Fresh cherries picked right from the tree in the backyard are special and delicious. There is something unique about those sunbaked fruits being carried inside your home in buckets. With cherry trees, it’s not only the delectable crop that brings you butterflies in your stomach, but also the stunning beauty a cherry tree provides year-round.
Growing a healthy cherry tree needs some foresight and a thorough plan. That may sound too much of a task, but don’t worry. Here is a comprehensive guide to walk you through the process, including choosing the right type, planting, and caring for your cherry tree.
Fruiting Cherry Trees
Cherries are drupes with a stone in the center surrounded by juicy, fleshy, eatable material. They have a single seed and are closely related to other nut trees and stone fruits like apricots, plums, nectarines, almonds, and peaches. They are from the Genus Prunus, and you would find them similar to many other flowering trees or ornamental trees.
What type of cherry tree should you choose?
Fruiting cherry trees are broadly divided into two categories.
Sweet Cherry Trees
Also known as the Prunus avium, the sweet cherry trees are well adapted to USDA hardiness Zones ranging from 5 to 7. Sweet cherry trees would yield a plentiful crop each year that’s perfect for consumption – you can eat them straight off the tree or can add them to various desserts!
These trees are self-sterile, and so you’d need to plant at least two or three varieties for fruit production. Also, sweet cherry trees need a reasonable orbit to grow. In standard-sized cherry trees, this area ranges between 35 to 40 feet. Whereas, dwarf varieties require only 5 to 10 feet of breathing space to grow.
Sour Cherry Trees
Also known as Prunus Cerasus, sour cherry trees are resistant to cold and will grow well in Zones ranging from 4 to 6. Sour cherries are not preferred for fresh consumption but make an excellent choice for baking, cooking, and preservation purposes.
Most of these trees are self-sterile and will need two to three accompanying varieties for crop production. They need about 35 to 40 feet of room to grow (8-10 feet in the case of dwarf trees).
It takes a little time:
As most fruiting trees will take a specific number of years before they can treasure your garden with heaps of crops, cherry trees are no different. Cherry trees normally begin fruiting after they are 5 years of age. That means, cherry trees need to have a strong foothold into their new home, and only then will they begin producing fruit.
Don’t say that’s too long of a period. In fact, that’s more of a reason to get started at this very moment.
Tips to Plant
Whether you are up for planting sweet cherry trees or sour cherry trees, you don’t have to remember a variety of tips and tricks exclusive for each. Both these trees require similar growing conditions.
Proper well-moist soil is the basic need for cherry trees to grow healthy. All you need to do is dig a hole, lower the root and let nature do the job. Cherries would look forward to a deep-drained soil and rocky soil with a high clay content will create problems.
Next, cherry trees need full sunlight for good 8 hours a day. However, protect your delicate cherry trees against scorching afternoon sun that may burn it out.
For sour varieties, soil having pH levels of 6 to 7 would work, whereas, for sweet cherry varieties, the optimal pH level ranges from 6.3 to 7.3. This range may vary – for better results, try having a sample of your garden’s soil tested. This should help you stabilize the components of your soil and also select the right variety for your garden.
Did you know?
Espaliering is a technique through which dwarfing rootstocks of different trees can be grown along fences, wires, gates, walls etc. you can adjust the branches of your cherry trees, using this technique to train their growth in a horizontal shape. This makes it easier for you to pick fruits and protect them against birds. Espaliering not only prevents fungal infections but also promotes ripening, air circulation, and sunlight exposure.
Watering and Fertilizing
Cherry trees won’t require too many fertilizers or water. Only an inch of rain per week should work for these trees – using a rain gauge that shows precise readings should help you gauge it.
If you live in a relatively drier area where there is not enough rain, you can water your cherry trees once a week yourself. However, overwatering will only worsen the situation as water-logged roots are prone to fungal infections. A good watering exercise once a week (only during dry weather) is enough.
In the case of cherry trees, fertilization is even simpler. That’s because these trees are low feeders, and the following fertilizing methods should suffice the cause:
- Apply a low nitrogen fertilizer at half the recommended application rate.
- Apply this fertilizer at least a year before the flowers bloom.
- Apply compost to these trees at least twice a year.
Simple enough, isn’t it? If you still want to go a step ahead in caring for your plants, a granular fertilizer can be applied after the plants have stopped producing fruit.
Pruning and thinning
Luckily, cherry trees take the load of thinning the fruit off your back. That is something cherry trees would do on its own.
Pruning, however, should be done at least twice a year – preferably once during early Spring and once in the late Summer. The early spring pruning is better when the cold is out and buds are just about to break. Such pruning requires deep cuts and removal of limbs and bigger branches. This helps the tree have stronger limbs to bear more fruits rather, than having weaker limbs unable to support fruit weight.
Pruning during late summers involves cleaning the canopy to allow effective air circulation. This is important to keep fungal infections away. The late summer pruning is not intended to shape the tree but only to open things up and allow air to pass through few cuts.
Cherries are delectable tiny fruits, and as much as we love them, similarly, pests do. That’s why you’d have to keep a close eye on your tree for any such insects creeping inside.
You may find aphids, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, Thrips, borers, mites leafhoppers, and the famous cherry fruit fly buzzing into your cherry tree. A general spray like a nut orchard spray may control these mites and bugs.
On an advanced level, you may choose a spray that has Sulphur content in it to fight fungal diseases, and Pyrethrin to control insects. However, this may also harm other potentially beneficial insects residing in your garden.
Another easier solution can be Neem Oil that targets insects. Although neem oil is organic and natural but that doesn’t make it non-toxic. Just like Pyrethrin and similar chemicals, it will still bring harm to other beneficial insects.
In the case of cherry trees, diseases like the Galls, Cankers, Powdery Mildew, Buckskin, rots, and many other fungal diseases will hinder your way with fruit production. These diseases can get difficult to identify and treat as compared to ordinary pests.
Horticultural oils are good at removing such ailments. Likewise, copper fungicide is a fine organic way to get rid of fungal diseases and rot among trees.
Birds are at ease to feast upon a crop of cherries just ripened or partially ready. What’s even worse is the fact that they won’t just peck and fly away with their bellies full of cherries but would leave behind rotting left over-attached to the stems.
Detailed researches into this problem have highlighted a few effective solutions to the same:
- Use bird nettings.
- Use reflective tapes to distract birds from the crops.
- Use a scarecrow, or a dummy owl with its location changed regularly.
- Keep insects away to offer fewer attractions to birds.
- Use a birdhouse to attract predatory kestrels.
- Plant bird-favorite flowers like Echinacea and Rudbeckia.
The best method of them all is to use each of them on and off. Swapping between different preventative measures is the only best way to have your cherry trees fresh, healthy, and full of fruit. Bird netting is a good option except for the fact that it imposes a serious risk to wildlife. Bird nets do keep critters out, but other hapless birds, once trapped, would struggle to death.
Another pro tip to help you with bird netting – Install it just before the fruiting season comes is. Having it installed too early would allow birds to learn the trick of getting inside making it useless.
Another threatening condition among cherry trees is that of ‘Gummosis’.
That is when cherry trees would release a thick sticky sap upon being injured. Most of the time, a yard tool would bash the trunk, and resultantly, the tree would release a thick sap to heal the wound. Many times, these wounds are minor and would heal up on their own.
However, other times, this sap excretion can be a result of borers or cankers’ attack.
If you find traces of sawdust on the ground or the base of the tree trunk, you probably have had a borer. An appropriate fruit or nut spray should steer your trees clear of borers.
However, if there are no traces of sawdust, pull away the sap and take a deep look into the bark. If it feels dead and brittle, you have got cankers on the battle. Remove them away or call in experts to help you with the same.
In addition to these, other common causes of Gummosis include fungal infections like phytophthora and cytosporina. These are more difficult to fight with and would require a careful removal of the fungal tissue followed by the application of a fungicide. Start with removing dead branches and limbs and dispose them off.
Here comes the most awaited part – when can you harvest those electric red juicy cherries?
It takes up to three years before cherry trees can begin fruiting, however, once mature, the fruit production may increase up to 50 quartz per year. Dwarf specimens, on the other hand, can produce no less than 20 quarts of cherries each year. Growing cherry trees is certainly an effort, but that’s worth it.
Cherries would usually be ready to harvest between May to August, depending upon the cherry tree variety and your region’s temperature.
Knowing when the cherries hanging against those bushes are ripe enough to be harvested is a fun job. It takes a little research to know of the exact color and shape specific cherry varieties would have when ripe. During the expected months of ripening, take rounds of your garden, pluck off the berry that seems ripe and taste your juicy effort.
Ripe fruits will be juicy and tender yet firm. Try to be patient while harvesting – haste can make ample waste in this case. The sugar content in fruits takes rises during the last days of ripening, and once plucked, this sugar content won’t further increase. That’s when you know good things come to those who wait.
Storage and preservation
Cherries can be stored in the refrigerator for a good period of 14 days. However, their quality tends to fall multifold when stored under room temperature. You are definitely not expected to munch on the entire harvest within a single sitting – so you better preserve it in the refrigerator or the freezer.
Freezing cherries only works after you have well washed them and patted them dry. Leaving the stems on and seeds intact helps maintain the freshness for even longer.
Cherry trees on the list
The ‘Bing’ cherry tree is a great choice for sweet cherry lovers. These varieties are adaptable to zones ranging from 5 to 9 and will soon reach a height of about 18 feet. These trees yield a crop during late June, and in colder climates, it takes up to mid of July before you can see cherries peeking from the stems.
It can be planted around the ‘Montmorency’ or the ‘Rainier’ variety for pollination purposes.
The rainier variety is one of the most well-known and tastiest varieties of cherries out there. It offers a plentiful harvest that’s rich in taste.
These cherries are expected to ripen between Mid June and are adaptable to Zones 5 to 9. The maximum height a rainier cherry tree can achieve is that of 25 feet. It makes a good choice for small to medium-sized yards.
The compatible pollinating varieties for Rainier include lambert, Stella, and Montmorency.
Sweet and sour varieties have got you confused? Try growing both.
The Carmine Jewel is a cross between the sweet and sour cherry varieties. It provides a generous crop with about 20 pounds of fruit produced each year. It grows on a dwarfing rootstock and does best in zones 4 to 7. Also, it’s self-fertile, so you need not have any pollinators.
Let’s start planting?
It takes a little while before you get there, but once your cherry tree is all set to produce pounds and tons of fruit, you’ll know the effort was worth the wait. Fresh sunbaked fruit that comes straight from your yard has a special flavor that you just can’t deny.
Do not wait anymore and get started with your cherry tree‘s plantation right away.