Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees

Short and Sweet (page 3 of 3)

by Jack Ruttle

The Bigger, The Better

Most people seem to prefer their sweet cherries large. And there are good reasons for that. Bigger cherries are much easier to pick, for one thing. But they also usually taste better. That's because cherries, as a rule, tend to set too many fruits. And when a tree oversets, the fruit stays smaller and doesn't develop as sweet or as full a flavor. Ripening is often delayed, too.

It isn't practical to thin cherries by hand the way we do larger fruits like apples or peaches. But there are two ways around the problem. You can plant very large-fruited varieties. "When cherries are very big, it's usually because the variety is somehow self-thinning, for some pollination biology reasons that we don't yet fully understand," says Geneva's Bob Anderson. 'Summit' is one of the best-flavored large varieties. It was introduced by the Summerland fruit research station in British Columbia, and, surprisingly, is somewhat crack resistant, perhaps because the flesh is a little soft. It's very popular with commercial growers in France, according to David Lane, the cherry breeder at Summerland. Another gigantic cherry is 'Royalton', released by the Geneva, New York, experiment station. 'Royalton' also has exceptionally fine flavor, though it's too new to say how widely adapted it will prove to be.

The other way to get bigger cherries is to reduce the crop load - not by thinning - by pruning. Cherries fruit on short-lived buds at the base of one-year-old wood and on long-lived spurs that develop higher up on that same wood during the second season. Lighten the crop load by cutting out two- and three-year-old branches. In general, the best time to prune cherries is late summer. Where spring frosts are a serious threat to the cherry crop, however, a good tactic is to save some pruning for the days right after bloom - when you can assess how high the losses from the frost are - but before the trees leaf out, according to Ed Proebsting in Washington.

A Perfect Ten

Sweet cherries on short trees will revolutionize home cherry growing. Commercial growers will probably plant these new cherry trees on wire trellises, and gardeners should consider doing the same. Tying the tree to a framework helps to restrict the size even more and to push the tree into early fruiting. Trellised cherries are also easier to cover with bird-proof netting.

One of the fundamentals in fruit growing is that the smaller the tree, the easier it is to grow the fruit to perfection with a minimum of spraying and time spent. Paradoxically, smaller trees always translate to bigger crops per square foot of space. So as we shrink our cherry trees, we gain not only higher yields, but the opportunity to try even more varieties. And I don't know about you, but I'm starting with the biggest, most richly flavored one I can find - flavor fatigue sounds pretty good to me!

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