Pruning Cornelian Cherry trees

Hi folks. I got these small grafted (Red Star and Yellow) Cornelian cherry trees (dog wood family) and am going to plant them in the front yard for their fruit production but plant to keep them below 8ft wide and tall.

From my search of images on the net, it appears that they can grow both as a single trunk tree or bush, and the scaffolding can literally start as low as the ground level or many feet high. So, my question is: how do I go about pruning these? Do I head-cut them like we do with stone fruits? I think I have preference for a bush since it can produce more at a shorter height.

Also, I can not envision how those lateral branches that are there are going to grow. They don’t look much like the images I see on the net. Can someone show me a single photo of the probable future shape of these trees?

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Here are two cornelian cherries pruned as trees. I planted them when they were about the same size as yours and headed them off above a node at about 1 foot tall. I prune them every winter to remove all the smaller branches and suckers at the base of the tree to keep them from turning into dense bushes. They are both about 8 ft tall, but one I’ve let get about 12 ft wide and the other is about 6 ft wide. They are relatively slow growers (I planted one of these 12 years ago and the other 10 years ago). image


Here’s a third cornelian cherry that I trained a bit differently and let it get to about 2ft before I let it branch. This one is much more upright and probably more like 12 ft tall. They always put out two opposite branches at every node, so in this case I pruned off one side at the lowest branches to force it to have branches that alternate.

As a side note, the sapsuckers like cornelian cherries more than anything else in my yard and have almost collared several branches by pecking holes all the way around them. I’ve had to wrap hardware cloth around a few spots to let them heal.


I used cornus mass seedlings to make a hedge. They were under two feet tall when I got them. The area pretty much is in full shade. I headed back all branches at least once a year. Twice some years to encourage branching.
The most current photo I have is in 2021. They are a little thin but remember they are in full shade. I’m super happy with the hedge. The berries make a fantastic syrup too.


I have the same two varieties. I just let them grow up and didn’t prune them much. They are about 10-12 feet tall. They fruit every year, even though they are in part shade. Easy care, although the yellow got hit by drought, so I biocharred it and deep mulched it for this year.

John S

Could you please share some photos? Do you think they are done growing tall?

They can grow up to 6m (19.7 feet). From observation of cornelian cherries in the wild, more water&less light = taller (and lankier) bush/tree. They tend to be shorter (3-4m) but broader and denser in full sun.


Thank you very much for the helpful description and photos. Your trees look great. I especially like how the tree in your first photo turned out symmetrical. I’m planting my two trees on the sides of my front window so it would be nice to get a symmetrical tree that looks like your first photo on each side.

If I am cutting my trees at one-foot height like you did, I’ll be taking out 60% of them. Given that this is a slow-growing tree and I want it to grow to full production asap, would you say I should head-cut it now so that it puts all the energy into the lowest branches, or let it grow this year so it can have more foliage to photo-synthecize more and grow faster? When did you head-cut the tree in your first photo?

Beautiful edible hedge. Thank you

Factoring out sunlight and variety, do you think total fruit production per tree is higher in this bushy style you created or the traditional tree style that @ncdabbler created?

I head-cut that tree right after planting it. I think if you want that particular shape, then it makes sense to do that pruning sooner rather than later. If those two buds below the cut are the only ones you let grow this year, then you’ll have a good start on your trunk shape from the beginning. If it were my front yard, I would put a wire cage around those young trees so that a curious rabbit or deer doesn’t do any additional pruning. They don’t seem particularly attractive to either rabbits or deer in my yard, but a curious herbivore will try anything new at least once. My goal was to keep all the fruit within easy arm’s reach and make it easy to mow and weed around the base of the trees. The bark on the more mature trees is very attractive too as it peels off, so all the more reason to expose it.

Yes they have more branches. I have a cultivar I keep in tree form. It produces more fruit actually but that’s because it’s a cultivar not a species seedling. But if it were a bush more branches so more fruit. Btw any fruit not totally ripe you can put the in a bowl on the counter. They will ripen up off the tree. When ripe they are soft. The darker red the more ripe. It takes weeks after they turn red. Many fall off before fully ripe. I have one called yellow too. The fruit does turn yellow but then orange to red to dark red. It’s not really ripe when yellow.

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