The bird cherry is a deciduous tree, up to 15 meters high, which is also often cultivated as a bushy shrub. The outstanding feature is the enchanting flowering from April, which can last until June. During this time it is a popular pasture for bees and butterflies. From August, the birds feast on the small black grapes, which taste slightly bitter to humans. Since the Prunus padus loves water, it is often used as a hedge along streams and ponds. With regard to their care, the hobby gardener is challenged to keep their enormous urge to conquer the garden with root shoots in check.


  • Plant family of the rose family (Rosaceae).
  • Scientific name: Prunus padus.
  • Growth height 10 to 15 meters.
  • Hardy and deciduous.
  • Shallow-rooted with a strong urge to spread.
  • White, fragrant flowers from April to May.
  • Important bee and butterfly pasture.
  • Green leaves 6 cm to 10 cm long.
  • Golden yellow foliage in autumn.
  • Pea-sized, black drupes from August.
  • Poisonous seeds in the fruit core.
  • Average age between 60 and 80 years.

Because the flowers and fruits are arranged in racemes, the Prunus padus is often referred to as bird cherry. It also owes its name ‘wild lilac’ to the abundance of flowers in spring. Thanks to its dense habit, experienced hobby gardeners prefer cultivating the bird cherry as a shrub or hedge, because it not only strengthens embankments, but also forms an ideal privacy screen.

The common bird cherry (Prunus padus) is often confused with the late-blooming bird cherry (Prunus serotina), which, however, mainly thrives as a shrub and is fought as an invasive plant.

location and potting soil

In the wild, the multi-stemmed bird cherry is often found in alluvial forests and near rivers, streams and lakes. From this it can be concluded which location it prefers in the garden:

  • Sunny to partially shaded position.
  • Fresh, humus-rich, likes moist soil.
  • Avoid heavy clay soil with waterlogging.
  • Slight lime content in the potting soil is tolerated.

As a tree, the bird cherry prefers a solitary position with plenty of space. Since, on the other hand, it can easily be grown into a decorative shrub, there is nothing wrong with planting it in groups or rows.

watering and fertilizing

The bird cherry is a very thirsty tree, which is why it likes to settle on river banks and lakes. Therefore, the hobby gardener should meet their water needs, especially during the dry summer time.

  • Water regularly and thoroughly.
  • Nevertheless, do not allow waterlogging to occur.
  • Regular mulching keeps the soil moist.
  • Good garden compost is suitable as fertilizer.
  • Give plenty of organic fertilizer in spring.

In order to meet the high nutrient requirements, experienced gardeners provide their Prunus padus with a multi-component fertilizer such as blue grain in the spring, water generously and then spread a layer of bark mulch over it.

To cut

Regular pruning and topiary is probably the most important part of caring for a Prunus padus. Not only does it grow by up to 75 cm in height every year, it also expands considerably and sends out its root shoots to conquer the garden . The experienced hobby gardener already suspects: With a once-a-year pruning, as is usual with trees and shrubs, it is not enough for the bird cherry.

  • The main cut takes place in the leaf-free period on a frost-free day.
  • Completely remove dead and rotting branches
  • Thin out the inner crown until the branches are about 20 cm apart.
  • Cut off at least one of the crossing branches.
  • Shoots that strive vertically upwards also fall victim to the scissors.
  • With all pruning measures, keep the symmetry of the bird cherry in mind.

In addition, one should regularly remove branches whose bark has burst in one or more places. Even if the branch still looks strong and healthy, these open spots will attract hordes of pests, spores and viruses. At the same time, rainwater penetrates and causes rot. The cut is always made at a slight angle, approx. 5 mm above an eye pointing outwards, using a sharp, disinfected tool. As a rule, it is not necessary to close the cuts with tree wax because the rainwater runs off quickly through the cut.
An old gardener’s adage says that if a hat thrown into the crown falls all the way through, the pruning is done properly.

Note: After a storm, the bird cherry is inspected with eagle eyes to make sure there are no broken branches that could fall on people’s heads, so that they are removed immediately.

Regular grooming

With the bird cherry, the main cut alone is not enough if the gardener wants to keep the fast-growing plant under control. That’s why he grabs the pruning shears during the vegetation phase to prevent uncontrolled growth. Preferably, this pruning is done just after flowering, before the next year’s buds are laid. If unwanted seedlings appear meters away, it is imperative to immediately remove them completely from the soil. If you wait too long, you may cause irreparable damage to nearby plants because the young roots of Prunus padus have already spread there.

Anyone who fails to place the bird cherry with a root barrier during planting is forced to regularly remove the root shoots. To do this, the root is exposed and the piece that has become too long is cut off with a sharp spade. You should never dispose of these root pieces on the compost heap, because it is not uncommon for them to try to sprout again there.


In view of the powerful habit that the bird cherry can assume, this ornamental tree is only suitable for large gardens and parks. Prunus padus is simply too dominant for small gardens, even with regular pruning. Due to the strong root growth, the tree or shrub is also not suitable for keeping in a bucket because it would burst it within a short time.

Anyone who has decided to settle a bird cherry in the garden should aim for autumn as the planting time. In the container, the tree can be planted all year round; If, on the other hand, it is planted in the ground in autumn, its roots can already establish themselves well before the frost comes. The bird cherry does not have to be particularly large when you buy it, because smaller specimens get used to their new location faster. It is important to note that the root ball is kept moist in case the transport time from the nursery to the garden is a little longer. The experienced hobby gardener saves the bird cherry from a longer storage period and plants it immediately after its arrival.

  • Remove the weeds, all roots and stones at the planned location.
  • Deeply loosen and dig up the soil.
  • Place the root ball in a container of water until no more air bubbles rise.
  • In the meantime, dig a planting hole twice the size of the root ball.
  • The excavation is mixed with compost and horn shavings in a wheelbarrow.
  • Since the bird cherry loves moist soil, drainage is not used.
  • The potted tree is planted in the middle of the planting pit.
  • The earth is firmly trampled down so that no cavities form.
  • Then the Prunus padus is watered generously and surrounded with a layer of mulch.
  • A pouring rim that slopes slightly towards the middle improves the use of rainwater.

So that the young tree does not fall victim to the first autumn storm, it is surrounded by three support posts 30 cm apart, to which it is connected by wide raffia bands. This support can be removed in the second year at the latest. In between, you keep checking the connection, because the bast ribbon or the coconut rope must not grow into the bark.

Tip: Young trees must not be buried deeper than they were in the tree nursery.

Root barrier keeps the spread in check

As the bird cherry, as a shallow root, shows a remarkable urge to spread throughout the entire area, the experienced hobby gardener provides the tree with a high-quality root barrier when planting. This is an air and water impermeable, frost-proof geotextile that the roots cannot penetrate. It is placed vertically in the ground at an appropriate distance from the root ball and fixed with special click bars. Incidentally, this measure can also be made up for in later years, but then it is associated with a much greater amount of work, because you first have to dig up and remove the spreading roots.


The bird cherry is completely hardy. In the year of planting, it should still receive protection from the rigors of winter. Therefore, the root ball is provided with a thick layer of leaves, straw or brushwood. Furthermore, a jute bag is put over the crown or it is wrapped with garden fleece. Established Prunus padus do not require any protective measures during the cold season.


The furious flowering in spring and the spectacular fruit in autumn, combined with the high utility value for birds, bees and butterflies, encourages more and more hobby gardeners to keep several specimens of bird cherry. Good to know that propagation is so easy, with the help of sticks.

  • Between October and February, the sticks are cut from one to two-year-old shoots.
  • They are approx. 35 cm to 40 cm long and are cut off at the top and bottom.
  • It shouldn’t be freezing, raining or blazing sunshine.
  • Each stick has at least 3 leaf nodes from which the roots sprout.

Since the bird cherry is completely hardy, there is nothing wrong with planting it in the ground at the intended location, watering it well and covering it with a protective layer of leaves. Alternatively, the hobby gardener takes the cuttings into the house and plants them in pots with moist potting soil, where they root in a cool room until next spring. During this time they are kept slightly moist and regularly checked for pests.

The bird cherry is an enchanting addition to large gardens and parks. Your start into the year begins with a brilliant, white flower that spreads an intoxicating scent. This miracle of nature lasts well into June, not only to the delight of people, but also to the benefit of bees and butterflies. When the small black fruits appear in clusters from August, they form a wonderful contrast to the golden-yellow autumn leaves of the Prunus padus. Hobby gardeners who take heed of the bird cherry’s urge to spread from the start and act accordingly will not encounter any problems with the care.

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