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Growing a Cherry Tree


A cherry is a small, sweet or tart, edible stone fruit produced by a cherry tree. Cherry trees originated in Asia minor, near the Black Sea, and were spread to Greece and China via animal droppings. Since then cherries have been cultivated by humans for centuries in many forms both edible and ornamental.


There are over 600 varieties of cherries so picking the right one for your area intended use is important. Edible cherries are usually divided into two groups: Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) or sour cherries (Prunus cerasus). Sweet cherries are typically favored for fresh eating and drying, while sour cherries are superior for cooking, baking, and canning.


Choosing a Variety


Type



Sweet Cherries

Sweet cherries are the most popular form of cherries, prized for their large size, crisp texture, and sweet flavor. Sweet cherries are meant to be eaten fresh, but are also good for drying. Additionally sweet cherries have a longer shelf life than other cherries, making them a regular feature at markets and fruit stands.


Pie Cherries


Pie cherries, also called sour or tart cherries, are not very good eaten fresh, but are excellent when cooked. As the cherries are heated the sour flavors break down and the sugars develop and concentrate, resulting in a powerful sweet-tart cherry flavor that can't be beat! Pie cherries are usually much softer than sweet cherries and do not have a long shelf life, and aren't often seen in stores, making them that much more coveted by baking enthusiasts!


Ornamental Cherries


Ornamental cherries, of which there are many varieties, have special significance in many countries around the world. In Japan cherry blossoms are a symbol of renewal and new life so are highly prized in landscape plantings. Cherry blossoms are also edible and ornamental cherries are featured in some cuisines as a seasonal ingredient that is available for only a short period.



Size


The size of your cherry tree will depend on both the variety and rootstock that is grafted onto. Most modern sweet cherries are grafted on on commercial Gisela rootstocks. These faster growing and heavier bearing rootstocks are very popular with home growers for easy of care and harvest. Gisela 5 stocks can be maintained at  10' to 12‘ tall and wide. Gisela 3 rootstocks can be maintained at 8' - 10’ tall and wide. It should be noted that tart cherries are generally less vigorous than the sweet cherries and can be managed a couple feet shorter and smaller than sweet cherries on the same rootstock.



Pollination


Cherries vary in their pollination need. Some cherries are self-fertile, while others are not self-fertile and require a different variety as a pollinizer to produce fruit. In general, unless you have exclusively self-fertile cultivars, you will need another variety of the same type to pollinate your cherries. Sweet cherries pollinate other sweet cherries, while pie cherries pollinate other pie cherries.


Sweet cherries and pie cherries do not usually bloom at the same time so are not good pollinizers for each other.


As with most fruit tree, cherries are insect pollinated and benefit from mason bees, bumble bees, and honey bees in addition to native pollinators. When planting your cherry trees make sure that pollinizers are planted no further than pollinators will fly, with no line of sight obstruction, to ensure proper cross-pollination. Distance varies with different pollinators, but within 100’ should be a good average distance.


Ripening Time


Cherry fruits ripen early to mid-summer, depending on variety. Choosing sweet cherry cultivars from different ripening times can extend your fresh eating cherry picking season. Choosing pie cherry cultivars that ripen at the same time will ensure you have a large enough harvest to bake pies and make syrups or other goods. Below is a list of common cherries we carry and their ripening order.



USDA Hardiness Zone


Unless otherwise listed, cherry trees are hardy to USDA zones 5-9, unless otherwise noted, making it possible to grow them all over the United States! The USDA zone rating tells you the minimum winter temperature at which the plants typically survive when properly hardened off. On the USDA website you will find a USDA Hardiness Map which provides information on the average minimum winter temperature in your location, by zip code.


It should be understood that a USDA zone only refers to winter low temperatures and not the overall growing conditions for your area, such as rainfall, summertime temperatures, season length, soil quality, or any other factors that go into successfully growing your blueberries.



Chill Hours


To regulate hormones and produce healthy flowers and fruits all plants must undergo a period of dormancy. Dormancy, which is like a kind of sleep for plants, is triggered by what we call "chill hours" or "chilling hours" - a period of time where the temperature is between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Different varieties of plums will require different amounts of chill hours, with cultivars requiring less than 600 hours being considered "low-chill".


Sweet cherries typically have standard to high chill hour requirements at 700-1100+ for most varieties with a few exceptions.


Sour cherries typically have high chill hour requirements, with many varieties requiring 1200+ chill hours.


If you have questions about the chill hours in your area contact your local Agriculture Extension Office to find out!



Where to Plant Your Tree


Cherry trees need to be planted where they receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight as measured in early summer (late June to early August). Sufficient sun exposure triggers the initiation of new flower buds for the next growing season, without which there will be no fruit. Fruit ripening and flavor development are also benefited by the carbohydrate production stimulated by the sun, as well as it’s heat.


Cherry trees require a well-drained sandy loam soil at a pH of 6.5. Due to modern rootstocks and a vulnerability to root rot, cherries should not be planted in heavy clay or otherwise poorly draining soils. Improve your soil where you intend to plant by mixing an inch or two of plant based organic matter, peat, or coconut coir into an area 2 times the diameter of the planting hole and up to a foot deep. A 2-4” deep layer of mulch (straw, leaves, or wood chips) applied after planting will continue to improve the soil and maintain moisture.


Allow sufficient space for both the top of the cherry tree and it’s root system when selecting the planting location. Refer to size descriptions for each variety, keeping in mind these are generally managed or pruned sizes, not maximum potential sizes. If you are planting an orchard be sure to include enough space between rows for transporting your supplies in and your fruit out.



Growing in Containers


A combination of modern rootstocks and naturally dwarfing varieties makes growing cherry trees in containers a possibility! Mini-dwarfing rootstocks, such as Gisela 3 and Newroot, will allow you to grow most cherries in a large container. A 22-27 gallon container, such as a half wine barrel, are suggested as the minimum size for growing a cherry tree in a container.


As with any potted plant you will need to provide supplemental water more regularly than for a plant that is planted in the ground. Pots are hotter and drying environments than soil and so your plant will require more attention than it might otherwise. Additionally we suggest that you do not use soil from your garden in the pot, instead use a potting soil mix with some added compost to help with moisture retention and improve available nutrition.



Care and Maintenance

Watering Your Tree

This is the most important and often the most difficult part of successfully growing plants. There are many factors, including the humidity, temperature, soil type, wind, and amount of direct sun that affect how much and how often water should be applied.


A general rule of thumb for plants in the ground is to ensure they receive an inch of water per week over the root zone. An inch of water is equivalent to about ¾ to one gallon per square foot of soil surface area. The typical three foot diameter planting hole would need 7 ½ to 10 gallons of water per week provided by rainfall or by the gardener.


Apply this water once a week, two times per week if soil is fast draining. This will of course depend on your own conditions and the plants you are growing! DO NOT water lightly each day because this results in a wet surface and dry root zone area. The soil should be moist but not soggy to a depth of about a foot for most growing plants. The top inch or two can feel dry, and the plant still be well watered. The trick is to have the water available where the roots are. In hotter and sunnier areas, a mulch of straw, bark, etc. can greatly ease the burden of summer watering. For plants in containers, water until the soil is saturated and water comes out of the drainage holes. Let the container dry until the soil is dry to the touch 1-2 inches down and the container is lighter in weight. A plant that has wilted can be receiving either too much or too little water.


In rainy areas, like the Pacific Northwest, most of the plants that we offer will need relatively little supplemental irrigation ONCE THEY ARE WELL ESTABLISHED in the ground and have had a chance to develop a good root system. However even here it is important to make sure plants have regular, deep watering during the first couple of growing seasons, and the first summer is especially critical. In drier areas, permanent irrigation is essential. Remember that you don’t want your trees to just survive, but rather to thrive. Make sure they get the water they need.

One method is through drip irrigation. We use half- inch flexible plastic pipe with punch-in emitters for trees in the ground. For each young tree, we use two emitters, spaced one foot from the trunk. The pipe can be put on the ground, under the ground with risers, or tied loosely from the trees. We use emitters that drip one gallon per hour. There are many different styles of drip systems, some controlled by timers and others by hand. Or, each tree can be watered with a hose deeply about once a week. Sandy soils will need more frequent watering than clay soils. For smaller plants, like strawberries or raspberries, soaker hoses work very well.


Fertilization

For good steady growth and high productivity, your blueberries need to have adequate amounts of various mineral nutrients. Many people are fortunate and have naturally rich fertile soils with the neutral to acidic pH that fruit trees need to thrive. Some soils are deficient in some nutrient or another and use of fertilizers, organic or chemical, can be highly beneficial if you want your bushes to grow well.


For fruit trees you will want to use a balanced fertilizer containing nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous with a neutral pH. A couple of inches of wood chip mulch is also recommended as it will not only conserve moisture and help in weed control, but also keeps your soil healthy by building up humus and maintaining an acidic pH for your blueberries to grow strong and healthy.


Use of concentrated products like chemical fertilizers or strong organics (for instance blood meal) is usually done from late winter through early summer. Applying fertilizer after early summer can encourage lots of soft new growth that is much more likely to be damaged by winter cold. Excessive use of fertilizer can in-crease disease problems on your plants and can even kill them. Use of too much fertilizer, whether chemical or organic, canals contribute to stream and groundwater pollution, so please try not to use more than your trees really need. As a general guide, if your tree is producing about one foot of new growth or more a year and has healthy looking foliage, it may not need much or any fertilizer.


Pests and Disease

Bacterial Canker



Symptoms

Sunken blackish cankers on stems or trunk, wilting and death of branches, gummy ooze from cankers, dead dormant buds.

Control Methods

Copper fungicide in early fall and again in January. Cauterize cankers with a torch in early summer. Apply foliar micronutrients to aid tree immune system.

Comments

This disease is most severe when spring frosts damage bark or when pruning is done in winter or early spring before bud break. Newly planted trees are especially susceptible.

Brown Rot



Symptoms

Wilting and death of twigs and blossoms. Fruits turn rotten, gray-brown in color, often hanging from the tree as “mummies”.

Control Methods

Promptly remove any infected twigs or mummified fruits. Apply copper, sulfur, or lime-sulfur fungicide at petal fall, midsummer, and again in fall.

Comments

Blossom brown rot can be a difficult problem in very wet spring seasons. Spray promptly as soon as dry weather permits.


Cherry Slug


Symptoms

Dark olive green slug-like larvae that skeletonize leaves. Especially common in summer months.

Control Methods

Insecticidal soaps (e.g. Spinosad). Pyrethrin, rotenone dust, or bioneem. Pick off and destroy by hand.

Comments

Trees can tolerate up to 25% defoliation with little harm. May also infest pear, cherry, hawthorn, or mountain ash trees.


Shot Hole Disease/Coryneum Blight


Symptoms

Small reddish-purple spots on leaves, which fall out leaving holes. Fruits may also be spot ted. On peaches, twigs may also be spotted and develop cankers.

Control Methods

Bordeaux mix or copper fungicides in early fall, winter, and spring.

Comments

Spores are spread primarily by splashing water, keep sprinkler water off foliage and fruit.


Shot Hole Borer


Symptoms

Invades apples, chestnuts, cherries and other trees. Pin size holes in trunk spring or summer. Look close to see sawdust around hole and notice fermented smell. Limbs or whole trees suddenly die.

Control Methods

No effective organic methods. Whitewash trunk and lower limbs with interior white latex paint diluted 50% with water in fall to confuse beetles next spring. Infestations bad some years. Borers live in alder and other trees.

Comments

Bark beetles sense volatile oils from stressed trees. Keep trees healthy, particularly when newly planted. Monitor and destroy infested trees. Generations occur April-May, June-July and August-September.


Scale


Symptoms

Small barnacle-like bumps on branches and leaves. Caused by insects.

Control Methods

Dormant oil spray in early spring.

Comments

Insecticidal soap or soap/oil spray during juvenile phase.


Spotted Wing Drosophila


Symptoms

Eggs are deposited 7-10 days prior to fruit ripening; holes in fruit,spotty molding, larvae in fruit, exuding berry sap, scarring.

Control Methods

Monitor with traps. Spinosad. Sanitation: In fall, adults feed on overripe or split fruit (both vegetable and tree fruit) to prepare forwinter.

Comments

Contact your local extension office for the most up to date information on spotting wing drosophila.


Deer


Symptoms

Browsed shortened branches. Leaves are obviously munched on or plants are pulled up.

Control Methods

Fences or cages at least 8’ tall. Plastic mesh, electric, or woven wire fences.

Comments

At Raintree, an 8’ woven wire deer fence has worked best. Repellents don’t work consistently and, aside from fencing, only trained large dogs patrolling the perimeter are effective.


Bird


Symptoms

Fruits disappear or have gaping holes in them. Strawberries, blueberries, cherries and filberts are most susceptible but most fruits suffer occasionally.

Control Methods

Reflective Bird Scare Tape can work well. Bird netting. Cages.

Comments

Blue Jays start harvesting filberts when ready to pick, and so should you. Nuts dropped by jays are usually empty.


Vole/Mouse/Rabbit


Symptoms

Bark eaten in a band from soil level up to 8” and roots eaten too, usually in snowy areas with lots of mulch or tall grass at base of trees.

Control Methods

Keep mulch 4”-6” away from trunk. Keep grass short and 1’-2’ from trunk. Use vinyl tree guard wrapped around trunk until tree well-established.

Comments

Voles and mice will chew a couple inches above ground and also into the root system. Rabbits will chew up to 8” high, particularly apple trees.


Aphid


Symptoms

1/32 to 1/8” long pear shaped insects that multiply rapidly, especially on the underside of leaves and on stems. Can be pink, green, black or white. Leaves show red blisters or are curled-down and stems turn black with sooty mold.

Control Methods

Natural predators like lady bugs and parasitic wasps often provide control. Knock aphids off with water spray. Spray with Pyrethrin, Rotenone, Insecticidal Soap, or delayed dormant oil. Control ants if they are also present.

Comments

Trees can tolerate some infestation. Monitor in late spring and summer. Control is more important on new trees. Grow plants that attract predators, i.e. dill or yarrow.


Ants


Symptoms

Numerous ants scurrying up and down the tree trunk; aphids, scale or mealybug present in large numbers, lots of sticky honeydew, perhaps sooty mold.

Control Methods

Find hill and apply pesticide. Apply Tangle Trap over 2-3” wide band of paper wrapped around trunk. Eliminate other pathways into tree.

Comments

Ants nurture and protect these insects in exchange for their sugary secretions. Insects may be difficult to control until the ants are controlled.


Brown Marmorated Stink Bug


Symptoms

Poking-type feeding damage followed by decay on fruits, nuts, berries and leaves. Deformity in the healthy tissue surrounding the dead tissue. Brown spots can show up in stored fruit.

Control Methods

Monitor with traps, some broad spectrum pesticides may work. Researchers are working on finding effective controls, but no info has been released yet.

Comments

BMSB over winters in groups in dry protected areas, such as houses. If you find them on or in your home use the vacuum, squishing releases their defensive stink.  See stopbmsb.org for more info. Feeding begins in spring when the weather warms up and continues until new adults go dormant for winter.


Sunscald


Symptoms

Vertical splits in bark appear spring or early summer, usually on the south or east side of the tree. Disease or insect infestations may then occur.

Control Methods

Whitewash trunk and lower limbs with interior latex paint cut 50/50 with water each fall until bark has thickened. Avoid planting in frost pockets or where water collects in winter.

Comments

Injury occurs during pattern of warm days followed by freezing nights. Sap gets stuck in trunk, freezes, then rapidly thaws in the warm sun the next day, rupturing cells.