By The Old House Web


Growing cherries in home plantings is frequently very disappointing. The foliage and fruit are susceptible to injury by several insects and diseases, making several timely spray applications necessary to produce sound fruit. Birds frequently consume the fruit as it begins to color, but before it is fully mature, and covering the tree with cheesecloth or other netting material is the only effective method of saving the crop from them. All of these factors render growing cherries in a home garden very disheartening! However, all of these problems seem minor at the first cherry crop.

When selecting a tree, it is important to know the pollination requirements of the variety you intend to plant. At least 2 varieties of sweet cherries require pollination, while sour cherry trees pollinate themselves and therefore need only one tree for fruit production. Although nurseries sell both one- and two-year-old trees, it is best to opt for one-year-old trees; they are easier to establish. Trees should be unpacked immediately upon arrival, and should be planted as soon as possible. If early spring planting must be delayed, heel in the trees temporarily by laying them in a shallow trench in the and covering the roots with soil to keep them moist. This is very important, as drying of the tree roots before planting is a major factor in tree losses.

Some variety recommendations include:


Sour Montmorency Self pollinating Sour(dwarf) North Star Self pollinating Sweet Windsor Needs pollination by another variety Sweet Schmidt " " " " Sweet Hedelfingen " " " "

The sweet cherry varieties Windsor, Schmidt, and Hedelfingen are able to pollinate each other. For example, if the Windsor variety is planted, either the Schmidt or Hedelfingen varieties should be planted, also. The sweet cherry varieties Bing, Lambert, Napoleon, and Emperor Francis do not pollinate each other and require another variety for pollination. Because of this discrepancy, Sweet cherry (PRUNUS AVIUM) varieties are more difficult to grow than sour types(PRUNUS CERASUS). The trees are also larger, more susceptible to cold injury, and the fruits are very attractive to birds.

When selecting a site in which to plant the trees, it is advised to avoid heavy, poorly drained soils or areas in which water stands at any time during the year. If the planting area is sloping, try to plant at the top of the slope in order to obtain good air drainage and to avoid or minimize late spring frost damage. Colder air will flow downward and lay in the lower areas of the yard, forming "frost pockets" which may cause flower bud death in the spring.

Spacing during planting is determined by variety; sour cherry trees should be spaced about 20 feet apart, and sweet varieties at least 25 feet apart. Trees should be planted in sites with full sunlight, and all of the damaged or broken roots should be pruned off. The hole should be large enough to accommodate the tree's root system, the then tree placed in the hole and the roots spread. Place top soil on top of the roots, moving the tree up and down slightly to settle the soil around the roots. The soil should then be tamped firmly after the roots are covered. When the hole is 2/3 full, water the tree and then fill in the remaining soil.

The trees should be trained to a CENTRAL LEADER system. This is accomplished by cutting the tree to a three foot height after planting and training the tree to a central trunk with a scaffold or lateral branches. The first branch selected should be 20 to 24 inches above the ground and 6-10" should be kept between the branches. The branches selected should be those spaced around the trunk, and sharp angled branches should be removed, allowing those that grow at a wide angle to the main trunk to be selected.

Mature trees require annual pruning: including the removal of dead and broken branches and a thinning out of weaker branches. Branches growing back through the tree should be removed, and it is wise to head back branches that are too long or too high. Young cherry trees should be watered when periods of drought occur during the first few growing seasons, and the fertilization of cherry trees growing in lawns is not necessary if regular lawn fertilization is performed. In fact, avoid the use of combination fertilizer-weed killer products near cherry trees.

When the time has come to harvest your crop, pick cherries with stems attached and refrigerate immediately for best keeping quality. Take care not to injure the small spurs to which the fruit is attached while picking.

There are several liabilities in growing cherry trees, including diseases, insects, and winter injury.

Cherry leaf spot is a fungus disease which causes small, purple spots to develop on the leaves, causing leaf yellowing and early leaf drop. To combat cherry leaf spot, remove all fallen leaves which may serve as a source of re-infection and spray with fungicide when new foliage develops and at 2-week intervals until late July.

Brown Rot is a fungus disease causing rot of cherries while they are still attached to the tree and after harvest. It can be controlled with fungicide while the tree is in bloom and when the fruits begin to mature.

Cherry maggots, small worms found in the fruit, are the larvae of the adult fly. They can be controlled with insecticide application during June and July. The PluM Curculio is a large, white larvae in fruit spawned from the adult beetle and is active when petals are falling. To combat this insect, spray the trees with insecticide when the small fruit are shedding shucks or husks shortly after petals fall.

Winter injury is indicated by long cracks in the bark, caused by sudden drops in temperature or very cold temperatures. These cracks serve as a source of infection, which can be prevented by painting the cracks with wound paint or by painting the trunks of young trees with white latex paint.


Dr. J. Hull Professor of Horticulture Michigan State University

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