Growing Cherry Trees

Growing Cherry Trees

There are two types of cherries that you can grow – ‘sweet cherries’ and ‘acid cherries’. The former type makes great fruit to eat straight from the tree or add to a fruit salad and the latter is best as a dessert ingredient for compotes, tarts and pies.

Some cherry varieties require neighbouring cherry trees for successful fruit. The label will stipulate whether the variety is ‘self-fertile’; if it is, you don’t need to worry about it.

CherryTree

Planting Cherry Trees

Cherry trees are normally available as bare rooted or containerised plants that are young (up to five years old) and trained by the growers to grow well and develop maximum harvests. Depending on how you receive your plant will determine in which season to plant it.

Choose a site which is well-drained and in a position which benefits from good sunlight. Avoid planting in a part of the garden that is a frost pocket - opened flowers and fruitlets are susceptible to frost damage. Also, avoid planting in an exposed or windy position as this will both discourage pollinating insects and cause crop damage.

Avoid planting near larger or overhanging trees. To reduce the possibility of carrying over any dormant disease, do not plant where an old fruit tree has recently been removed. If your garden or allotment is visited by rabbits, then adequate protection must be given to the tree trunks using wire netting or plastic tree guards.

Planting Bare-rooted Cherry Trees

Planting time: November to March

Preparing the soil: The soil should be thoroughly dug and, at the same time, incorporate some bulky compost or Organic Extra Manure, and a feed of Fish, Blood & Bone or Light & Easy garden compost. Make sure any deep rooted perennial weeds are removed with a fork, or shallow-rooted weeds which you can remove with a hoe.

Cherry trees will not produce a good harvest of cherries in shallow or sandy soils. If you have this soil in your garden, choose to grow cherries in containers or add a great deal of bulky compost or manure to the soil before planting.

Planting method: Dig a planting hole 15cm (6in) wider than the root system once it has been spread out, and to a depth whereby the soil mark from the nursery on the stem of the young tree will be just covered. This should mean that the graft union (the knobbly part at the base of the stem) is about is 12-15cm (5-6in) above soil level when you have finished planting.

Fork into the sides of the hole which will encourage the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and establish well.

If you want to add a tree-stake for stabilising the tree in a windy site, bang it into the hole before the tree is planted, so you don’t damage roots by tapping in the stake after the young tree has been planted.

After placing the tree in the hole, spread out the roots and add layers of soil, firming down with your foot. Repeat until you’ve filled the hole with soil. The tree should be firm enough in the soil that it does not up-root when you pull the main stem and it shows resistance.

Water the area generously after planting and add a layer of warming and moisture-locking mulch around the tree, making sure that the mulch does not come into direct contact with the main stem.

If you have added a stake, tie to the tree by means of a tree tie ensuring that it’s firmly attached but allows a small degree of movement.

Planting Containerised Cherry Trees

Instructions (see bare-rooted, but note the following).

Planting time: All year round (though avoid high-summer and deep winter)

Planting method: Remove any weeds that may be growing on top of the container, and tease out some of the roots that are circling around the root ball. This will encourage the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and establish well.

Feeding Cherry Trees

Incorporating bulky compost and/ or manure into the soil before planting will increase nutrient levels in the soil and give the young cherry tree a good start.

Until they flower, feed with a general purpose fertiliser that you can add to water. Once the tree starts to flower, change this to a feed high in potash, like tomato food, which encourages good flowering and fruiting.

Acid cherries need more feeding than sweet cherries so bear this in mind when applying fertiliser.

Watering Cherry Trees

In the first year of planting, water generously. A good rule of thumb is to water to the point of creating a small pool around the stem. Let this absorb into the ground and repeat. Water morning and evening in times of drought, and one or the other during wet periods.

It’s essential to add a mulch after planting which conserves water in the soil.

Training Cherry Trees

Sweet cherries (Flowers and fruit develop on older stems)

2-3 year old tree

Prune in early spring: Prune all main stems to half their length.

4+ year old tree

Prune in late-June: Prune stems that are dead, damaged or diseased. Also prune stems that are overcrowding the centre of the plant- focus on taking out the inward-growing stems. Also take out the suckers (the vertical stems growing from the ground next to the main trunk).

Acid cherries (Flowers and fruit develop on young wood)

2-3 year old tree

Prune in early spring: Prune all main stems to half their length.

4+year old tree

Prune in late-June: Prune stems that are dead, damaged or diseased. Cut back all stems that have flowered and fruited to a young shoot at the base of the stem. This encourages lots of young stems that will form the flowers and fruit next year.

Harvesting and Storing Cherry Trees

Pick sweet cherries when they are ripe and eat as soon as possible so you can benefit from maximum flavour.

You can freeze sweet cherries, though yellow varieties lose vitality when frozen.

Harvest using snippers or secateurs for clean cuts. Picking by hand can introduce diseases. Acid cherries freeze less well, so harvest just before using as a dessert ingredient.

Best Varieties of Cherries

Sweet Cherry ‘Stella’

Sweet Cherry ‘Sun Burst’

Acid Cherry ‘Morello’

Pests and Diseases of Cherries

Birds

Silverleaf

Bacterial canker