Cherry trees are relatively easy to care for and a great choice if you want to add fruit trees to your yard or garden. Not only do they produce delicious fruits every year, but cherry blossoms smell amazing and are a beautiful addition to any yard. Whether you're growing a cherry tree from a seed or propagating one from a cutting, caring for them is pretty straightforward, and the sweet-tasting rewards are worth the effort.
Cherries are a little particular, but their demands aren't that difficult to meet. They need airy, well-draining soil with a neutral pH. For sour varieties, aim for a pH between 6 and 7; sweet cherries do best with between 6.3 and 7.2. Soil should be moderately fertile, but pay close attention to drainage. Root rot can set in quickly, and root health is the most important thing for cherries.
You can take cherry seeds right from the fruit. Wash them and let them dry on a windowsill for five days, then put them in the fridge for ten weeks. Doing this mimics winter for the seed, and without this dormant period, they won't germinate. After taking them out of the fridge, plant two or three pits in a small container and keep the soil moist. After the seedlings are two inches tall, pull out the smallest sprouts, leaving only the tallest to continue growing. Transplant them outside after the last frost, leaving 20 to 25 feet between each one. You can also plant the seeds directly outside in the fall. Plant them close together, and watch for them to sprout in the spring. When they reach 10 or 12 inches tall, transplant them to their permanent home, leaving 20 to 25 feet between them.
Cherry trees need eight hours a day of direct sunlight. Any less than this, and they may not produce any fruit. Pruning is important to ensure that the sunlight touches the entire canopy. Thin the branches after the third year to allow sunlight to penetrate the whole tree.
Be careful with young cherry trees. Although they need a lot of sun to thrive, too much can cause a burn on the trunk and branches. To protect the tree, paint the trunk and large branches with a sunscreen: a one-to-one mix of water and white latex paint. Once the tree matures and has a sufficient canopy, sunburn isn't usually a problem.
Watering is very important for young cherry trees. For the first week, water every other day, soaking the ground around the trunk. In the second week, water deeply two or three times. For the rest of the first growing season, cut back to once a week. Adjust for drought and heavy rainfall accordingly. Keep weeds from growing around the base of the tree to make sure the tree isn't competing for water. Once mature, cherry trees rarely need to be watered, as long as your region gets at least an inch of rain every week or so. Give mature trees extra water during dry periods by placing a hose on the soil above the roots and letting it slowly run for 20 minutes or use a soaker hose to ensure deep watering.
Aphids, cherry fruit flies, and spider mites can all damage cherry trees. Aphids are a common garden pest. These small, soft-bodied insects live on the stems and undersides of leaves and suck the sap from the plant, causing yellow leaves and dead spots. You can usually treat them by simply spraying them off with a strong stream of water.
Cherry fruit flies lay their eggs in the cherries and destroy the fruits. Catch these pests with sticky traps or use chemical sprays to kill them. Spider mites suck on the plant, leaving the leaves yellow or bronze. Their webbing covers the leaves, and this is often the first thing to alert you to an infestation. To eliminate them, use insecticidal soap or oil.
Cherry trees are susceptible to several fungal diseases. Black knot affects the tree trunk and branches. It creates knots that at first appear green and corky but eventually turn black. To treat, cut off the infected branches, and dispose of them carefully.
Brown rot affects the cherries themselves, turning them brown with dark edges and sores. The fungus then lives on the dead parts of the tree and can spread. Use a fungicide to treat it.
Cherry leaf spot causes purplish-red spots on the leaves that eventually turn brown. Bad infestations can prevent fruit from developing. Treat this issue with fungicide.
Verticillium wilt is one of the worst diseases for cherry trees. This fungus causes the leaves to wither and stunts new growth. Older trees are unlikely to recover from verticillium wilt, but making sure young trees are as healthy as possible can help them survive.
Pruning is an essential part of caring for a cherry tree. In addition to helping distribute sunlight, proper pruning enhances productivity, increases fruit size, promotes flower development, prevents diseases, and facilitates easy harvesting. Once the tree is three years old, encourage horizontal growth rather than trying to help the tree grow taller. Be sure to wash your tools carefully, and cover any exposed areas with sealant to protect against diseases.
Choose a young branch with leaves and at least two nodes for your cutting. It should be between four and eight inches long, from a horizontal part of the tree. Remove any leaves from the bottom 2/3s of the cutting, then dip the end into rooting hormone. Place the cutting into a six-inch pot filled with half sphagnum moss and half perlite. Water until the potting mix is moist, tamping it down around the cutting for support.
Cover the cutting and pot in a plastic bag and keep it in a warm, sunny area. Keep the soil moist. After two or three months, check for roots. When the roots fill the container, transfer the tree to potting soil in a gallon-sized container. Slowly acclimate the tree to full sunlight. After about a week, transplant it into the ground.
One average-sized cherry tree can produce as much as 50 quarts of fruit. You'll know it's time to harvest when the cherries are fully colored and firm. Cherries do not ripen off the tree, so harvesting at the right time is important.
When removing cherries from the tree, remove them with the stems attached if you plan to store them, but don't pull off the woody fruit spur as it will continue to produce fruit the next year. Keep cherries in a perforated bag in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Cherries have many health benefits. They're a great snack because they're low in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Cherries are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. They're rich in antioxidants and may help fight inflammation. One of the best things about cherries is that it's so easy to incorporate them into your diet. You can eat them raw, pair them with ice cream, or dry them and add them to your oatmeal at breakfast.