How to Grow Cherries
**These are beautiful trees to have because they have a pretty bark, pretty flowers, and delicious fruits.
**There are two basic types of edible cherries: sweet ones and sour ones. Sweet cherries are best for eating fresh and sour cherries are used mostly in cooking or preserves (they are often called pie cherries). Sour cherries are easier to grow, grow in zones 4-7, and have less problems with insects and diseases. Sweet cherries are hardy in zones 5-8. Sour cherry trees reach 15 feet tall and Sweet cherry trees reach 25 feet tall, though both come in dwarf varieties so that you can reach all of the fruit.
**Give either or both cherry trees a sunny spot, preferably with a lot of southern sun exposure. Avoid cold valleys where frost can destroy your harvest.
**The soil must be well-drained. Cherries will not thrive in a soggy soil. They need light, rather sandy soil, though sour cherries can handle a heavier soil than the sweet ones can. The soil should be fertile.
**The ideal pH level is 6.5, but they will accept between 5.5-8.0. If you do not yet own a pH soil tester, here is a suggested one.
**Almost all cherry trees you buy are grafted, usually on cherry rootstocks. Buy 1 or 2 year old dormant trees that are 4-5 feet tall and cut them back by a third.
**Cherries are best planted in early spring before buds swell, except in warm climates, where fall planting is fine. Click here to read my post on Early Spring Garden Planning.
**While planting cherries, do not let the roots dry out at any time. Cut off any roots that are either damaged or long and straggly. Organic matter such as compost or moistened peat moss should be dug into the general planting area. The soil should be loosened in the bottom of the planting hole and for several feet around it. Set the young tree at the depth at which it grew in the nursery or a bit deeper than that, and be sure to firm the soil around the roots to avoid having any air pockets which might cause the roots to dry out. Apply a mulch to protect the roots and balance moisture. Protect the trunk against mice with wire mesh. Paint the trunk with white tree paint to prevent sun scald.
**Water cherry trees deeply if the weather is very dry at flowering time or just as fruits are ripening. The trees do not need a lot of feeding, in fact, too much feeding can lead to disease and a sparse harvest. Only give a topdressing of fertilizer if your soil’s fertility is too low. Do not feed the trees after early summer, however, or they will form new growth that will not harden in time for winter.
**Cherry trees need only a little pruning. Prune them to open up the top to encourage all the fruits to even ripen. Pruning is best done when the trees are dormant.
**The biggest challenge with cherries, especially sweet cherries, is beating birds to the crop. Netting is about the only thing that helps (currently). If your tree is tall, net the lower branches and allow the birds to get to the top branches because those are hard to pick anyway. You can also plant a mulberry tree nearby, because birds like mulberries more than cherries and you could trick them into leaving your cherries alone in this way. If you do this, however, make sure you have a cherry tree and a mulberry tree that have harvests at the same time, otherwise, you are just really spoiling those dang birds.
**The other pest to cherries is the tent caterpillar. Break up their nests quickly by hand or use a shop vacuum cleaner if grossed out.
**You can get about 3 bushels of cherries from a sweet cherry tree and 2 bushels of cherries from a sour cherry tree. You get about 1 bushel of cherries from dwarf varieties of either kind. Pick when they are the right size, color, and taste and are easily picked.
**Cherries keep best with their stems on, but if you are going to use them right away, try to pick them without the stems to spare the fragile spurs. Otherwise, pull the stems off the spur gently with a twisting motion.
**Sweet cherries keep well if refrigerated for a few weeks. Sour cherries should be made into jams or pies as soon as possible.