Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees

Cherry Essentials

by National Gardening Association Editors

Planning

  • Tart cherries thrive in zones 4 to 6, sweet cherries in zones 5 to 7.
  • Plant cherry trees in early spring.
  • Tart cherries are self-fertile. Sweet cherries need a compatible variety for cross-pollination.
  • Choose sweet cherry varieties that are especially adapted to your climate and resistant to the major diseases in your area.
  • Standard-size trees start bearing in about their fourth year, dwarf trees in about their third year.
  • One mature, standard-size tart or sweet cherry tree will produce 30 to 50 quarts of cherries each year; a dwarf tree, about 10 to 15 quarts.

Preparation

  • Choose a sunny site with good air circulation and deep, well-drained soil. Avoid low areas or places surrounded by buildings or shade trees, where cold air settles.

Planting

  • Plant sweet cherries on standard rootstocks 35 to 40 feet apart; dwarfs, 5 to 10 feet apart. Space tart cherries on standard root stocks 20 to 25 feet apart; dwarfs, 8 to 10 feet apart.
  • Set trees on standard rootstocks with the graft union a few inches below the soil level. Set trees on Colt dwarfing rootstock with the graft union several inches above the soil level.

Care

  • Train dwarf tart cherry trees to a central leader. Train semi-dwarf or standard-size cherry trees to a modified leader.
  • Prune trees every year in late winter to encourage the growth of new fruiting wood. Don't prune in the fall.
  • Fertilize each spring until trees start to bear, then fertilize only after harvest each season.
  • See our article Fruit Pests and Diseases for controls of common cherry pests such as plum curculio, cherry fruit fly, brown rot, and cherry leaf spot.
  • Prevent birds from eating your harvest.

Harvesting

  • The sugar content of cherries rises dramatically in the last few days of ripening, so wait until they turn fully red, black, or yellow (depending on the variety) before harvesting.
  • Harvest as the cherries ripen over the course of about a week.
  • Pick the cherries with the stems attached, being careful not to tear off the fruit spur that will produce fruit year after year.
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