Nothing looks quite as beautiful as the spring blossom on a cherry tree and if you are also a fan of the fruit, a cherry tree may be worth considering as an addition to your garden.
There are basically two types of fruiting cherry tree, sweet cherries, which are delicious eaten fresh from the tree or the acid cherry, tart in flavour if eaten raw but ideal for making cherry jam and in pies.
Sweet cherries, at one time, always needed a companion tree to enable pollination and the production of fruit but there are now self-fertile varieties available, so make sure you read the label when purchasing a cherry tree. With sweet cherries now also available as dwarfing rootstock and suitable for pots on the patio, even a small garden will be able to accommodate one.
Most acid cherries are self-fertile and therefore only one tree will usually be needed and they are also better suited to the smaller garden as they are bushier than, but not as tall as the sweet cherry.
Whilst the sweet cherry needs a sunny site to produce its best fruit an acid cherry can tolerate some shade and is even suitable for planting by a north facing wall.
As the cherry tree tends to flower in early spring, making it vulnerable to frost, a sheltered site away from frost pockets will be needed.
How to Prepare the Plot
Cherry trees do not take kindly to being planted in poorly drained soil or a soil that is shallow and sandy, preferring a soil which is deep, well drained and fertile; therefore do not to plant your cherry tree in a low lying position where it can easily become waterlogged. A soil with a pH level of between 6.5 to 6.7 is also preferred by the cherry tree.
The best time for planting a cherry tree is from November to March for bare rooted trees with late autumn being the optimum time, as the ground will still be warm, if you are planning on planting your tree after November just make sure the soil has not become either frozen or very wet. Cherry trees grown in a container can be planted at any time but will need to water carefully during the growing season.
Prepare your plot roughly a month before planting as this will give the dug over soil time to settle down. Dig over the area well, removing all weeds and add plenty of organic matter such as well rotted manure or compost to the soil.
How to plant a Cherry Tree
Dig a hole that is both deep and wide enough to comfortably house the roots and then place your tree in the hole, after which, spread out the roots to give them some room.
In the case of container grown trees, the tree needs to be planted to the same depth as it was in its container and for bare rootstock trees, plant to the same depth as the soil mark on its trunk or if that is not clear, make sure the joining point between the rootstock and the scion, which can be identified as a bulge in the stem, is about 2 inches above ground level.
For the first few years, a free standing cherry tree will need to be supported by a stake which should be placed in the hole before the tree. The stake should be about 7 foot high and 2 to 3 inches in diameter and placed to a depth of about 2 foot below the ground with the remaining 5 feet above ground and with a space of about 2.5 to 3 inches between the stake and the tree. After planting the tree, back fill with soil and tie the trunk to the stake loosely with a plastic tie (do not use anything, for example wire, which may cut into the trees trunk).
How to Grow and Care for your Cherry Tree
As cherry trees are early flowering they will need protection from frost by way of a horticultural fleece at night, removing the fleece during the day time so that pollinating insects can access the flowers.
Cherry trees do not need to have their fruit thinned but fruit may start to drop when its starts to swell through lack of moisture in the soil, therefore new trees and trees with developing fruit will need to be kept watered well in dry weather. As soon as the cherries start to mature, then lessen watering as too much moisture may cause the skins to start splitting.
A general purpose fertiliser, for example bonemeal, applied as a top dressing every spring will help keep nutrients topped up, although this should be avoided in the first year as the young tree will grow quickly without any encouragement and extra fertiliser will cause a lot of sap production, which in turn may cause the tree to develop bacterial canker disease.
How to Harvest your Cherries
Cherries are usually ready for picking from the middle of June, with the main harvesting month being July and then through to about August. You will be able to tell by their colour which usually turns a rich dark red when they are ripe.
Be careful not to handle the fruit itself which is easily bruised but hold and cut by the stalk with scissors or by plucking from the tree, leaving the stalk to remain on the fruit, as this lengthens the time cherries will keep fresh for.
Cherries are best picked on a dry day and preferably in the morning as they will still be cool and plump. Should rain be predicted then pick any ripe ones as once their skins get wet they may split.
Pests and Diseases of the Cherry Tree
Cherry trees can suffer from silver leaf disease and the pest, blackfly. An excellent way to keep aphids down is by encouraging the blackflies natural predators such as lacewings and ladybirds by planting wild flowers to the base of your tree or at least close by.
The biggest threat to your cherries will be from birds who love them just as much as we do. The best ways to deal with these cherry thieves, who will start eating them before they are even ripe, is by covering the entire tree with protective netting or grow your cherry tree in a fruit cage.
How to Prune a Cherry Tree
Cherry trees should not be pruned in their first year of planting, after which they should only be pruned during the growing season, whilst the tree is still in leaf but after flowering has finished and certainly never during the winter.
Something to remember when carrying out any pruning is that acid cherries fruit the length of one year old wood, whilst sweet cherries fruit to the base of not just one year old wood but older wood too. Wood that is older than three years old should not be removed from either an acid or sweet cherry tree.
Pruning will largely depend on the shape you wish your cherry tree to take, with a bushier tree producing more fruit but as a general rule, straight after harvest, remove any damaged, crossing, dead, or diseased branches. Also remove any branches that have become larger than half the diameter of the trunk.
Whilst sweet cherries that are being grown as a bush will not really require any other pruning, acid cherries, on the other hand will need a heavier pruning, with a proportion of older wood needing to be removed.
For your own safety and for the health of your trees, any major surgery, chainsaw work, substantial pruning, high, inaccessible work, or work requiring a ladder should be done by a qualified and professional tree surgeon.
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