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How to Grow Cherries

A guide to growing Cherry trees in gardens, allotments

and containers

Cherries

Family/Latin Name

Rosaceae - Prunus Avium

Type of Plant

Hardy Deciduous Fruit Tree

Suitable for

Gardens, Allotments, Large Containers

Recommended Tree Forms Sweet Cherries :Fan
Acid Cherries:  Fan, Bush
Jump to:-    Tree Sizes  |  Yields  |  Pruning   |  Pests & Diseases 

 

Growing Cherries - Details

See also:-  Cherry Cultivars (Varieties)  |   Cherry Rootstocks   |  Tree Forms  |  Container Growing  | Buying Plants   |  Fruit Growing Glossary

 

Site and Soil

Sweet: Prefer full sun.  Acid: Full sun or Partial shade
Tolerant of most soil types provided they are well drained
Fan trained trees suitable for large tubs e.g. half barrels

Space required

See table below

Yield

See Table below

Time between planting  and harvesting

Maidens - Starts producing in 3rd Year
2 year olds - Produce in 1 year

Planting Time

Bare root/wrapped root ball: Best - October to November
Alternative - November to March (soil conditions permitting)
Trees supplied in pots:  Best - October to March 
Alternative - Any other time (soil conditions permitting)

Number of trees needed for pollination Self fertile variety (cultivar) - 1
Non-self fertile trees - 2 or more
NB  Some cultivars  will not pollinate trees of the same cultivar or certain other cultivars, so it is advisable to check which trees are compatible before purchasing.
How to plant - Open ground



Union join Rootstock Scion
Prepare the ground before planting, forking in a general fertiliser such as Growmore. Do not add fresh manure at planting time as this can damage the roots.

Dig a large hole wide enough to take the roots when spread out and deep enough to take the whole root system. You should be able to see signs on the tree of the original soil depth on the tree stem. Care must be taken not to plant the tree so deep as to bury the union between the rootstock and scion  (the  knobbly  bit).

If growing in a free standing position, drive in a sturdy wooden stake which should be as tall as the stem of the tree at least 30cm/12" into the ground in the hole. Stand the tree in the hole, spreading out the roots or bare-rooted specimens, tie to the stake then fill in the hole with soil, slightly rocking the tree between each spadeful so the earth falls between the roots, firming gently as you go, until the hole is filled to the top. Water in well.

  How to plant - against a wall Fan  tree forms do best if planted again a wall.  It's best to fix the supports and wires to the wall before you plant the tree.

Dig a large hole wide enough to take the roots when spread out and deep enough to take the whole root system about 30cm/1ft away from the wall and slightly sloping away from the wall. You should be able to see signs on the tree of the original soil depth on the tree stem. Care must be taken not to plant the tree so deep as to bury the union between the rootstock and scion  (the  knobbly  bit).

Stand the tree in the hole, spreading out the roots or bare-rooted specimens, tilting it slightly towards the wall, then fill in the hole with soil, slightly rocking the tree between each spadeful so the earth falls between the roots, firming gently as you go, until the hole is filled to the top. Water in well.
  How to plant - in containers Even on dwarf rooting stocks, Cherry trees can be quite vigorous, even though the containers will go a little way to curtailing the size of tree, so large containers are necessary .
Bush - container size minimum  60cm/2ft wide x 45cm/18" deep
Fans  - container size minimum  75cm/2½ft wide x 60cm/2ft deep

Good drainage is essential so make sure there are plenty of drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Place a 2.5cm/1" layer of stones or crocks in the bottom and cover with enough soil or compost so that when you place the tree in the container, the original planting depth (which you should be able to see on the stem of the tree)  is 5cm/2" below the top of the container. Fill the container with soil or a loam based compost to the original planting depth. Firm well and water in.
  Aftercare Open Ground - Yearly pruning will be necessary (see below). Apply a mulch of well rotted manure or compost once a year in  spring and a supplement of a nitrogen rich inorganic fertiliser is helpful in February.
Wall Grown Trees - Yearly pruning will be necessary (see below). Apply a mulch of well rotted manure or compost once a year in  spring and a supplement of a potash rich inorganic fertiliser is helpful in February. Keep trees well watered as the ground near walls often dries out quickly
Containers -  Yearly pruning will be necessary (see below). Apply a mulch of well rotted manure or compost during the first  year in  spring and a supplement of a potash rich inorganic fertiliser is helpful in February. In subsequent years, it is best to carefully remove some of the soil from the container and replace it with fresh compost. Do this carefully so as not to damage the roots. Keep the containers well watered.
General - For smaller trees, protecting from birds with netting and frost with garden fleece in the early spring is a good idea. If there are lots of fruit forming these should be thinned as early as possible to avoid the branches being over-laden which may cause them to break. Aim at having fruit 8-10cm/3-4" apart.  Place a grease band around the trunk in October to help guard against winter pests.
  Harvesting Fruit for eating are best left to completely ripen on the tree. Pick with the stalks in tact which is easier by cutting with a pair of scissors. Harvesting takes place between  July and August depending on the cultivar. 

Cherry Tree Dimensions

Expected Yield Per Mature Cherry Tree

Fan
Bush
Height: +2m/6ft       
Height: 4m/12ft        
Spread: 5m/15ft +
Spread: 1.6m/5ft
    Fan
Bush
5-14kg/12-30lb
14-18kg/30-40lb
For a complete guide to and explanation of the various fruit tree forms click here

How to Prune Cherry Trees - General

Cluster Leaves on stemLaterals usually have a set of cluster leaves at their base then spaced leaves all the way up their stems. Always ignore the leaf cluster when counting the leaves to prune back to e.g. the diagram below has been pruned back to 5 leaves on the right had lateral and 3 on the left hand lateral

 

Maiden

2 Year Old

3 Year Old

Older

Central main stem (leader) with buds

Central stem, bare towards the bottom with a few main branches and very few laterals Central stem, bare at the bottom with more developed branches plus more developed laterals Central stem, bare at the bottom with many more fully developed branches and many more laterals which clearly show the tree form (shape) e.g. fan

Detailed Instructions on Pruning Cherry Trees

1st year (Maiden) Cherry Tree

Bush - In April prune leader just above a bud 1m/3ft above soil level

Fan -
In April find 2 good buds - 1 facing right - 1 facing left about 30cm/1ft above the ground then cut the leader about 30cm/1ft above them (just above a bud). If there are lateral branches rather than buds, use these instead and cut them back by 2/3rds to an upward facing bud. Remove any other laterals.

Tree Training 1

By late July
the two selected buds or laterals may have put on sufficient growth  to enable you to start training them upwards at 45 degree angles in a 'V' shape tied to canes fixed to the wires. Wait until they are 45cm/18" long before training even if you have to wait until the next year - these are called the 'ribs'.

2-Year Old Cherry Tree

Bush - In April all growth should be cut back to by half just above an outward facing  bud or shoot

Fan -
In April cut the ribs back to 45cm/18". In July select 2  upward facing shoots on each rib about 15cm/6" apart and 1 downward facing shoot on each rib and tie into canes/wire as they grow.

Training Peaches 2

Pruning cuts shown in red - new laterals in  orange

3-Year Old Cherry Tree.

Bush - In April Remove any dead wood or crossing branches which may be rubbing.

Fan - In April prune last year's growth on the 8 ribs to 60cm/2ft long preferably at an upward facing bud. Tie in all new growths. In July/early August tie in new growths, rub out any small shoots which are pointing directly towards the wall and pinch back any shoots/buds growing directly away from the wall to 1 leaf. Pinch back all other shoots to 1 one leaf except the top 2 shoots on each of the 8 ribs which should be allowed to carry on growing to fill the available width of the wall.

Pruning Older Cherry Trees

Established Sweet Cherry trees really only need to be pruned to restrict to new growth  and to keep the tree size within the available space or to remove weak spindly branches, dead wood or branches which may be crossing and rubbing.  Pinch out current years strong growing side shoots to 6 leaves from their parent branch.

 

Acid Cherry Fans  - Once the framework of the tree is created, pruning and training should be carried out each year as follows:-

 

In April or just after the flowers have faded,  look at the tied in laterals which just flowered and which are now carrying the immature fruit. Remove all the other little shoots (both upward and downward pointing) along its length apart from the 1st upward pointing shoot nearest to the base of it as well as the tip of the lateral's growing point back to a shoot (see diagram below).

Cherry Pests & Diseases

Pests

 

Birds - like to eat the developing buds which can decimate the crop. Protect smaller tree forms with netting or cotton

Aphids can cause leaves to curl or honeydew or mould to form on the fruit and leaves. There are chemicals available to combat aphids which can be bought at garden centres. Organic methods include spraying with diluted washing up liquid ( 1 teasp per 2 litres of water), companion planting of flowers such as marigolds nearby.

 

Diseases

 

Silver Leaf - Fungus causing the leaves to turn silver and finally brown and the infected branches to die back  which have a brown or purple stain within the flesh.  There is no chemical treatment. Cut away six inches past infected wood of the branches and burn. Preventative measures include not pruning during the winter/early spring, sealing larger pruning cuts on branches with a sealant. This can be a serious disease and if the main trunk of the tree is infected with fungus it may be necessary to remove and burn the whole tree.

Canker -  Indicated by shallow depressions at the base of branches which get bigger in spring, . An amber like gum may also be present. Treatment consists of cutting back to good wood and painting the cut with canker paint . Spraying with a copper based fungicide in August, September and October will help protect the tree if canker is a known problem in the area

 

Training Mature Peach Trees

The shoot nearest the base of the lateral which you have left on will grow on and will eventually be trained downwards to replace the lateral which is currently bearing fruit.

 

Prune laterals which produced fruit last summer as far back as the shoot nearest the base of the branch which will now be long enough to be trained downwards and tied in  (replacing the laterals you have just pruned) and will produce fruit the following year. Do not force the shoot to lie in position straight away in case you break it. It's best to tie the laterals in loosely at first, and gradually tighten the ties as the season progresses.

 

Thin laterals to 10cm/4" apart. Always prune to upward or downward facing triple buds.  Rub out any small shoots/buds which are pointing directly towards the wall and pinch back any shoots growing directly away from the wall to 1 leaf.

 

In April remove any dead wood or crossing branches which may be rubbing.

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