Cornelian Cherry (Cornus Mas) – The Complete Guide

The Cornelian cherry captivates us already at the end of winter with golden-yellow flowers on still leafless shoots.

At the end of summer, it presents us with bright red fruits above rich green foliage, which changes color impressively in autumn. Learn how to cultivate this floral feast for the eyes with its tart fruits.

Planting Cornelian Cherry

Proper planting sets the stage for a Cornelian cherry to unfold its charismatic aura in the garden. Therefore, pay attention to the following workflow:

  • In the fall, in a sunny location, weed the humus-nutrient-rich soil and loosen it deeply.
  • Dig a planting pit with twice the volume of the root ball.
  • Mix the excavated soil with compost, horn shavings, bark humus, or leaf mould.
  • Remove the growing pot to bury the plant in the center as deep as before.
  • Plant a pollinator variety in close proximity afterward.

Tread the soil firmly, without exerting too much pressure. In the final step, water the plant thoroughly and spread a layer of mulch.

Care Tips

With a targeted care program, Cornelian cherry will gain a fascinating presence in your garden over the years. We have summarized all the relevant measures for you below:

  • In the first few years, water the Cornelian cherry regularly and thoroughly during dry spells.
  • Water adult shrubs and trees only during summer droughts
  • Fertilize organically in the fall with compost and horn shavings.
  • Spread a nutrient-giving mulch layer of leaves, compost, or bark mulch and keep it fresh.
  • Prune as needed immediately after flowering.
  • Thinning out the shrub or crown carefully every 2 to 3 years.

Explicit overwintering is not necessary. Nevertheless, a protective layer of foliage and coniferous branches makes sense in the year of planting, as the frost hardiness has not yet fully developed.

Which Location is Suitable for Cornelian Cherry?

If the Cornelian cherry finds a sunny location, this preference will be rewarded with abundant flowering and lush fruiting.

The wild fruit tree that belongs to the dogwood (Cornus) family also thrives in partial shade as long as it receives at least 4 hours of sunlight a day.

The shrub is tolerant of soil conditions. It is happy to stretch out its roots in nutrient-rich, humus-rich, fresh, and well-drained soil that ranges from slightly acidic to neutral to slightly calcareous.

The Right Planting Distance for Cornelian Cherries

Cultivated as a shrub, the Cornelian cherry develops an expansive habit that almost corresponds to its height of growth. To allow the ornamental shrub to develop unhindered, we recommend planting 1 specimen per 40 sqft of garden area.

Please keep a distance of at least 6 ft (2 m) from the neighboring property and traffic routes. If the shrub grows in a natural hedge, the distance between the plants should be 5-6 ft (1.5-2 m).

The pollinator variety does not necessarily have to be cultivated as a plant neighbor. It is enough if it is located within the same garden.

What Kind of Soil Does Cornelian Cherry Need?

Cornelian cherry feels best in fresh-moist, humus-rich, and nutrient-rich soil. Primarily, the soil should be deep and loosely structured so that the roots can establish themselves unhindered.

It is advantageous for growth, flowering, and fruiting if the pH is in the neutral to the slightly acidic range.

What is the Best Time to Plant Cornelian Cherries?

Fall is the best time to welcome this new guest to your garden. It is advisable to choose a dry, overcast day between late August and early November.

At this time, the soil is deeply warmed and provides excellent growing conditions for the young roots. As long as the ground is not frozen, there is nothing to prevent planting woody plants at that time.

During a mild winter, this may even still be the case in December, January, or February.

When is Flowering Time for Cornelian Cherry?

The flowering period of a Cornelian cherry extends from March to April. Under favorable weather conditions, the flowering festival begins as early as the end of February.

However, the sword of Damocles hangs over such an early bloom. To avoid damage to the bloom, wrap the crown in jute or garden fleece overnight when ground frosts are forecast.

Pruning Cornelian Cherry Properly

As a classic early bloomer, prune the Cornelian cherry into shape immediately after flowering. Do this with as much restraint as possible, as any pruning could result in the loss of seed heads for fruiting.

Here’s how to do the pruning right:

  • Immediately after flowering, shorten excessively long shoots by no more than one-third.
  • Make each cut just above an eye pointing outwards.
  • At the same time, thoroughly remove dead wood and stunted growth from the shrub or crown.
  • Always cut whole branches on the high trunk to the branch ring, and cut them close to the ground on the shrub.

To prevent the shrub from becoming bare from the inside, it should be thoroughly thinned out at least every 2-3 years.

An old peasant rule says that a cap thrown into the grove should fall through to the ground in the end.

Watering Cornelian Cherry

In the first years of standing, a young Cornelian cherry depends on a regular water supply. Older, well-rooted shrubs regulate their water balance largely on their own.

Therefore, water the shrub regularly when the soil has dried out until it is five years old. It is advantageous to water the shrub 2 to 3 times a week during dry summer periods instead of watering it daily with a watering can.

Let the water hose run for 20 to 30 minutes but make sure to prevent waterlogging. A regularly renewed layer of bark mulch or leaves will keep the soil moist and warm longer.

Fertilizing Cornelian Cherries

To provide the early flowering Cornelian cherry with sufficient nutrients at the start of the season, it should receive a well-measured portion of compost with horn shavings already in the fall.

This makes sense insofar as organic fertilizers only begin their work at temperatures significantly above 50 °F (10 °C). Thus, the administration of natural fertilizer in February or March runs into the void.

If the fruit is intended for consumption, we do not recommend the use of mineral fertilizers, as the chemical components can accumulate in the flesh of the fruit.

Overwintering Cornelian Cherries

Cornelian cherry is completely hardy and does not require any special precautions for the winter period.

Nevertheless, in the year of planting, we recommend spreading a protective layer of bark mulch, compost, or leaf soil over the root disc. Moreover, protect the buds and flowers with a breathable hood from late winter.

Propagating Cornelian Cherry

To propagate the Cornelian Cherry, you have a choice of the following approaches:

  • Cut head cuttings in April/May and let them root in the pot.
  • Pull side shoots to the ground as saplings, cover them with soil in the middle, fix them and wait for rooting.
  • In autumn, cut cuttings, plant them in the ground, cover with foliage and let them take root.

Sowing the seeds from the pulp is also possible, although not recommended for the hobby gardener. Stratification is necessary to break the inhibition of germination.

Nevertheless, it may take several months before the appearance of the cotyledons. Up to 5 years can pass until a seedling-propagated cornelian cherry blooms for the first time.

Is Cornelian Cherry Poisonous?

Cornelian cherry is the ideal wild fruit tree for the family garden, as it does not contain any substances of concern.

On the contrary, the pea-sized drupes are even edible but have a very sour aroma. When prepared with plenty of sugar, the red fruits make excellent refreshing jelly, delicious jam, or invigorating liqueur.

Cornelian Cherry Does Not Bloom

It is so devastating when the longed-for spring bloom of a Cornelian cherry fails to appear. We’ve compiled the most common causes of this shortcoming, with tips on how to fix them:

  • Cause: Pruning at the wrong time. Solution: Prune the cornelian cherry only after flowering.
  • Cause: Frozen buds. Solution: Cover the branches with fleece from the end of January if it freezes.
  • Cause: Lack of light. Solution: Plant the shrub in a sunny to off-sun location.
  • Cause: Drought stress. Solution: Keep young shrubs and high trunks evenly moist during the first years.

If you have a seedling propagated specimen, long patience is required until the first flowering. At the earliest after 2-3 years – usually, even later – your cornelian cherry will dress in its first flowering.

How Do I Raise the Cornelian Cherry to a Standard Fruit Tree?

In order for the wild fruit tree to develop into a magnificent standard fruit tree, you need to take the first steps already in the process of planting.

Choose the strongest shoot to become the future trunk. Cut off all other branches. If the main shoot already has side shoots, cut them off to the branch.

To protect against windthrow, use a support stake that you drive into the ground to connect it to the trunk with raffia or sisal. As the main shoot gains height, consistently remove all side shoots and water sprouts while leaving the top untouched.