped foliage sometimes has a silky underside that glistens on a sunny, windy day. 

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 any must-have 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 this season. 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 or large shrub not just of spring interest, but of year-round interest. The catkins are followed by shiny, greenish-gray deciduous foliage. This dwarf reaches a height of 6 to 7 feet, with a spread of 5 to 6 feet. The recommended growing zones are 4 to 8.

Weeping Willow Tree
Weeping Willow Tree (Salix babylonica). july7th / Getty Images

Weeping Blue Cedars, Birches, Mulberry Trees, Crabapples

The white, or "weeping" mulberry tree (Morus alba) is a dioecious specimen, and there are distinct male and female cultivars. Like the weeping pussy willow, 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 follows 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 and in ground that drains well. It is suited to zones 4 to 8. Its height is 6 to 8 feet, with a spread of 8 to 12 feet.

The Red Jade weeping crabapple (Malus x scheideckeri Red Jade) bears a white flower that becomes an ornamental red fruit. This fruit lasts 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. Its measures 12 to 15 feet tall x 15 to 20 feet wide at maturity. It is hardy to zone 3 and needs soil that drains well, along with lots of sunlight.

Young's weeping birch (Betula pendula Youngii) is a 6-to-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 to 9. This plant wants full sun, good drainage, and lots of water.

Weeping blue Alaskan cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Glauca Pendula) is a small tree (10 feet after 5 years and about twice that at maturity) that can be grown in zones 4 to 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. Plant it in well-draining soil in a spot with full sunlight.

Weeping blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica Glauca Pendula) is another weeping evergreen. This superb ornamental tree can be grown in zones 6 to 9. Pendant limbs drip with icy-blue needles. This slow grower needs full sun and good drainage, but it is a fairly 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 to 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, measuring about 3 feet x 3 feet. Weeping blue Atlas cedar will grow about 1 foot per year. Like weeping blue Alaskan cedar (but more reliably so), this tree will give you powder-blue foliage that provides year-round visual interest.

Young's weeping birch
Ron Evans / Getty Images