Modern gardens have become colorful in ways that were previously not possible. There has been an enormous increase in the availability and use of colored foliage, that gives months and months of color, rather than the few weeks that flowering plants give us. Many of these plants with colored leaves are newer varieties, but some old favorites still stand out for their durability and reliability. The Purple-leaf Sand Cherry is certainly one of those ‘tried and true’ favorites of gardeners. To have kept that position for so long means this is a plant that is both attractive, tough, and easily grown in many different locations. That is certainly true, and this plant is not only very cold hardy, it grows well almost anywhere.
The Purple-leaf Sand Cherry is a medium-sized shrub that can also be trained into a small tree. It’s leaves, which are oval, with a serrated but soft edge, are about 2 inches long and a beautiful reddish-purple color. This striking color is seen as soon as the new leaves emerge in spring, and they hold that color throughout the summer and into fall. Often in fall they turn a brighter red. This ability to hold color through the summer makes this plant especially desirable, since many other plants with colored leaves turn greenish in summer, and begin to blend into the background of the other green plants around them. In spring, as the new leaves emerge, clusters of attractive flowers form, white with a blush of pink to the petals. These are about ½ inch across, but the clusters contain many flowers. They make a charming display, contrasting with the vibrant color of the newly-emerging leaves.
But wait, there is more. This plant will grow happily in areas with winter temperatures that plunge to a bone-chilling minus 50 degrees – yes, that is right. No matter how cold it is in winter where you live, you can enjoy this lovely plant in your garden, and its beautiful foliage will brighten your garden from spring to fall with no effort from you. Of course, you don’t have to live in such areas to enjoy this plant, as it will also grow well in all but the hottest parts of the country.
The Purple-leaf Sand Cherry grows to between 6 and 10 feet tall, and it can be up to 8 feet wide, although usually it is only 5 or 6 feet wide. In very cold areas it will not reach full size, but still grow to around 6 feet tall. It will naturally make an open, upright shrub, with attractive stems with chestnut-brown peeling bark. With a little pruning, it can be encouraged to be bushy and denser, or it can be trained up with one or two stems into a small tree-form. Plant it against a light-colored wall of your house of other buildings, or place it among other shrubs for a cheerful color contrast. It can also be planted in a row, spacing the plants 3 or 4 feet apart, to make a vibrant boundary marker, or to fill a long, narrow area of your garden. Wherever you plant it, and however you use it, you will love this easy-care and rugged plant.
The Purple-leaf Sand Cherry is over 100 years old, and still going strong in gardens across the country. It was developed at South Dakota State University by Dr. Niels Ebbesen Hansen, a famous horticulturist and plant-breeder. There is today a monument at the University to Dr. Hansen for his work in breeding cold-hardy fruits and agricultural crops. He produced this plant as an ornamental, by crossing the low-growing native American sand cherry, Prunus pumila, and a purple-leaf form of the European Cherry Plum, Prunus cerasifera ‘Atropurpurea’, a medium-sized tree. The resulting purple-leaf shrub was introduced in 1910. This plant has been carefully preserved by taking cuttings from accurately identified plants. Cheap seedling plants will never resemble this unique plant, in color, size or hardiness.
Choose a sunny spot for your Purple-leaf Sand Cherry, to encourage the maximum leaf color and sturdy growth. It will also grow in partial shade, but with less intense coloring. It will grow well in all kinds of soil, as long as they are well-drained, and it also tolerates urban conditions well. This, and its modest size, make it an ideal plant for smaller urban gardens.
The Purple-leaf Sand Cherry is a mainstay of gardens in cold areas, and with its rich foliage color it should be grown in warmer areas too. We have a good supply of top-quality plants, but our stocks are limited, so order now to enjoy this favorite plant of knowledgeable gardeners.