How to Grow 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. If not self-fertile choose a neighbouring cherry tree which flowers at the same time for guaranteed fruiting.
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 frost pockets, as opened flowers are susceptible to frost damage, windy or exposed areas should also be avoided to prevent crop damage
- Avoid planting near larger or overhanging trees and do not plant where an old fruit tree has recently been moved to prevent carrying over dormant disease
- 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
Plant bare-rooted cherry trees from November to March. The first step in planting cherry trees is to correctly prepare the soil to do this take the following steps:
- Plant in thoroughly dug soil and incorporate some bulky compost or organic extra manure, a feed of fish, blood & bone or light and easy garden compost
- Remove any deep routed perennial weeds with a fork, shallow-rooted weeds can be removed 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, grow cherries in containers or add a great deal of bulky compost or manure to the soil before planting
After the soil has been prepared correctly, use the following method to plant your cherry trees:
- Dig a planting hole 15cm (6in) wider than the root system once it has been spread out, 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 to 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. This means you won’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
Follow the same instructions as planting bare-rooted cherry trees, but note the following:
- Planting time: Containerised cherry tree can be planted 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).
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