Cherry Trees with Red Leaves in Summer: Causes and Care

If your cherry trees are giving you sickly fruit late in the season, you might want to learn more about rusty mottle cherry disease. What is cherry rusty mottle? It refers to a group of viral diseases that affect cherry trees, such as rusty mottle of cherry and necrotic rusty mottle.

Cherry trees with red leaves in summer can be alarming for gardeners. However, there are a few potential causes for this phenomenon that are usually benign. With proper care and maintenance, cherry trees with summer red leaves can return to their normal green foliage.

What Causes Red Leaves on Cherry Trees in Summer?

There are a few potential reasons why cherry tree leaves may turn red during the summer months

  • Leaf scorch – During hot, dry weather, cherry trees can experience a condition called leaf scorch. This is caused by the tree losing water from its leaves faster than it can be replaced from the roots The leaves essentially get dehydrated, causing the edges and tips to turn brown or red Leaf scorch is most common on young or newly transplanted trees.

  • Nutrient deficiencies – Lack of nutrients like nitrogen, iron, and magnesium can also cause red pigments called anthocyanins to accumulate in cherry tree leaves. This gives them a reddish discoloration. Insufficient soil nutrition is a common cause of mid-summer red leaves.

  • Root problems – If the cherry tree’s roots are damaged or diseased, they cannot properly take up water and nutrients. This stress can lead to red leaf coloration. Root issues may be due to things like compacted soil damaged roots or root rot diseases.

  • Environmental stresses – Extreme shifts in weather, pests, diseases, and other environmental factors can stress the cherry tree, potentially leading to red leaves. The tree’s physiology gets thrown off by these issues.

  • Leaf aging – Older leaves that have been on the tree since spring will naturally turn red and drop off in mid-summer. This is a normal process as the tree continually replaces old leaves. As long as there are still new green leaves emerging, this leaf drop is not a concern.

Caring for Cherry Trees with Red Summer Leaves

If your cherry tree has developed red leaves during the summer, the first step is identifying and addressing the underlying cause. Here are some tips:

  • Check soil moisture – Use a moisture meter or your finger to test the soil. Water the tree if the soil is dry more than 2-3 inches down. Deep watering once a week is better than frequent shallow watering.

  • Mulch – Apply 2-4 inches of organic mulch like wood chips or bark around the base of the tree. This helps retain soil moisture and moderates soil temperature.

  • Fertilize – Apply a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer or compost to supply key nutrients like nitrogen that may be deficient. Always follow label directions.

  • Examine roots – Carefully dig around the root zone and check for compacted soil, girdling roots, or signs of disease. Address any root problems found.

  • Prune – Remove dead or damaged branches which may be diverting energy from the leaves. Pruning stimulates new growth as well.

  • Check for pests – Look for signs of infestation by pests like aphids, spider mites, or leaf miners. Use organic treatments if needed. Eliminating pests reduces stress.

  • Test soil pH – Get a soil test to determine if pH is in the ideal range of 6.0-6.5 for cherry trees. Adjust pH with amendments if needed.

  • Remove weak growth – Prune out smaller shoots and watersprouts to focus the tree’s energy on established scaffold branches and foliage.

  • Wait for new growth – If the red leaves are only on older foliage at the bottom of the canopy, it may be natural aging. Monitor for healthy new green leaves still emerging at branch tips.

With corrective care tailored to the specific causes of the symptoms, most cherry trees can recover from summer red leaves. It may take weeks or months to regain normal green foliage, so patience is required. Talk to local extension services if problems persist.

Common Cherry Tree Varieties with Reddish Leaves

Some cherry tree varieties naturally have red-tinged leaves due to high anthocyanin pigments. This normal coloration intensifies in autumn. Popular ornamental cherry trees with red leaves include:

  • Kwanzan cherry – Bright pink blooms. Red-purple leaves turn bronze in fall.

  • Royal Burgundy cherry – Deep purple foliage all season. Best in colder climates.

  • Okame cherry – Early spring blooms. Young leaves start pink, mature to green.

  • Akebono cherry – Pale pink flowers. Reddish-purple leaves.

  • Yoshino cherry – Light pink blooms. Red-tinged leaves.

These weeping cherry trees also have reddish foliage:

  • Snow Fountains – Cascading branches. Bronze-red leaves.

  • Amanogawa – Slender form. Green leaves turn red-orange in fall.

Is My Cherry Tree Dying? Diagnosing Severe Symptoms

While summer red leaves are often temporary, trees that fail to recover and continue declining may be dying from an underlying disease or severe stress.

Here are signs a cherry tree may be dying:

  • Leaves are shriveling, wilting, and falling off in large amounts
  • Branches are dying back from the tips
  • Bark is splitting or peeling off the trunk
  • Mushroom-like fungal growths at base of tree
  • Sunken or discolored areas on bark (cankers)
  • Oozing sap or sticky residues on bark
  • Presence of many dead twigs and small branches
  • Lack of any new leaf buds or growth

Trees exhibiting these severe symptoms need evaluation by an arborist. They may be suffering from aggressive fungal diseases like verticillium wilt, cultural problems like girdling roots, or environmental factors like drought and heat.

With rapid diagnosis and treatment, some declining cherry trees can potentially be saved. But those already in a state of severe decline may continue to deteriorate. Removing dead or hazardous trees is recommended. Replanting a new cherry tree suited to the site is an option if the original tree cannot be rescued.

When to Call a Professional About Cherry Tree Issues

Consulting with qualified arborists or tree care specialists is advisable if:

  • You are unsure of the causes of red summer leaves
  • The tree shows no improvement after attempted corrective care
  • Other alarming symptoms develop like cankers, ooze, or fungal growths
  • The cherry tree seems to be dying from the top down or inside out
  • The tree becomes hazardous due to extensive dead branches

The tree care professional has specialized expertise and diagnostic tools to identify factors damaging your cherry tree. They can develop an action plan for treatment or removal if needed. Addressing problems quickly gives cherry trees the best chance of survival and return to health.

The Takeaway on Cherry Trees with Red Summer Leaves

Don’t panic if you notice your cherry tree developing red leaves in summer – it does not necessarily mean the tree is dying. Mild red leaf coloration is often temporary and caused by environmental stresses or nutrient deficiencies. With timely corrective care of watering, fertilizing, pruning, and pest control, the tree should recover and produce new green growth. However, rapid leaf loss, branch dieback, and other signs of decline require professional diagnosis. Addressing severe symptoms promptly allows the best opportunity to restore cherry trees to health.

What is Cherry Rusty Mottle?

There are several viruses that can hurt cherry trees. Two of them are rusty mottle of cherry and necrotic rusty mottle. Experts know that viruses cause rusty mottle diseases, but they don’t know much else. For instance, scientists agree that if you plant infected stock, your tree will get rusty mottle cherry disease. But they don’t know how the viruses are spread in other ways. The exact symptoms of a viral cherry tree disease differ among trees. In general, rusty mottle cherry disease reduces fruit harvest and fruit quality. It also slows down fruit ripening.

Treating Cherries with Rusty Mottle

How can you tell if your cherries have rusty mottle? Don’t expect your trees to die all of a sudden; they won’t. They just lose energy. Rusty mottle of cherry causes the cherry tree leaves to turn yellow or red. Many will drop before the fruit harvest. Those leaves that don’t drop turn rust colored, and are mottled with yellow and brown. What about the fruit? Cherries with rusty mottle will be smaller than normal cherries of the same cultivar. They will ripen late and lack flavor. Some are totally tasteless. If your tree has necrotic rusty mottle, you’ll see both flowers and leaves appear late in spring. The leaves will develop brown necrotic or rusty chlorotic spots. These may fall from the leaf leaving holes. The entire tree can lose its leaves. There is no effective way to treat rusty mottle of cherry or necrotic rusty mottle on cherry trees, so the best thing you can do is take them out of the garden and throw them away. If you don’t want to deal with these viruses again, you can buy trees that don’t have them.

Top 4 Flowering Cherry Trees |


Why are my cherry tree leaves turning red?

Rusty mottle of cherry causes the cherry tree leaves to turn yellow or red. Many will drop before the fruit harvest. Those leaves that don’t drop turn rust colored, and are mottled with yellow and brown.

What cherry tree has maroon leaves?

If you’re looking for a way to add a pop of color to your lush green landscape, there is no better tree than the Royal Burgundy Flowering Cherry tree. Not only does it have exquisite maroon foliage, but it also blooms bright pink blossoms to herald in springtime.

Why are the leaves on my cherry tree turning brown in the summer?

Both ornamental and edible cherry trees can suffer from the foliar diseases known as leaf scorch and leaf spot. These lead to unsightly yellow or brown leaves.

What kind of cherry tree has red leaves in California?

Hollyleaf Cherry (and its subspecies Catalina Cherry) is a wild fruit tree native in California (including Baja) chaparral.

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