Cherry trees can produce up to fifty quarts of cherries in one season! Even a dwarf cherry tree can yield up to fifteen quarts annually. In other words, treat them well, and they’ll treat you and your kids very well.
Harvesting cherries is all about timing. You want to make sure you’re prepared to pick them when the time is right, or else you’ll wind up with a sour crop. Keep reading to learn the best practices for how to harvest cherries.
When to Harvest Cherries
As you learn how to harvest cherries, keep in mind that there are two main varieties of the fruit: sweet breeds and sour breeds.
Cherry trees will bloom in the spring, typically in March through early April. The fruit will ripen in the summer. June and early July are the peak times for cherry picking.
Sweet cherries tend to bloom sooner than sour cherry varieties. If you’ve just planted a cherry tree though, sweet varieties take about seven years to first bear fruit, while it’s only five years for a sour variety.
Check out the weather forecast when you’re getting ready to harvest cherries. If there’s rain, especially heavy rain, then prepare to harvest your cherries quickly. A rainstorm can damage the cherries, knocking them off their branches.
What to Look for When Harvesting Cherries
Timing is essential when harvesting cherries for two main reasons:
Sugar content rises exponentially in the last few days. Those final days before a cherry is picked is when they develop most of their sweetness. Each day counts. If you harvest a few days too soon, it will dramatically impact their taste.
Cherries immediately stop ripening once they are picked. Unlike other fruit varieties, they won’t continue to ripen if you store them in a cool, dry place. Thus, if you pick too soon, you will be left with a tasteless, inedible crop for the season.
The brilliant red coloring that we think of when we think of cherries is the ideal state. Wait until your cherry crop is completely red before you commence picking. The darker the shade of red, the riper the fruit.
Cherries will be smooth and firm when they’re ready to be picked. That means they’re plump with flavor and juice. Test their firmness by giving one cherry a little squeeze. If you get some pushback, then they’re ready to be picked.
Sour vs. Sweet Cherries
There’s a slight difference for how to harvest cherries that are sour or sweet. Sour cherries are more bulbous and thus will typically fall off the stem when they’re ready to be harvested.
Because of the sugar content rising in those final days, sweet cherries need to be taste-tested to determine if they are ready for picking. You will need to pluck a sweet cherry, eat it, and decide if they’re ready. Nice work if you can get it!
How to Harvest Cherries
Cherries are incredibly delicious, but they make you work for them. There’s no way around it: picking cherries is a meticulous, tedious process.
To harvest them, you will need to pick cherries off the branch one by one, taking pains to not to damage or drop them.
The best way to pluck a cherry off the branch is to put your hand under the fruit and give it a light tug where the stem meets the branch. The cherry should pop right off.
You will want to pick the cherry and the stem. Leaving the stem on helps the cherry maintain its freshness and flavor. And you can impress friends by tying the stem in your mouth, Twin Peaks style. If you’re picking cherries solely for baking, then you don’t need to keep the stem on.
Be very careful when picking not to harm the branches where cherries hang from. The spurs, tiny wood pieces where the stem grows from, are responsible for producing future batches of cherries. Spurs usually have a rough texture, scarred with former crops of cherries.
If you snap off a spur, it can never grow cherries again.
Bring wooden boxes or bags with you to deposit picked cherries. You want to pick a container that’s sturdy and won’t fall apart under the increased weight of the fruit. Bring multiple boxes or bags, too. Picking cherries can be deceptive: the container will feel light at first, but it’ll get incrementally heavier with each cherry until you find yourself unable to pick it up.
It’s recommended that you wear comfortable clothes you won’t mind getting dirty. You may get residual blooms or dirt on your clothes during the picking process.
We also highly, highly recommend you wear comfortable, hardy shoes like sneakers or boots. If it has rained recently, the ground might be muddy and slick.
The right shoes can help support your back and knees during the long picking process. You may even want to slip in a gel insert to provide extra cushion.
Sadly, seedless cherries don’t exist. For one, cherries have pits, not seeds. But there are no varieties that have been engineered to remove the pit. You’ll have to do that yourself in a process calling pitting.
You can pit cherry with a variety of tools, depending on how MacGuyery you want to be. If you work on a farm, you may have a mechanical pitter that can remove the pits for you.
To pit cherries, you can use a sharp object to stab the pit and extract it. Clothes pins, chopsticks, paper clips unwound into an “s” shape, and tweezers have been used to get the job done.
You can also use a paring knife to make an incision into the cherry and remove the pit. Or, if you don’t care about keeping the cherry intact, just rip it open with your fingers. No judgment here!
How to Care for Cherries
Now that you know how to harvest cherries, you want to ensure your fruit can stick around and be enjoyed.
Cherries keep best when they’re stored in cool temperatures. Dunk your cherries in cold water after picking. This will help to extend their freshness. After that, they can be stored in the fridge, either open or in bags.
If you’re preparing to eat them, it’s best to leave them out for a few hours so they can get to room temperature. That will allow their full sweetness or tartness to come out while eating.
Caring for Your Cherry Trees
Cherry trees can bear fruit for decades, but only if they’re tended to. Cherry tree maintenance is no different than taking your car in for oil changes and tire rotations.
Make sure to prune cherry trees throughout the year to ensure a smooth harvest. The main pruning season for sweet cherry trees is late summer after the harvest. They’re more sensitive to bacteria and diseases. Sour cherry trees are hardier and can be pruned in winter when they’re dormant.
Our pruning guide is full of lots more information on best practices for maintaining your cherry trees.
That’s a Wrap on Harvesting Cherries
You will feel a rush of accomplishment looking at your box full of ripe, picked cherries. Knowing how to harvest cherries will ensure you have a bountiful crop. Timing your harvest is key to ensure you get the sweetest cherries.
To be even more prepared, check out our hub on everything cherry trees, including tips on growing them and unique diseases to watch out for that can destroy your crop.