Skip to main content

What to consider when planting a cherry tree

How to grow and care for cherry trees

Bright red montmorency cherries on a tree
Hansjörg Keller / Unsplash

Cherries are excellent for toppings or snacks on their own. They’re a great way to add some color and a burst of extra flavor to a variety of dishes and desserts. You can get cherries at the supermarket, of course, but you can also grow your own! If you’re interested in growing cherries at home, you’ll need a cherry tree.

Here’s a handy guide for planting and caring for cherry trees. We’ll tell you where to plant them, how to care for them, what variety you should choose, and any special concerns such as diseases or common pest problems.

cherries on a wooden rail
AmeerMuhammad 1114 / Shutterstock

Choosing where to plant cherry trees

Choose an area that gets consistent sun to ensure healthy growth and regular production. The area should have well-draining soil, and it should be soft and moist at the time of planting. The best times to plant are spring and fall when the weather is mild. The ground is often harder during winter, when it may be frozen, and in some climates during the summer, when exposed ground may be partially baked.

Cherry trees often have deep root systems, so take care to avoid areas with shallow soil or rock beds below the surface. Some cherry varieties will self-pollinate, while others will not, so you may need multiple trees. Cherry trees will need to be planted 20 to 40 feet apart, depending on variety, so make sure you have plenty of space for all your trees.

When planting, make sure the hole you’re putting the tree into is deep enough. You want a hole that is as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Fill the hole in carefully, so that the tree is standing straight up. Don’t forget to water it and give it a nice layer of mulch. Once it’s planted, you can expect your first harvest about three to four years after planting. After it has bloomed and when it begins to produce fruit, be sure to cover it with garden netting. Otherwise you can expect birds to make off with your harvest.

Glossy dark red Bing cherries growing on a tree
Spring_summer / Shutterstock

When are cherries ready for picking?

How can you tell when your fruit is actually prime for picking? You don’t want to jump the gun and pick your cherries too soon, since immature cherries will not ripen much more once they come off of the tree. Your cherries should feel firm and be red (but not fully burgundy) by the time you pick them.

If you have a sweet cherry variety, you can taste test a few cherries before bringing out a bucket to pick a large amount. Sour cherries will let you know when they’re ready to be picked — they tend to fall off of the stem when they ripen. To pick the fruit, simply twist the stem off of the tree, being careful not to yank any leaves or branches.

Planting a tree
azem / Shutterstock

Cherry tree varieties

Before discussing individual varieties, it’s important to talk about the major categories. There are sweet cherries, which can be eaten on their own, and are often used to top desserts or as ingredients. Sour cherries, on the other hand, are typically not eaten on their own, and are almost always used for jams, jellies, preserves, and pies. Sour cherry trees are also generally smaller and self-pollinating.

There are also full-sized versus dwarf varieties. Dwarf varieties are smaller, as the name suggests, taking up much less room than other varieties and bearing less fruit. However, dwarf varieties also typically produce fruit faster, in about three years rather than four.

There are a lot of individual varieties for sweet and sour cherries, and it’s a good idea to buy a few cherries from several varieties before purchasing a full tree. This way, you’re sure to get what you want. You also might consider taking a look at your local farmers market and speaking to anyone in your area who grows cherries. They may have special insight into what varieties work best with your soil and climate.

In the U.S., the most common sweet cherry variety is the Bing cherry. These cherries have a lovely dark color and are sweet and juicy. For sour cherries, the favorite is far and away the Montmorency cherry. They’re bright red, small, and go great in pies.

Person pruning cherry tree
encierro / Shutterstock

Special concerns about cherry trees

Cherry trees are susceptible to some common diseases, although different varieties may have varying levels of resistance to them. Arguably the worst of these problems is rot, which can attack the roots. However, rot is easily prevented by making sure the soil drains well. Rot only becomes an issue if the soil stays wet for too long.

For most other diseases, such as black knot fungus, cankers, and blight, the treatment is to prune the infected area to prevent spread. In general, look for any unusual growths on the tree, and prune the infected branches below the growth. The fruits of the cherry tree are often attractive for insects. While birds can be kept at bay with netting, insects typically require a pesticide spray. Be sure to read the instructions carefully, and wash your fruit thoroughly before eating it.

Cherries are fun to eat and add a little something extra to any dessert or fruit platter. Whether you’re serving up sundaes or a sweet fruit cocktail, having your very own cherry tree is a great way to have fresh cherries. Make sure you have plenty of room, and plant your tree or trees somewhere sunny where water doesn’t tend to pool, and you can have fresh cherries in three to four years! See the beautiful blossoms in spring, and then enjoy the literal fruits of your labor!

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
The spring onion plant is the perfect option for gardeners with too little space
Your go-to guide for growing delicious and space-efficient spring onions
A row of clean spring onions

Growing your own vegetables is a fun idea, in theory. However, many vegetables take up a lot of room. If you need to conserve space, but you want to fill your garden out as much as possible, then the spring onion plant is a great option to consider. It's small enough that you can even grow it in a pot. If you’d like to add spring onions to your garden but aren’t sure how, then you’re in the right place! We’ll walk you through every step of growing spring onions.
When to plant spring onions

Despite the name, spring onions are a vegetable you can plant during any season except winter. You typically plant spring onions in early spring or the middle of fall. Dry summers can be an issue for spring onions, so many gardeners avoid planting in late spring or early summer. However, with extra water and attention, even spring onions planted in the summer can flourish.

Read more
Coleus plant care: How to grow it indoors and outdoors
Growing and caring for coleus plants
A coleus plant with orange and red leaves

When you think of plants to add color to your home or garden, your first thought might be flowers. Did you know that there are plenty of colorful foliage plants as well? Coleus is one such plant, with leaves that come in a variety of striking colors and patterns. From bright red or pink to dark purple, and even some multicolored varieties. If coleus sounds like an ideal plant to you, then this guide to coleus plant care will help you start growing your own.
Planting coleus

Whether your coleus is an indoor or an outdoor plant, make sure to plant it in rich, well-draining soil. For potted coleus plants, choose a container that has adequate drainage holes to avoid waterlogged soil. You can start indoor coleus plants any time, but for the outdoors, wait until the weather is warm. Coleus are tropical plants, and they are sensitive to cold weather and frost.

Read more
Creeping thyme is a colorful alternative ground cover to grass – what to know
Growing a creeping thyme lawn
Purple creeping thyme flowers

Grass lawns may be common and popular, but they aren’t always a great fit. Whether you’re having trouble keeping a grass lawn healthy or are just looking for a more interesting alternative, there are plenty of options you can choose from. One is planting a creeping thyme ground cover! Creeping thyme is a beautiful plant that can grow in gardens and containers, but you can also let it spread out to cover your lawn. Wondering if a creeping thyme ground cover is right for you? Here’s what you need to know.
Is a creeping thyme ground cover right for you?

Creeping thyme is easy to plant and requires little care, making it a good option for homeowners who are busy or travel often. Additionally, creeping thyme is a flowering plant. During summer and early fall, a creeping thyme ground cover will be full of pink or purple flowers, which are pretty to look at and attract pollinators. Creeping thyme loves full sun and hot weather, and it’s moderately drought tolerant, so it’s perfect for areas that are too sunny or hot for some other grass alternatives like moss.

Read more