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How To Grow A Cherry Tree: The Complete Cherry Tree Care Guide

Closeup of ripe, red cherries on a tree.  If you know how to grow a cherry tree, delicious fruit is the reward you'll enjoy.

Have you ever wondered how to grow a cherry tree or why you would want to grow a cherry tree at all? The answer to “why” is because cherry trees are invariably attractive and produce useful fruit. Cherries are particularly lovely fruit trees — the blossoms are beautiful (the reason for cherry blossom festivals all over the world each year), the fruit is tasty, and the trees are quite easy to grow, with just a little care and knowledge.

As for “how,” this article will share what you need to know order to grow a cherry tree and enjoy the (literal) fruits of your labor!

When To Plant Cherry Trees

Cherry trees prefer sun and will grow strongly during the warmer month. When the tree is established, it will adapt its growth to the seasons, but when it is younger it may need some more tending.

To give your tree an advantage when it is young, plant it in spring, so that it can become relatively established over the spring, summer and early fall. If you live in a warmer climate, then you can plant in late winter, if the ground has not been frozen.

If the ground is frozen in the area where you live, wait until the ground is workable before planting. Always look out for the warning of a late frost. Take note of the general climate in your area and plan the planting accordingly.

Where To Plant Your Cherry Trees

When you choose to plant a cherry tree, there are a few things to consider. One is the size of the tree. Cherry trees can grow tall (up to 35 feet/10 meters) and most have a broad spread of branches (12-14 feet/ 3.5-4.5 meters) and have widespread branches.

This means that you must make sure you plant your tree far enough away from other trees, or larger plants, to allow the tree room for its fully mature spread.

The other thing to consider is the root system. You don’t want the roots to cause trouble with any structure in your garden, particularly a wall or even your house. Cherry trees tend to have a relatively shallow root system, but it does grow outward quite substantially as the roots look for oxygen.

The roots of a cherry tree can spread underground over an area that is even wider than the spread of the branches. So you must consider the spread of the tree above and below ground when you choose where to plant the tree.

Soil 

Cherry trees prefer a soft, well-drained soil that is quite fertile. Trees with sweet fruit require better drainage, while sour cherries are not quite so fussy.

When you plant a tree, the soil should be kept moist for a few days. This will keep the soil soft and draining effectively, but the tree will have enough water to absorb.

Light

Closeup of a cluster of cherries on a branch with the sun shining through the leaves.

Cherry trees need a lot of light, so make sure you plant your tree in a sunny spot, where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day.

Water

Once cherry trees are established, they don’t need a lot of water. However, for the first year, or so, after planting, you will need to make sure that the sapling is watered regularly, keeping the soil damp

When you water your cherry tree, remember the broad spread of the roots and don’t only concentrate the water around the trunk. You don’t need to dampen the entire area of the roots, but do try to keep a slightly wider spread of water, possibly up to a meter around the trunk.

Because the root system of a cherry tree is relatively shallow, it will need to look for water mostly above the water table, so it is important that it receives water from above the soil as well – including rain, of course, but also from you watering it. Usually, cherry trees will be able to access water from a greater number of sources in summer, so take this into account when you water the tree.

Temperature and Humidity

Cherry trees are quite hardy and different cultivars, or varieties can tolerate different temperatures and weather conditions. Generally, though, cherries prefer generally cooler, drier climates. In fact, part of their growth cycle is to have a period of dormancy during a cold winter, which they will not get in a hotter, humid climate.

Even younger trees can tolerate frost quite well, but they can be sensitive to a late frost. This is because they come out of their dormancy period as the weather warms up and are not prepared to cope with very low temperatures.

Sweet cherries, in particular, are susceptible to a late frost. If a tree has started to bud when the late frost arrives, it will be hit harder than before budding. This makes late frost an important thing to take into consideration when you plan to plant your tree. With younger trees, protect your tree by using something like a burlap tree wrap.

Planting Multiple Trees: Cross-Pollination

Most cherry trees are not self-pollinating, so you need to have two trees, of different varieties, so that they can pollinate each other. Some types of cherry trees are not compatible, so you will need to do some solid research to make sure that the varieties of trees you choose will be able to cross-pollinate.

There are some varieties of sour cherries that are self-pollinating, but sweet cherries are generally not self-pollinating. However, the BlackGold and WhiteGold varieties are self-pollinating and can even be used as ‘universal pollinators’, as they are compatible with any variety of cherry.

Bees pollinate cherry trees and the period of blossoming and fertility is quite limited. Bees usually work in the earlier morning, so keep away from the trees during this period. Cooler weather may prolong the period of fertility, so keep an eye on your trees and the bees’ activity.

Varieties of Cherry Tree To Plant

A single cherry tree in bloom.

Where you live will determine, to a degree, what variety of cherry tree you plant.

The Benton Cherry tree is a popular variety of cherry to grow in your garden. This is mainly because it is a relatively easy tree to grow. They are quite big trees, with wide-spreading branches and are remarkably hardy, requiring almost minimal maintenance. They are also quite resistant to frost. 

The Blackgold Cherry tree is another popular and hardy cherry to consider grow at home. It is quite frost-resistant and not as susceptible to diseases and pests as some other varieties. The tree needs to be watered regularly in the first year of growth. As they grow, the trees do not need to be watered very regularly.  

How To Grow Your Cherry Trees

Cherry trees can be grown from three basics: the pit, a seedling/young tree, a bare root tree.

Bare root trees

Bare root trees are small trees that have had the soil removed from their roots, which are covered in plastic to protect them. These trees are usually available during winter and should be planted when the weather is still cold.

The soil you plant your bare root tree into cannot be hard, so you will either have to prepare a patch by working on it and making sure it is loose before you buy the trees, or you can place the trees in a small patch of loose soil until you are ready to plant them. This should not be longer than a few days.

Seedlings or young trees

You can buy cherry tree seedlings, or a young tree, to plant out.  Seedlings will need more care, so keep them in a pot in a protected area until they are ready to establish themselves. Young trees can be planted out quite easily.

From the pit

If you really do want to grow your own cherry tree from the beginning, then you can do so from the pit. You should begin with a few pits, as some of them may not sprout.

Hands using a cherry pitter to remove pits from cherries.

Make sure that the pits are clean of any trace of the fruit by soaking them thoroughly. Leave them to dry for a few days. After that keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for 7-10 days. This will simulate the dormancy period of winter.

The pits can be planted in pots that are full of loose soil, that is mixed with fertilizer. Before you do this, you must take them back to room temperature. Push the pits into the soil and water them enough so that the soil is moist. Do not over-water them. When the pits sprout and establish themselves as seedlings, you can plant them out

Planting the Trees

To plant your tree from any of these sources, you must make sure that the soil is loose. Do this by working the soil over with a garden fork. It should be loose to at least a foot (30cms) below the surface.

Dig a hole that is deep and wide enough to accommodate the root ball. This will usually be about 18 inches (45 cms) in diameter and 24 inches (60 cms) deep.

Place the roots of the plant into the hole and cover them, but keep some of the root ball showing – about 1 inch (2.5 cms) above the surface. Compact the soil around the tree gently, making sure that it does stay relatively loose. Do not tamp it down.

The level of the soil around the tree must be the same level as the surrounding area. Fruit trees must not sit in water, so there can’t be a hollow around the stem.

Make sure that you water the tree thoroughly for the first few weeks after it is planted. This does not mean keeping it in a pool of water, but making sure that the area around the stem is kept damp.

How To Grow a Cherry Tree In a Pot

There are some varieties of cherry trees that are dwarf, which can be grown in pots. Remember that these can grow to about 6 feet high, so you will need to prune and contain the trees carefully, to make sure that they don’t grow too big for your house.

One advantage that growing a cherry tree in a pot is that you will be able to move it inside during cold weather.

When you plant a young tree/seedling in a pot, make sure that you water it regularly to keep the soil damp. Do not overwater it, because if the roots sit in water, the tree’s growth will be affected. You will need to fertilize the tree at least every couple of months.

Fertilizing your cherry Tree

To keep your cherry tree healthy, you need to feed it regularly, by using the appropriate fertilizer. Cherry trees are ‘light feeders’, which means that they don’t use a lot of nutrients.

Like most plants, cherry trees need nitrogen, phosphate and potassium to grow, so make sure that the fertilizer you use contains all of these (just make sure the fertilizer is low in nitrogen). Phosphate and potassium boost the tree’s ability to fight diseases.

You can use a chemical fertilizer, but you could prefer to use organic options, which are based on compost and natural additives.

Pruning your cherry tree

All fruit trees need to be pruned regularly during the winter months. This promotes new growth in the spring and you’ll have a good crop of fruit in summer. For our complete guide to pruning your cherry tree, visit this link.

Harvesting your cherries

The whole point of growing a cherry tree is to enjoy the fruit, isn’t it? Once you have a lovely crop on your tree, you’ll need to harvest them. Knowing when and how to pick them will keep you from damaging the fruit.

You’ll know your cherries are ripe when they turn red. The darker red they are, the riper they are. If you pull gently on a cherry and it comes away easily, then it’s fully ripe. Don’t pick cherries when they still have any green on them, because they don’t continue to ripen once picked off the tree.

Hand picking cherries from a tree.

However, if you’re harvesting sour cherries for cooking, you can pick them when they’re not quite ripe. Make sure you cut the fruit off the tree, though.

Put the harvested cherries into a container, but don’t over-fill it or squash the cherries because you may damage them. Keep the cherries in the fridge as soon after as picking them as possible. This will keep the fruit fresh longer.

Cherry Tree Pests and Disease

Cherry tree pests and disease can come in a variety of forms and each one requires specialized action to treat and prevent them. Some pose greater threats than others to your cherry harvest, so educating yourself about each one is a necessary part of growing cherry trees in your garden.

Pests

Closeup of leaf damage caused by black cherry aphids.
Leaf damage caused by black cherry aphids.

Here are some of the common types of pests that you may have to deal with as you grow a cherry tree.

Birds

One of the greatest threats to the fruit on your cherry tree are birds, which are not easy to control. The best protection against losing your cherries to birds is to cover your tree with netting.

Black Cherry Aphids

In winter, keep an eye out for tiny black bugs clustering on the stems or under the leaves on your cherry tree. If your tree is a sweet cherry, then you must be even more vigilant, because they are more susceptible to this pest.

You should treat your tree for black cherry aphids by spraying it with horticultural oil. If you notice the leaves on your tree curling, then you must treat it. It is easier to get rid of the aphids before the leaves actually curl.

Borers

The American Plum Borer bores into the trunks of weakened trees.

The Peachtree borer goes for the base of the trunk of a cherry tree and affects the flow of nutrients to the tree. You can dig out the larvae, but it may be more effective to use a pesticide. You will need to get advice on what to use.

Shot hole borers dig into weakened branches in the tree, or into the trunk. If they are only in one/two branches, they can be removed. However, if the whole tree is affected, then it may not be possible to save the tree.

Pests tend to attack cherry trees that are weakened, so you keep your tree properly watered and fertilized.

Want to know more about other pests you may encounter? Click here to read our blog post on how to identify, treat, and prevent ten common cherry tree pests.

Diseases

Closeup of cherries infected with the fungal cherry disease. brown rot.
Cherries suffering from brown rot caused by a fungus.

Any plant can be infected by diseases, and cherry trees are no exception.

Leaf spot, canker and brown spot are some of these diseases. You will recognize these by leaves that develop dark spots, or begin to die. You should remove any diseased leaves, or even branches. When you do this, dip the pruning shears in a bleach solution to sterilize them before making the next cut, so that the disease doesn’t spread.

You can spray your tree with a fungicide to protect against these diseases. A fungicide will also help to prevent ripe fruit rot, brown rot, or twig blight. Consult your nursery or garden center to find out what fungicide you should use. If there is a lot of rain, you may need to repeat the spray of fungicide.

Most of the diseases that affect cherry trees are the result of over-watering. Make sure that the soil is kept moist, not very wet. The soil must be well-drained and kept quite loose.

For a more in-depth read about the identification, treatment, and prevention of the ten most common cherry tree diseases, visit our blog article here.

FAQs

Are cherry trees easy to grow?

Cherry trees need to be established carefully. After that, they are relatively easy to look after. Keep them healthy by watering regularly, but not too much, and fertilizing them periodically.

Can I grow a cherry tree at home?

Cherry trees tend to be large trees, so you’ll need a good size space in your yard to grow one of them. As long as you have the right conditions for the tree, including at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, then this is a lovely tree to have at home.

What kind of soil do cherry trees prefer?

Cherry trees prefer to grow in well-drained soil that contains nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Now that you know how to grow a cherry tree, click here to read about different cherry tree varieties, plus other cherry-related informational articles.