A plump, juicy cherry is a luxurious treat—for humans and wildlife alike. Whether you grow sweet or sour cherries, plan to share. This is usually not a problem—a mature tree produces more fruit than a typical family can consume. When choosing a cherry variety, select one that is disease-resistant, grows to the right size for your space, and is adapted to your local conditions. The smaller the tree, the easier it will be to harvest the fruit.
Cherries come in two main categories—sweet and sour. Sweet cherries grow well in the coast valleys of California, near the Great Lakes, and in the Northwest. They thrive where winters and summers are mild. Sweet cherries require a pollinator, so be sure to plant two varieties. Sour (or pie) cherries are easy to grow for most home gardeners. The hardy plants are adaptable and self-fertile—you need only one plant for fruit set.
Planting Cherry Trees
Sweet cherries are large, heart-shape fruits typically eaten fresh. They ripen in late May or early June. Sour cherries are smaller than sweet ones, round in shape, and used for baking in pies, preserves, and other treats. They usually ripen in July. Whichever type cherry you grow, the trees add interest to your yard thanks to their springtime display of fragrant pink or white flowers. Many cherries also put on a show in the fall when their foliage turns shades of red, orange, and gold.
Use cherry trees as you would any other ornamental tree—as a privacy screen, around the perimeter of a garden room, or as a focal point in your landscape.
Cherry Tree Care
Cherry trees grow best in a site that sees full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun per day). When grown in shade, cherry trees produce fewer fruits and are more susceptible to attack from pests and diseases.
Cherries do best in moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter. Avoid planting them in sites prone to standing water. If your ground has a high sand or clay content, amend the soil liberally before planting with organic matter like compost, peat, or coconut coir. Top-dress the soil with a 1- to 2-inch-deep layer of organic matter each fall. In addition, spread a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch over the soil to reduce grass competition and keep the soil moist during periods of hot, dry weather.
Prune your cherry trees to keep them small (which makes them easier to harvest) and encourage productivity. The best time to prune cherry trees is in winter while they are dormant and leafless. Start by removing any offshoots (called suckers) that develop at the base of the tree. Get rid of any dead or diseased growth and branches that grow in proximity and rub together.
You may wish to protect your cherry crop with bird netting. This covering creates a physical barrier that prevents birds from harvesting the fruit. Because cherries may be attacked by pests and diseases, some gardeners spray their trees in spring to reduce fungal and insect incidences.
More Varieties of Cherry
This classic black cherry tree produces lots of large, richly colored fruits that are firm and juicy. It requires a different variety nearby to set fruit. Good options include 'Black Tartarian', 'Sam', or 'Van'. Zones 5-8
A dwarf variety that grows only 10 to 12 feet tall, this tree produces bright red fruit with yellow flesh. Zones 4-8
This popular variety produces large numbers of large red fruits. Zones 4-9
Stella cherry produces big, dark-red fruits and is especially well suited to gardens in Southern and Western regions. A self-pollinator, it can be used as a pollenizer for other sweet cherry trees. Zones 5-8
Royal Ann produces firm, juicy, blushed yellow cherries that are loved for eating fresh or canning. It requires a second variety to set fruit; the best choices are 'Corum', 'Hedelfingen', or 'Windsor'. Zones 5-8