Growing Cherries

For those thinking of growing cherries, here is a short guide to fruit types, care and protection, and harvesting methods.

  • Cherries - Fotolia_8042905
    After you've been growing cherries for awhile, a small bunch like this makes for a delicious snack.

  • Cherries - Fotolia_8042905

Cherries come in two types, sweet and sour. Sour cherries aren't often seen in the city, but they can't be beat for preserves, jam, pies, and the like. They are also hardier than the sweet varieties.

In general, the same climatic conditions that favor apples do well for growing cherries. They are not as frost-fussy as apricots or peaches . . . in fact, they are one of the easiest stone fruits to grow, particularly the sour cherries. The best way to find out how they will do in your region is to check with the county agent and local orchards. Sour cherries begin to bear in their fourth or fifth year, sweet cherries two years later.

Cherry Tree Stock

Not only should you get both sweet and sour cherries, where possible, but you will probably have to get several varieties of the sweet. The really tasty ones like Bing and Napoleon are self-sterile and inter-sterile as well. That is, not only can't these trees fertilize their own flowers, even a neighboring tree of the same variety can't do it. They need Black Tartarians or other fertilizers around. To boot, the two "mates" have to bloom at the same time. Consult with a local nurseryman. This is nothing to try to coordinate through a mail-order house. If there's no nurseryman handy, make sure the trees you choose are double-bearing. These bear two different kinds of cherries at the same time. They have had a branch from a different species grafted to their trunk as a pollinating pal while still young stock.

A cherry tree, double-bearing or otherwise, will come grafted to rootstock better adjusted to supporting a yield than its original roots were. The two common rootstocks for grafting are mazzard and mahaleb. They are both wild cherry stocks, hardier than the superbred domestic ones. Mazzard stock is particularly good if you can get it. It is also more expensive, but in a long-range project like an orchard a little more money is well invested. Mahaleb-grafted cherries bear a year earlier, which often makes them the more popular. But the overall yield will probably be less.

Two-year-old grafted trees—the age is measured from the time of grafting—with the beginning of a well-spaced lateral branch system are the ones to buy. Fall planting is best for them. Mulch well for winter protection.

Pruning Trees

Like all fruit trees, cherry trees are pruned with the long-range intent of shaping them for easier picking and bigger yields. This means a tree open enough to permit light penetration. But sweet cherry trees naturally grow tall and upright. And you're working with nature . . . you can't change her too much and still expect cooperation. Therefore your sweet cherries will have to be pruned into taller trees than your sour ones.

4/17/2014 9:41:07 PM

I have had good luck growing pie cherries and using a combination of mylar strips and tree shakers to keep the birds, fruit flies, and Japanese beetles off of dwarf trees.

Jane Public
3/31/2013 1:08:38 AM

I have really good luck keeping the birds away by tying old computer disks in the branches so they hang and spin and flash in the wind. I also got some very long mylar tinsel one xmas and tying some of that to blow and sparkle works as well. The first year the cherry tree had about 3 dozen cherries and the birds got them all but one. I sparkled up the next year and I got to eat them all right through to full ripe on the tree. I used to use tinsel on my blueberry bushes and it worked just as well.

1/13/2008 8:30:14 AM

Where are the cherries I bought yesterday at Costco coming from? Were they picked last summer?

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