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Growing Cherry Trees: Varieties, Planting Tips, and Timing

Learn how to grow a cherry tree in your vegetable garden or backyard. Discover recommended varieties, planting techniques, and ideal timing for cultivation.

by BioGrow

Today, we will explain how to cultivate a cherry tree in your vegetable garden or garden. Cherries are irresistible fruits that we often buy at a high price in grocery stores. But what if instead of buying them, we planted a cherry tree in our garden? Cultivating a cherry tree at home is relatively simple, and even a single tree can provide great satisfaction for a long time with a bit of patience. Cherry trees are long-lived and productive, making them well-suited for our climate.

In this article, we will get to know this fruit tree better. We will also explore the different cherry varieties to choose from, the method and timing for planting the tree, and the care it requires to combat potential threats to its production. As always, all the practices discussed will be entirely organic.

The Cherry Tree

Botanical identification

How to cultivate a cherry tree
The cherry tree belongs to the PrunusRosacee genus, a subfamily of the Prunoideae. It is believed to have originated in an area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, currently encompassing countries like Turkey, Georgia, and Iran, all of which are still major producers. Cherry cultivation spread throughout Europe in the 17th century, although there are traces and findings of this tree dating back even further. Cherry trees are divided into two main species: sweet cherry (Prunus avium), which is the subject of our discussion, and sour cherry (Prunus cerasus), which includes the more wild varieties, also known as sour cherries.

Characteristics

Structure, root system, and trunk

Cherry tree
The cherry tree is majestic and long-lived, capable of reaching heights of up to 30 meters and living for about 100 years. Therefore, when deciding where to plant it, consider that it will be a long-term companion. The cherry tree’s extensive and deep root system allows it to reach such impressive dimensions. Additionally, it is a deciduous tree, shedding its leaves in the autumn. The trunk of a young cherry tree tends to be brown, while after a few years, it becomes a dark gray color. As it grows, the trunk may appear to have superficial lesions, creating distinctive horizontal streaks on the bark.

Leaves

The leaves are arranged alternately on the branches, ovate and pointed, with varying lengths and widths. The upper side of the leaves is bright green, while the lower side is a lighter green shade. Each leaf has a stalk, which is 2 to 3 cm long and bears 2 to 5 leaf glands. The cherry tree produces both wood buds and flower buds.

Flowers and branches

Cherry blossoms
The cherry tree’s flowers are white and arranged in inflorescences known as corymbs, each carrying two to six flowers. Normally, each flower has five petals and yellow stamens and is equipped with a superior ovary. Pollination of the flowers occurs through hermaphroditic means, thanks to bees and other pollinating insects. Like other drupaceous trees, the cherry tree has mixed branches, specifically three types:

  • Brindilli (wood and fruit branches);
  • Darts, which can be wood branches;
  • May bundles, on which the cherry tree bears fruit abundantly.

The more the cherry tree develops May bundles, the better its fruit production will be. This is because this type of branch is where the cherry tree primarily produces fruit. Naturally, the flowering period is in spring when the cherry trees paint our landscapes white. Flowering is the most delicate phase in the tree’s annual cycle, and one must hope for mild weather, as abundant rains can compromise fruit set and the harvest.

The Fruit

Cherries
Cherries are our beloved fruits, drupes with the typical red color. Their size and shades vary depending on the species. At this point, let’s make a further distinction between cherry varieties. We differentiate between the juliana variety that produces sweet cherries (with a deeper color and soft flesh) and the duracina variety that produces sour cherries. Depending on the specific variety, cherry trees bear fruit from late spring to July.

Varieties of Cherry Trees

To choose the most suitable cherry tree variety for your cultivation needs, we refer to the varietal orientation list provided by the MiPAF (Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policies).

Main Varieties

The main cherry varieties we recommend are:

  • Ferrovia cherry tree, a medium-late ripening cultivar with high vigor and medium productivity. The fruit is of medium size, heart-shaped, and intensely red. This variety is cultivated from North to South Italy.
  • Giorgia cherry tree, a medium-early ripening variety with medium to high vigor and high productivity. The fruit is large, spheroidal, and intensely red.
  • Durone I (Bigarreau I), which includes several local varieties such as Durone of Modena, Durone of Vignola, Black Durone, Grosso early of Vignola, and Black I of Vignola. These are intermediate ripening cultivars with moderately productive plants. The cherries are medium to large-sized, spheroidal, and dark red.
Other Varieties of Interest

Other interesting cherry varieties include:

  • Early lory
  • Van
  • Lapins
  • Sweet Heart
  • Sweet Early
  • Moreau, which includes ancient varieties such as Bigarreau Moreau, Bigarreau Sandrin, Bigarreau Souvenir des Charmes, and Durone Early.

We have mentioned only a portion of the existing varieties. As you can see, the choice is vast. When making your selection, consider factors such as the tree’s growth habit, the time of harvest, and your geographical cultivation area.
It’s worth noting that throughout the centuries, cherry trees have been propagated through seed, giving rise to many local varieties that still resist today, each with unique characteristics. Even today, sexual propagation, i.e., from seed, is used to produce rootstock plants.

Rootstock Varieties

Apart from seed propagation, the cherry tree can be propagated vegetatively. This can be done using techniques such as cuttings, layers, micropropagation, and grafting. However, for home gardeners planting a few trees, it is more convenient to use already grafted plants, which can be simply transplanted into the soil.
The main cherry tree rootstock is the Seedling rootstock, which prefers fresh, deep, and medium-textured soils. It gives rise to highly vigorous trees, but they may suffer from soil fatigue.
There are also clonal rootstocks, and the main ones are:

  • Colt, suitable for medium-textured and irrigated soils, tolerates soil fatigue better, and induces the development of highly vigorous trees.
  • Gisela, with 50% reduced vigor compared to Colt.
  • Maxma, with various variants compared to Colt.

Cultivating the Cherry Tree

Climate Preferences of the Cherry Tree

Fioritura del ciliegio
In our country, cherry trees are cultivated from North to South. They are highly tolerant of cold weather and, in fact, need it during winter. However, they are less tolerant of high humidity, late spring frosts that compromise flowering, and abundant rains near harvest time, which can cause fruit cracking.
Another concern during the flowering period is hail. If hail arrives at the wrong time, it can damage the entire harvest. For these reasons, cherry trees are best cultivated in hilly areas, which are less susceptible to late frosts and excessive rainy conditions. Rain, however, is much appreciated in the summer after fruit harvest.

Transplanting Period

The cherry tree can be planted in the ground during the autumn months or at the end of winter, from February to April. Although highly resistant to cold, an excessively harsh winter with prolonged frost and heavy snowfall can jeopardize the health of a young tree transplanted during the autumn months. We recommend waiting until early February for the transplanting, by which time intense bad weather is usually behind us.

Planting the Cherry Tree

Before planting your cherry tree, carefully consider its placement. As mentioned, it is a long-lived plant that can grow to substantial sizes. So, find a location where the tree has enough space to develop its root system and abundant vegetation. We recommend leaving a free space around the tree with a diameter of at least 5-7 meters.
For planting a cherry tree in your garden, you have essentially two options. Either purchase and plant a bare-root tree or choose a tree grown in soil and kept in a container by the nursery. For cherry trees, the bare-root option is preferred by gardening enthusiasts.
The bare-root cherry tree can be transplanted even, and especially, during the autumn months. The tree purchased in a container is transplanted only in spring. Let’s see how to plant a bare-root tree.

Planting a Bare-Root Cherry Tree

To plant a bare-root cherry tree, first prepare the soil where the tree will be planted well in advance. To do this, perform a digging to soften and aerate the soil.

Preparing the Soil

Once you have purchased the bare-root tree, plant it as soon as possible. Dig a hole at least 60 cm deep and 80 cm wide. This will leave the loosened soil for the new tree and encourage root development.
At the bottom of the hole, you can place well-rotted manure mixed with soil to provide a good base fertilization. This bottom layer should be covered with soil to avoid direct contact with the roots in the initial stages. At this point, before placing the bare-root cherry tree, insert a stake. The stake is a long and sturdy wooden pole that will keep the tree upright.

Planting the Tree in the Soil
Bare-root cherry tree

Bare-root cherry tree

Now we are ready to transplant our bare-root cherry tree. Many recommend wrapping the roots in a mud paste to ensure better root system recovery. Position the tree at the center of the hole, with the collar of the plant at ground level, not too deep or too high.
Fill the hole with the soil that you have previously removed. Compact the soil, trying to form a small basin at the base of the tree. Water generously.
Naturally, the tree needs to be tied to the stake that you positioned earlier.

Planting a Cherry Tree in a Container

The process described above is similar for plants purchased in containers. What differs is how the individual plant behaves in the initial period after planting. Firstly, a bare-root plant has many more roots than one contained in soil. Furthermore, the roots do not need to adapt to different soil types. This is why bare-root cherries have an easier time taking root.
Other advantages of bare-root plants are definitely their lower cost, better handling, and ease of transport.
One disadvantage of a bare-root plant may arise from the fact that containerized plants are usually older and will bear fruit sooner. They also have a shorter establishment period. As mentioned, once purchased, the plant should be transplanted as soon as possible.
Another disadvantage is that plants sold in containers usually undergo initial training pruning, which will need to be done independently for bare-root plants.

Soil and Water Requirements

The cherry tree prefers loose and fresh soils that allow for excellent drainage. It suffers greatly in clayey soils, which are heavier and more humid, retaining too much water.
The water needs of adult trees are rather limited, but more attention should be paid to irrigation in the early years of growth. Additional watering is required before fruit ripening and after harvest. Of course, evaluate the climatic conditions—if rain comes naturally, there is no need for intervention. Nevertheless, the climate can be unpredictable, so be sure to assess the soil conditions hosting your cherry tree from time to time.

Pruning the Cherry Tree

Regarding cherry tree pruning, it is essential to know that this tree does not appreciate frequent cutting and interventions. It is a plant that prefers to grow freely, and we should interfere as little as possible. This is especially true if you are cultivating the tree in a domestic setting and not for commercial production. Cuts can induce the tree to produce gum and expose it to severe diseases such as cankers.
In the first year after transplanting, it is advisable not to carry out any type of pruning. This will promote the development of the main branches. In the following years, to encourage a harmonious shape, you can limit pruning to lightly trimming the most vigorous branches and removing small ones that might cross inside the canopy.
Another type of intervention involves removing dead or withered branches. This operation, known as dry pruning, should be done in late autumn.
You can also carry out interventions in summer, after harvest, to renew the younger fruit-bearing branches. This type of green pruning is crucial to limit the tree’s vigor and promote better quality and quantity of cherries in the following years.
For further advice on pruning cherry trees and other fruit trees, refer to our previous articles on the basics of pruning and the ideal tools for pruning.

Harvesting Cherries

Cherry picking
The cultivation of cherry trees enters production after a few years. This means that before picking our beloved cherries, we need to be patient!
The harvest periods vary depending on the variety and cover a time span that spans from spring to summer.

When the tree is adult and perhaps very vigorous, you will need to equip yourself with ladders and supports. Be very careful during these operations, as there is a risk of losing balance and falling. It is also possible that the branches may break.

Biological Defense against Diseases and Pests

Cherries affected by moniliasis
The final chapter of this lengthy article dedicated to how to cultivate a cherry tree concerns biological defense against diseases and pests.
Fortunately, the cherry tree is a very resistant and hardy plant from this point of view. Much of its health also depends on the annual climatic conditions.

Monilinia

As for fungal diseases, be cautious about the presence of monilinia, a pathogen that affects stone fruits. The most severe attacks of this fungus occur during flowering and on fruits near harvest. The highest risk conditions occur in the presence of high humidity, fog, and rain.
To biologically protect your cherry tree from this disease, there are some preventive agronomic practices. These include removing and destroying affected parts in the previous season, correct green pruning to improve canopy ventilation, and avoiding water stress.
As a preventive measure, if there are favorable conditions for an attack, you can also use sulfur powder, which significantly reduces the risk of infection.

Scale Insects and Aphids

Among insect pests, the most problematic for the cherry tree are scale insects and black aphids.
Black aphids, especially those of the species Myzus cerasi, attack the vegetation and fruits of the cherry tree, causing damage, especially to young plants, and interfering with vegetative balance.
To biologically intervene, it is advisable to monitor infestations and take timely action with azadirachtin, the active ingredient in neem oil. Additionally, you can use pure Marseille soap, which eliminates the honeydew produced by aphids, a sugary substance that attracts ants, making the situation even worse (pure Marseille soap is an excellent product, and can be found here if you want to purchase it).

Cherry Fruit Flies

Other specialized pests on this fruit tree are cherry fruit flies, including Rhagoletis cerasi and Drosophila suzukii. Both are highly damaging, but they can be eliminated with some biological techniques.

Further Reading

  • IOP Science – “Human influence increases the likelihood of extremely early cherry tree” – This article explores how human activities are influencing the early blooming of cherry trees.
  • ScienceDirect – “The impact of climate change on cherry trees and other” – A study on the effects of climate change on cherry trees and other related species, focusing on potential environmental impacts.
  • ScienceDirect – “Dynamic responses of sweet cherry trees under vibratory” – This research investigates the dynamic responses of sweet cherry trees under vibratory conditions, providing insights into their physical characteristics.
  • MIT – “A comprehensive analysis of the journal evaluation system in” – An analysis of the journal evaluation system, including references to cherry tree research.
  • PubMed – “Cultural ecosystem services provided by flowering of cherry trees” – This article explores the cultural ecosystem services provided by the flowering of cherry trees, emphasizing their aesthetic and cultural value.
  • JSTOR – “The Beauty and Menace of the Japanese Cherry Trees” – An article that discusses the beauty and potential threats associated with Japanese cherry trees, offering a balanced perspective.
  • ResearchGate – “Ruskin Bond’s The Cherry Tree: An Ecocritical Study” – An ecocritical study of Ruskin Bond’s work “The Cherry Tree,” exploring literary themes and environmental connections.
  • PubMed – “Cultural ecosystem services provided by flowering of” – Another perspective on the cultural ecosystem services provided by the flowering of cherry trees, focusing on their significance in various cultures.
  • ScienceDirect – “The impact of climate change on cherry trees and other” – A repeated link to the article on the impact of climate change on cherry trees, emphasizing its relevance in current research.

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