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Beginners Guide to growing Cherry Trees

Written by Sarah Talbot

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Posted on 1 August 2021

cherry treeCherry trees are arguably the prettiest of spring blossom trees. There are around a thousand varieties of cherry tree - five hundred Sweet Cherries and five hundred Sour Cherries (also known as Tart or Morello Cherries). 

So if you are thinking of adding a cherry tree to your garden then read on and we will help you sort the wood from the (Cherry) trees...

Cherry Tree sizes

The best thing about cherries is that there is a cherry tree for every size of garden. For small space gardeners there are fan shaped cherries that will be happy trained up a wall. There are also bush cherries that grow to a maximum of 3 m (9' 1"). For those with more space in their garden or allotment there are Standard cherries that grow to 5 m (16' 5"). 

Growing Cherry Trees in pots and containers

If you want to grow cherry trees in pots then the fan cherries or bush cherries are best although you could grow any of them if your container is big enough!

What Type of Cherry to Choose

The next choice is if you want to grow sweet cherries or sour Morello Cherries. As always with growing food, which option you choose should be based on what you and your family like to eat.  that will allow you to reduce your food miles and use what you grow in your own kitchen.  The difference between the two cherry types is that Morello or Tart cherries are usually cooked, while Sweet Cherries are picked and eaten raw.  

Are Cherries Self Fertile?

Most Morello cherries are self fertile meaning you only need one tree. Only about half of sweet cherries are self fertile though so these need a second tree to pollinate them and produce cherries.  So if you only intend to have one tree then remember to check this before you buy. 

Where to grow cherry trees

Cherry trees grow best in a warm, sheltered frost-free spot with well drained, slightly acidic soil. Sweet cherries really need the sun while a Morello cherry will tolerate some shade. so choose your position carefully.

Planting cherry trees

Like most trees, cherry trees come either as bare root plants or growing in pots.  The bare root will be cheaper and you will probably find a bigger choice of varieties.  The draw back is that you will have to wait until Autumn or Winter to buy and plant a bare-rooted cherry tree. Trees are dormant at this time of year so the tree will 'wake up' in their new position and simply start growing.  

If you buy a pot-grown cherry you can plant this all year round. And it will instantly look like a cherry tree and not like a stick!

How to plant a cherry tree

Haxnicks Tree Mat around a young fruit treeIn your chosen sunny spot, dig the soil over and take out any weeds that could compete with your young tree.  Dig a large square planting hole. Plant the tree making sure you position it at the same depth as it was previously planted - you should be able to see a mark on the trunk.  Water thoroughly when you first plant and place a Tree Mat around the base to retain moisture and supress weeds.  You may need to use a stake to support the tree if you are in a particularly windy spot or it is a delicate specimen. 

It is important to look after the tree well in its first year so that it can establish well.  This involves keeping the weeds down and watering regularly, especially when there's a dry spell.  Mulch with well-rotted manure in February and feed regularly with a general fertiliser through into Spring. 

How to care for cherry trees

Frost is a real threat to fruit trees as it will destroy the blossom so the tree will not form fruit.  Protect your young cherry with a Fleece Jacket removing it during the day to allow insects to pollinate your tree.

Once fruit has started to form recover with a Tree Net to protect the fruits from insects and birds. Don't wait until the fruit is getting ripe because the day you think 'I'll pick those tomorrow' the birds and squirrels will likely be one step ahead of you and strip the tree! 

Pruning and training cherries

Sweet cherries produce their fruit on wood produced the previous season or earlier.  Morello cherries fruit on one-year-old wood.

It is best to prune young trees in spring, when new growth appears.  Prune established trees in summer, if needed to remove dead or diseased branches or to shape the tree a little.

For all types of cherry, never prune in winter.  Winter pruning brings the risk of developing silver leaf disease or canker. 

Harvesting cherries

Cherries growing on a Cherry TreeA mature cherry tree can produce 7,000 cherries a year!  To harvest the cherries, cut bunches of them from the tree, still on their stalks.  Be gentle as over zealous handling could damage the fruit.  

Sweet cherries will store in the fridge for about a week after picking. (unless its in my house where they will all be gone before nightfall!) Sour Morello cherries are usually cooked though.  So you will need to make plans to use them for jams, cakes and why not revive that amazing dish from the 1970s and add your home grown cherries to a nice Black Forest Gateaux. 

Growing cherries: Pest & Diseases

For cherries birds are the solution firstly, and then the problem!  Cherry Blackfly and Fruit Flies can both be a problem causing the cherries to rot and be over run by caterpillars. Birds can be helpful in eliminating the caterpillars but once your fruits have formed, they will be back to demand payment in the form of your ripe cherries!  As outlined above, netting the cherries is a must.  

Other diseases they may suffer from are canker, blossom wilt, silver leaf disease or brown rot.  As mentioned above under 'pruning', if you follow the rule and don't prune in winter this will go a long way to prevent silver leaf disease and canker.   

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