Cherries are grown by home gardeners not only for their delectable edible fruits , but also for their tremendous aesthetic appeal, they produce clouds of spring cherry blossoms and have a handsome bark which lends itself well to most landscaping scenarios.
The cherries commonly available in grocery stores are sweet cherries. Most have a juicy, plum like texture and sweet taste. Cherries used for cooking are more apt to be tart cherries, which are have a hint of a sour taste, they are also called sour or pie cherries.
Tart Cherries are self-fertile and don't need another tree for pollination, they will set fruit alone. They grow up to 20 feet tall and produce fruit earlier than sweet cherries. Tart cherries do best in zones 4 to 6,they prosper with cool summers and cold winters. Some cultivars survive and produce after a dormancy down to minus 40 F. There are also hybrids between sweet and tart cherries such as the Duke cherry which draws from the best of both varieties.
Sweet cherries bloom earlier than tart cherries, however you will need a second compatible cherry tree for pollination. Not all sweet cherry varieties can pollinate other cultivars, so be certain before you plant and wait several seasons for disappointment.
If you only have space for one tree, try to find one that is grafted with more than one cultivar to ensure pollination. Self-fertile cherry tree varieties include Vandalay, Compact Stella, Starkcrimson,Tehranivee, Sonata, Sunburst, Skeena and others. Sweet cherries do best in zones 5 to 7. Various varieties of sweet cherry are bred and adapted to varying climates. They are also bred for resistance to major disease problems associated with cherry trees.
There are also hybrid Bush Cherries which produce a small cherry like fruit and will grow in areas where cherry trees would not withstand the winter, the cherries are sometimes as much like a berry as they are a fruit.
Normally, standard cherry trees will begin bearing fruit by their fourth season, dwarf trees somewhat sooner, usually their second or third. A healthy dwarf cherry tree should produce a minimum of 10 quarts of cherries yearly. A mature, healthy, standard size cherry tree should produce up to 50 quarts of cherries annually, under poor conditions a minimum of 30.
Bing sweet cherry don't bear fruit till their fifth, sometimes sixth year, but when they do mature, they can yield a bountiful harvest of up to 100 pounds of fruit per cherry tree.
Well-drained soil on a sunny site with good air circulation is optimal . Avoid low lying areas, gullies where excessive rain wash off. Avoid shaded area, or once again low areas where cooler air tends to settle. Cherries do not adapt to heavy clay soils at all.
Cherry trees can be planted at any point of the growing season, late summer and fall are an optimal time to plant. Cooler temperatures of fall are much less stressful on the young trees, they require far less watering than planting trees in the spring and letting them go through their infancy under the hot summer sun.
Fall planting should allow enough time for the roots of a tree to get firmly rooted into the soil. They become established and acclimated to the soil before going dormant and busting out again in the following spring.
They can also be planted in the early spring. Set bare root trees in the center of the planting hole, spreading the roots down and away from the center . Try not to bend them anymore than is absolutely necessary. If the tree you are planting is visibly grafted, position the graft union northward away from the sun. The graft union should be kept a few inches below the soil level whenever possible.
Dwarfs cherry trees should be spaced 5 to 10 feet apart. Standard sweet cherries should be spaced 35 to 40 feet apart. Standard tart - 20 to 25 feet apart.
Trouble Shooting Cherry Tree Problems
Cherry trees, like most fruit trees have a long list of potential problems, insects love the cherries as much as we do and diseases are not uncommon.
A common problem encountered when growing cherry trees is early frost damage. Cherries bloom early and are susceptible to frost damage. Sweet cherries bloom much earlier than sour cherries.
When frost hits after bloom set you should...
1. Prune back branches that were damaged from the freeze once danger of frost has passed and the temperature has warmed up. Inspect the tree carefully before pruning, if too much of the tree itself is damaged , more than half, the tree should be 'euthanized' instead - it will probably not recover fully.
2. Cut the youngest and smallest branches back to the first lateral junction with another branch. Older and larger branches that are damaged and useless should be cut to the trunk. Don't butcher the tree, just remove what will probably not survive.
3. Thoroughly water the damaged cherry tree. It should get at the very least one inch of water weekly. Don't drown it , it should never be sitting in a puddle.
4. Mulch around the base of the cherry tree to suppress weeds and to retain the moisture.
Pests and Disease
Brown Rot is a fungal disease that attacks stone-fruit trees such as peaches, plums and cherries. It is the most devastating issue effecting many fruit trees. It effects blossoms, fruit and smaller branches. Cankers, fruit rot, brown gray tufts can be seen on the twigs or fruit especially when wet. Fungicides with captan or azoxystrobin should be applied prior to fruit ripening. See - Brown Rot - Fruit Trees
Birds have been known to strip a tree of cherries in a single one day feeding frenzy. Covering trees with protective bird netting before the fruit begins ripening is the most effective way to stop bird damage. See Bird Control.
Aphids, such as Black Cherry Aphid are soft bodied, insects that suck the juices from plants and tree foliage. In cherry trees it can cause them to become twisted and curled, and stunt their growth . Severe infestations can kill off younger cherry trees, at the very least it will reduce quality and quantity of harvest. See: Aphids
Cherry Fruit worm is a borer that can cause severe damage in Cherries. It causes its injury by boring into the fruit. The larvae bore through the epidermis shortly after they hatch. This early injury can be detected in a few days. See Cherry Fruitworm
Scales, in particular the White Prunicola Scale are frequent problems on cherry trees. feed on plant juices, eventually killing the plant, they also excrete liquid waste called "honeydew." Honeydew is not only unsightly, it gets on foliage and prevents photosynthesis , contributing to the plants early demise. See: Scale Insects