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Growing Cherries (Cherry Trees)

A cherry tree is a great addition to your yard. Fresh cherries make great snacks and can be frozen for use throughout the year. This is a guide about growing cherry trees.

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February 1, 2006 Flag
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Cherries on Tree

Planting Tips:

Cherry trees grow well in most zones. Although if you want to get more technical, tart cherries thrive best in zones 4-9, and sweet cherries grow best in zones 5-9. Bush cherries (somewhat sweet) are hardy enough for zone 3. Thanks to modern plant breeding, there are now self-pollinating cultivars and dwarf root-stocks of both tart and sweet cherry trees. Whether your preference is tart or sweet, select a healthy, disease-resistant tree cultivated for your zone. Expect standard-sized trees to start bearing fruit in their fourth year (30 to 50 quarts), and dwarf-sized trees to produce fruit in their third year (10 to 15 quarts).
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Site Preparation:

Plant trees or bushes in a sunny site with good air circulation and average to rich, well-drained soil. They prefer a soil pH of between 6.0 and 6.8 (slightly acidic). Avoid low areas where frost and standing water can be a problem (especially for sweet types) or sites where cherries, peaches or plums have grown previously. Wild choke-cherries should be located well away from your intended site.

Planting:

Cherry trees should be planted in the early spring (zones 4-6) or fall. All purchased cherry trees come grafted on a rootstock, and the type of rootstock it's grafted on will determine its performance, size and how deep it's planted. Consult with the nursery to determine exact planting specifications for the type you buy. Generally speaking, when spacing trees for planting, allow for a distance of 20 to 30 feet in every direction around a standard-sized sweet cherry tree; dwarf trees 8 to 12 feet. Tart cherry trees should be planted about 15 to 20 feet apart. Mulch trees around the base, leaving 4-5 inches next to the trunk bare.

Care & Maintenance:

Semi-dwarf and standard-size sweet cherry trees should be trained to have a central leader shape (one main trunk with many side branches-like apple trees). Tart cherry trees seem to respond better to a modified leader structure (an open center with evenly spaced side branches-like peach trees). Trees should be pruned annually in late winter while they are in their dormant state. Apply fertilizer in the spring until fruit sets and after harvest annually. Check trees for common disease and fruit pests in the spring and fall.

Harvesting & Storage:

Harvest cherries, stem on fruit, when they are fully ripe. Avoid damaging the spur (point of attachment) or you may damage next year's cherry. Fruit will be dark red, black or yellow depending on the variety. The sugar content in the fruit rises in the last few days of ripening so it's worth the wait. Fresh cherries will keep up to a week in your refrigerator, up to three in slightly cooler (31 to 32F) temperatures.
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March 28, 2016 Flag
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This is a guide about growing Rainier cherries. The Rainier cherry is a pretty red and yellow, sugary sweet hybridized cherry.

Growing Rainier Cherries

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March 28, 2016 Flag
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This is a guide about pruning cherry trees. Pruning your fruit trees is important for their health and fruit production.

Man holding pruning sheers surrounded by cherry trees in bloom

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June 5, 2013 Flag
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My trees are not bearing fruit; why?

By Glenda

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June 10, 20130 found this helpful

Cherry trees need partner trees in order to cross pollenate to bear fruit. Ask someone at your local nursery about this.

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September 11, 2008 Flag
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Question:

We have two cherry trees (do not know variety) but are 4-5 years, both trees have fruit all over this summer. However, the cherries were the size of small peas. Both trees are a good 8-10 ft tall, maybe taller and are planted on a slope for drainage. We live in the middle part of East TN.

We are asking for advice on how to increase the size of our cherries. Our cherries have pits inside them as well. We have not fertilize them at all, but the trees are watered. We have not sprayed the trees with any type of pesticides. Please advise as to what we should do. Thank you.

Alex

Answer:

Alex,

Here are some possible reasons for small fruit size on your cherry trees:

  • It's normal for the specific variety of cherry tree you are growing. It's not clear to me from your questions whether or not your trees have produced larger fruit in the past. Is it possible that your trees are Black Cherry trees? These Tennessee natives form pea-sized fruit in the late spring. Here is a link with some pictures: http://treegrowersdiary.com/blackcherry.html. If these look like your trees, the size of the fruit is fixed and cannot be increased.

  • Inadequate or inappropriate pruning. Do you perform any regular maintenance pruning? Four-year old spurs and older tend to produce smaller fruits. Performing some occasional renewal pruning (removing the older spurs) can help improve fruit size.

  • Your trees are producing too many fruits for the size of their leaf area (i.e. the canopy/fruit ratio is unbalanced). This sometimes occurs in younger trees and usually balances out naturally as the trees age.

  • A lack of water during critical times in the growth cycle of the fruit. Adequate water is essential during the growth stages of the cherry fruit.

  • Heat stress. Cherry fruit grows in three separate phases. The first and third stages consist of rapid growth, whereas the second stage correlates to the pit hardening. The ultimate size of the fruit is determined by the first and third stages. Cooler temperatures extend the first and third growth phase and result in a larger fruit size. Hot temperatures shorten these important growth phases, result in smaller fruit, and accelerate ripening.

  • A general lack of vigor (which doesn't sound like your problem).

I hope this information helps!

Ellen

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July 2, 20080 found this helpful

It sounds like you might have Nanking cherry trees. If they bloomed in early spring with lots of pale pink flowers, this is probably what they are. Nanking cherries are naturally small and loved by birds especially, although they are good to eat for humans, too. You need both trees for cross pollination to get fruit. Sounds like you're doing everything right, but there's no way to make these cherries any larger if this is what they are.

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July 3, 20080 found this helpful

It wouldnt hurt to try using some fertilizer. Compost, manure or any natural fertilizer is best. But fertilizer you buy in a bag will be quicker.

Fruit bearing bushes and trees require a LOT of water. Be sure you are giving them enough water.

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July 3, 20080 found this helpful

I'll bet you have Nanking cherries or Hansen's bush cherries. Our bushes get covered with them, just like clusters of grapes. I juice them and then make jelly using the cherry recipe in Sure-Jell or MCP pectin. It's my most favorite of all the varieties I've ever tasted. It has just enough tartness and enough sweetness! Don't let the birds get them all, even if you have to throw a net over the bushes.

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April 15, 2010 Flag
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I need to know the gallons per hour watering needs for sweet cherry trees.

Hardiness Zone: 9a

By Betsy from Bangor, CA

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April 17, 20100 found this helpful

Trees will need regular watering during their first year. It is important for root development that the tree receives plenty of water. After the first year, water as you would other fruit trees. Organic mulch around the base of tree will keep the soil from drying out and also help to control the growth of weeds. Good luck.

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July 3, 2008 Flag
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Question:

We have had a Rainier cherry tree for several years. It is always full of blossoms and cherries. Then the little green cherries dry up and fall off. What would you suggest is the cause? Thank you.

Mrs. Mitchell

Answer:

Ms. Mitchell,

Is the drying up and shriveling confined only to the fruits, or are some of the leaves and branches affected, too? Has your cherry tree ever successfully produced cherries? There are many possibilities here, so let's start at the beginning and play the process of elimination game.

If your tree has produced a successful crop in the past, you may be witnessing a phenomenon called Cherry Run Off. What happens is that every few years the tree produces more fruit than it can support so it drops the cherries prematurely in order to conserve energy. This type of drop is most likely to happen if temperatures are low (and the sun scarce) during the blossom stage, as well as during the early stages of fruit development. Climatic factors (late frosts, sudden changes in temperature or humidity) cause certain internal hormones to come into play, and before you know it, fruit production gets all out of whack. Another reason a tree might produce more fruit than it can sustain is prolific flowering and excess pollination. Again, the overproduction of fruit will cause the tree to release what it cannot sustain.

Fruit drop can also be a symptom that certain environmental factors are at work. Soil deficiencies, herbicide drift, improper nutrition, and irregular irrigation practices can all lead to fruit drop.

Fruit drop may also be pest related, although this is more likely to occur later in the season as fruits begin to near maturity.

Two things you can do to help prevent fruit drop:

1. Thin your fruit (or thin your blossoms). This will encourage your tree to put more energy into the fruit that remains.

2. Avoid unfavorable environmental conditions. Eliminate the use of herbicides and implement effective irrigation and fertilization programs (a soil test will alert you to any soil deficiencies).

Good luck!

Ellen

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May 1, 20080 found this helpful

If your trees aren't getting enough water the fruit will dry up. Are you getting any ripe fruit? There's a happening called "June Drop" no one's figured out why, but trees just do it and usually in June but also as early as May and as late as July. This is normal. Like the tree is getting rid of excess fruit on it's own. If you're not getting fruit, I'd get a hold of your state's department of agriculture and see what they say. It may be something in your soil... either missing or in excess.

Good Luck!

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