How to Care for Cherry Trees
Latin name: Prunus Avium
Hardiness: Fully hardy, but susceptible to frost damage in spring
Pollination: Self fertile
Height and spread: Variable, dependant on rootstock
Cherry trees are one of our most popular fruiting trees; they will produce lovely white blossoms in spring, and after a couple of years, cherries as well. All of our selection are self fertile, which means that you do not have to worry about pollination from bees.
On receiving your cherry tree, it is important that you remove it from the outer packaging immediately and store it in a suitable place until you are ready to plant - in winter, we advise a shed or garage to prevent frost damage. Plant your tree when it has gone into dormancy and the roots are not growing. Either October/November or late February/March as the ground can become frozen solid in intervening months.
Choosing where to plant your tree is of vital importance, as cherry trees need plenty of sun to ripen fruit and are also susceptible to frost damage. A south facing wall would be ideal, as the wall would retain and radiate warmth throughout the year, but if that is not possible, any location with at least six solid hours of full sunshine in summer will work. Your cherry tree will do best if planted into deep, well draining, loamy soil with a pH of 6.5 - 6.7. You can test this yourself using a kit widely available from garden centres.
An hour before planting your tree, water the pot thoroughly. Remove the tree from its container and gently tease out the roots. Prune any that are damaged or broken. Dig a hole roughly three times the width of the trees roots, but no deeper. Then plant the tree with the bud union at ground level. Back fill any gaps with a soil and compost mix. Use a supporting stake to anchor the tree until the root system is strong enough to support the tree unaided.
Dwarfing cherry trees can also be grown in large pot - perfect for smaller gardens or patios. Move the tree into a larger container in the first 12 months, then every 2-3 years until it reaches its full height. Look out for the following signs that your tree is ready for a new home:
- Does the tree look less healthy than it used to?
- Does it seem to dry out quicker?
- Are there roots growing out of the holes in the bottom of the pots?
- Have the trees been in the same pot for 3 years or more?
Remember to always choose deep pots with drainage holes! Try to repot in the winter months to minimise the risk of damaging the roots.
Some tips for repotting
- The soil in the pot should be slightly moist - water thoroughly an hour before repotting to achieve this
- Loosen the soil around the edge of the pot and pull the tree out by the base of the main stem
- If you are moving your tree to a bigger pot, add some extra soil into the bottom of the pot before you insert the plant
- Fill in with a mix of soil and compost
- Water the plant thoroughly, and keep it well watered for several weeks
Once the tree is fully grown, it will be too big for repotting, but you will still need to replace 30-50% of the compost every other year, so the tree does not exhaust its supply of nutrients.
Feeding your cherry tree will help it to gain all the nutrients it needs to fruit. February and March are ideal times, and we would advise using a potassium rich general fertiliser such as Growmore according to packet instructions.
Mulching is the term used for the layer of organic material that is placed on top of the soil around your plants every year. It has a whole host of benefits, including keeping the soil moist and nutrient rich throughout summer and discouraging weeds. The best time to mulch your cherry trees is in February, before feeding.
First, prepare the ground by removing debris and weeds and water the surface of the soil if it is dry. Apply a thin layer of well rotted manure or good garden compost all around the tree - we suggest using John Innes No. 3.
We advise you to water your cherry tree regularly until the plant is established. Your tree is likely to require regular watering after fruit has set and it is beginning to swell. Making juicy cherries is thirsty work! Make sure you always water the roots, and avoid getting water on the leaves of the plant, as this encourages disease.
When fruit trees are grown in containers, they will have more restricted access to water than those growing in the garden, so will need watering with greater regularity. As a rule of thumb stick your finger into the first inch of topsoil and if it feels medium dry, water immediately.
As fruit will only form on year old wood, your cherry tree will not need pruning at all in its first year, except to remove dead or damaged branches. In following years, you can begin training your tree - we prefer a bush shape as it is a lovely natural shape but still designed to improve productivity. In subsequent years, cherries should be pruned in late summer, as they are susceptible to bacterial cankers that infect pruning wounds that don't heal quickly.
First, remove any branches that are growing towards the centre of the tree instead of pointing outwards, as these will not get enough sunlight to produce fruit. Then remove any branches that are dead, diseased or dying. Lastly, cut back all but the main branches and leave six or so buds on each stem. Once your tree has reached its full height, or a height you are happy with, you can also cut the main branches back by about a third, which will ensure your tree doesn't grow much taller. After 4 years, prune away some of the oldest branches to make way for newer wood. Rub out any buds or suckers that form on the stem or rootstock of the tree.
Fruit and Flowers
In early spring, your cherry tree will burst into bloom. It is important that you protect these delicate blossoms with a horticultural fleece at night if frost is predicted, ensuring that it does not touch the tree blossoms. Uncover the tree in the day times so it gets plenty of light.
After a couple of years fruit should appear in summer. At this point, it might be an idea to invest in a fruit cage or fruit netting to deter birds. The fruit should be ripe by July/August and ready for picking. Only pick fruit that is fully ripe, and preserve by making into jams and chutneys, or drying.
Your cherry tree will go into dormancy over winter and lose all its leaves - this is normal! Although cherry trees are hardy, they may need some protection from extreme temperatures and frosts with horticultural fleece.
Why not try some of our tasty recipes with your home-grown fruit?