From our family to yours, tips for a bountiful harvest.
For more than 40 years, the Eartheasy family has been growing fruit trees and sharing our results with homesteaders and small-scale home gardeners. Cherries are one of our favorite fruits to grow, and while they present some challenges for our Pacific Northwest climate, we’ve had success with several varieties. Even more varieties are available to readers in other parts of the continental USA.
If you’ve ever wondered about growing your own cherries, you’ve come to the right place. Not only do cherry trees provide beautiful blossoms in spring, they can also produce delicious cherries in the summer. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to grow your own cherry tree.
1. Make sure you can grow cherries in your area.
Cherry trees can be grown in most regions of the USA, although the specific variety of cherry tree that is best suited for each location may vary. Here are some general guidelines for where to grow cherry trees:
- Pacific Northwest: The Pacific Northwest, which includes parts of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, is a good location for sweet cherry trees. In fact, this part of the country produces more than 70% of the country’s sweet cherries. These trees thrive in the region’s mild, wet winters and warm summers.
- Midwest: Most of the country’s sour cherry crop in the USA comes from the Midwest, which includes Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois. Sour cherries are well-suited to the region’s colder winters.
- Northeast: The Northeast, which includes New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts is also a good location for sour cherry trees. These trees are more cold-tolerant than sweet cherries and can withstand the region’s harsh winters.
- West Coast: The West Coast, which includes parts of California and Oregon, is a good location for both sweet and sour cherry trees. However, in some areas with warmer winters, sweet cherry trees may be more susceptible to disease and pests. Also be sure that the varieties you choose will receive enough chill hours (the number of days exposed to 45 degrees or less) to bear fruit. If you live in California, visit this chill hour map for more information.
- Alaska: Sour cherry trees will grow in Alaska if your chosen variety is first grafted onto a cold-hardy rootstock.
2. Choose the right variety of cherry tree.
There are many different types of cherry trees to choose from, each with their own unique characteristics. Some common varieties include sweet cherries, sour cherries, and dwarf cherry trees or shrubs. Sweet cherries are usually eaten fresh and have a higher sugar content, while sour cherries are often used in cooking and have a more acidic taste. Dwarf cherry trees or shrubs are a good choice if you have limited space. Dwarf cherry trees are simply favorite varieties that have been grafted onto dwarfing rootstock.
When choosing a variety of cherry tree, it’s important to consider your climate and growing conditions. As noted above, some cherry trees are better suited for warmer climates, while others can tolerate colder temperatures.
Consider also the disease resistance of different varieties. For example, some varieties are more resistant to pests and diseases. We’ve listed ome of the most popular cherry varieties below.
Popular sweet cherry varieties
- Bing Cherry: Bing is one of the most popular cherry varieties, known for its deep red color, sweet flavor, and firm texture. It is a large, heart-shaped cherry that is excellent for eating fresh or for use in cooking.
- Blackgold Cherry: The Blackgold sweet cherry is a popular cultivar known for its large, dark fruit and sweet, juicy flavor. It was developed in the United States, through a breeding program aimed at creating a cherry with superior flavor, size, and color. The Blackgold cherry typically ripens in late June or early July.
- Black York Cherry: Disease-resistant Black York sweet cherries ripen mid-season, with harvest peaking in early summer. Each yield of dark red cherries are firm with a delicious, sweet flavor.
- Emperor Francis Sweet Cherry: Emperor Francis is a variety of sweet cherry that is known for its large, firm, and heart-shaped fruit. It is dark red to almost black in color, with a deep red flesh that is sweet and juicy. Grow this variety for a mid-season cherry that is typically harvested in late June to early July.
- Lapins Cherry: Lapins cherries are a dark red, firm cherry with a sweet, rich flavor. They are a popular choice for eating fresh or for use in cooking.
- Rainier Cherry: Rainier cherries are a premium variety, known for their yellow-red color, sweet flavor, and soft texture. They are usually larger than other varieties and are a popular choice for eating fresh.
- Sweetheart Cherry: Sweetheart cherries are a heart-shaped cherry with a bright red color and sweet, juicy flavor. They are often used in desserts or eaten fresh.
Popular sour cherry varieties
- Balaton Cherry: Balaton cherries are larger and sweeter than other sour cherry varieties, with a firm, juicy texture and a tangy flavor. They are often used in cooking and baking. In addition to delicious flavor, Balaton sour cherry trees are known for their hardiness and disease resistance. They are well-suited to colder climates, and can tolerate a wide range of soil types and growing conditions.
- Morello Cherry: Morello cherries have a dark red to almost black skin and a tart, juicy flesh. They are typically harvested in late summer and are often used in baking and cooking, particularly in European cuisine. Morello cherries are also popular for making cherry liqueurs and other beverages.
- Montmorency Cherry: Montmorency cherries are a tart cherry variety that is commonly used for baking and making preserves. They are bright red and have a firm texture.
3. Choose the right location for your tree.
Cherry trees require full sun exposure, which means they should be planted in an area that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. If possible, choose a spot with a southern or western exposure, since this will give your tree the most sunlight throughout the day. Our cherry trees thrive on a south-facing slope.
In addition to sunlight, cherry trees require well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. If your soil is heavy or compacted, adding compost or well-rotted manure will improve drainage and fertility (more on this below). Cherry trees also prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5, so it’s important to test your soil and adjust the pH if necessary.
4. Prepare the soil for planting.
Begin by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris from the planting area. Dig a hole that is twice as wide and just as deep as the tree’s root ball. Using a garden fork or tiller, loosen the soil to a depth of about 18 inches.
There’s some debate about how much to fertilize your tree at planting time. We have found that mixing in compost or well-rotted manure improves soil fertility and drainage. You can also add a balanced organic fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Work the amendments into the soil to a depth of about six inches.
5. Plant your cherry tree
Carefully place the tree in the hole, making sure that the root collar (the point where the trunk meets the roots) is level with the soil surface. Backfill the hole with soil, making sure to tamp it down firmly to eliminate air pockets.
After planting, water thoroughly to help settle the soil around the roots. You can also add a layer of mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
6. Water your tree regularly.
Cherry trees require consistent moisture to thrive, especially during the first few years of growth. Water your tree deeply once or twice a week, depending on rainfall and soil conditions. During dry spells, you may need to water your tree more frequently. Avoid overhead watering, as this can promote fungal diseases; instead, water the tree at its base. We have found drip irrigation and soaker hoses are good options.
7. Provide support.
Most cherry trees will require support to keep them growing straight and healthy. Staking is a good choice for young trees or trees located in windy areas. To stake a tree, drive a sturdy stake into the ground near the tree, and tie the trunk to the stake using a soft tie. The tie should be snug, but not so tight that it restricts the growth of the tree. As the tree grows, you may need to adjust the tie to prevent it from becoming too tight.
A trellis system is another option for providing support. To create a trellis system, start by setting sturdy posts into the ground at either end of the row of trees. Then, run wire between the posts at different heights, and attach the branches of the tree to the wires using soft ties. As the tree grows, you can adjust the ties to encourage it to grow along the wires.
8. Prune correctly, at the right time of year.
Proper pruning can help your cherry tree maintain a good shape, improve airflow, and promote the growth of new fruiting wood. This is especially important in the first two years after planting, since your tree will be establishing its overall shape.
Given that cherry trees are susceptible to bacterial cankers, it’s best to prune in early spring, after very cold weather has passed. Alternatively, you can wait until August, after fruiting has finished. Begin by removing any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. These should be cut back to healthy wood using clean, sharp pruning shears. Next, remove any water sprouts or suckers that are growing from the base of the tree or along the trunk. These will not produce fruit and can weaken the tree.
To encourage new fruiting wood, prune the tree to maintain an open, spreading shape. This will allow sunlight and air to reach all parts of the tree, promoting healthy growth and fruit production. Be sure to make clean, angled cuts, and avoid leaving stubs or tearing the bark. Always prune to an outward-facing bud.
9. Fertilize your cherry tree.
Cherry trees require regular fertilization to ensure healthy growth and fruit production. A soil test can help you determine which nutrients your tree will need and in what amounts. Look for a fertilizer that is specifically formulated for fruit trees and has the correct balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients.
The best time to fertilize your cherry tree is in the spring, just as the buds are starting to swell. This will provide the tree with the nutrients it needs to support new growth and fruit production. Avoid fertilizing your tree in the fall, as this can encourage late-season growth that may not have time to harden off before winter.
When applying fertilizer, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. This will ensure that you don’t apply too much or too little fertilizer, which can harm the tree. Choose a granular or liquid fertilizer for this stage. If using a granular fertilizer, apply it evenly around the base of the tree and water thoroughly. If using a liquid fertilizer, dilute it according to the manufacturer’s instructions and apply using a watering can or hose attachment.
Related: The Best Organic Fertilizers to Double Your Harvest
10. Protect your tree from pests and disease.
Cherry trees are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases that can damage the tree and reduce fruit production. Some common pests include fruit flies, slugs, and Japanese beetles. These pests can be controlled using organic sprays, powders or sticky traps.
Diseases that affect cherry trees include cherry leaf spot, brown rot, and powdery mildew. To prevent these diseases, it’s important to maintain good air circulation around the tree, avoid overhead watering, and remove any fallen fruit or leaves from the ground, particularly at the end of the season. We have found a foliar spray made from neem oil can help control many of these diseases.
Birds can also be a problem for cherry trees, as they will eat the fruit as it ripens. To protect your fruit, cover the tree with bird netting or use reflective tape or scare devices to keep birds away.
11. Harvest your cherries.
It’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Cherries are typically ready to harvest in the late spring or early summer, depending on the variety. Look for cherries that are plump and firm, with a deep, rich color. To harvest, simply pick the cherries off the tree.
Easy as cherry pie
Growing a cherry tree can be a rewarding experience for home gardeners who want to enjoy the delicious fruit and beautiful blossoms that these trees provide. By selecting a suitable location, choosing the right variety, and providing the proper care and maintenance, you can help ensure a healthy and productive cherry tree for years to come.
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