How to grow Cherries

Cherries are spectacular in flower and are delicious to eat. You can grow entirely ornamental trees, or fruiting trees to give you the freshest, most flawless cherries possible. Their juicy sweetness edged with their thin glossy skin is a fruit delicacy. This is our guide to choosing, planting and caring for a cherry tree.

When and where 
Plant your tree any time between late autumn and early winter, as this is when the tree will be in its period of dormancy – just avoid planting when there’s a frost. Choose a site with well-drained, fairly light soil. You can check how well a particular site is draining by digging a planting hole – if rainwater remains in the hole over several days, the location is prone to water-logging. Frost settling pockets should also be avoided. As cherry trees remain relatively rarely grown in gardens compared to apples, if your variety is not self-fertilising you will need to plant a pair of trees. Soil pH should be between 6 and 7.

How to plant
Dig over the site a few weeks in advance of planting, removing weeds and stones. Before planting, soak the roots. Then use a spade to dig a hole which needs to be at least a third wider than the roots, though no deeper; fork over the soil at the bottom of the hole. You’ll need to stake the tree out, placing a stake next to the root before filling in with soil, mounding towards the base of the tree. Firm the soil down gently with your feet, and water in thoroughly. Keep the tree watered until it has established itself in location.

Feed regularly. Alternatively, if you are planting your tree in a container or pot, then half fill this with potting compost (soil based), plant the tree, and fill up the container to the base with more compost. If you are planting your tree to grow against a wall, plant it around 15 to 20 cm away. If you are growing a cherry plant against a wall, some dwarf varieties can be grown facing north.

Expect to harvest between early June and the end of July, depending on the weather conditions. Pick the cherries with their stalks intact as they will last longer in storage. Use netting to keep birds away from your crop. If a series of grey days in the run-up to harvest are having an adverse effect, you can acquire silver-lined reflective material from specialist nurseries and garden centres. This is laid on the ground in order to reflect light back up onto the fruit – alternatively, materials easier to hand will also help reflect light back up – for example, pebbles or flints.

Through the year
Pruning is essential to maintaining your cherry plants. Bushes and trees should be pruned from year two onwards to produce a conical shape of branches shortening towards the top:- once the tree has enleaved in April, cut growth back to a bud or sideshoot, and in August cut the bush back into its ideal conical shape. This shape allows light to reach all parts of the tree – crucially to the trunk from which new branches grow. Branches which have borne a crop of fruit for five to six years will start to weaken, and will need to be cut away. Don’t prune cherry trees in winter. Bear in mind that fruit buds grow on branches which are two or more years old.

To encourage or trigger the growth of a new branch, use a pruning saw to gently score or ‘notch’ the trunk above a growing node. Sap will then build up at this point and a bud will grow. Make the score horizontally into the bark across the trunk.

Handy tips
Netting over a dwarf cherry tree is relatively easy but for a full size tree it can be more difficult. You can net around individual clusters, or use whichever bird scaring method you find most effective – bottle tops, scarecrows and so on. To ward off aphids, plant wild flowers around your cherry trees to encourage aphid-eating ladybirds and lacewings to visit.

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