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When Is the Right Time To Pick Cherries?

Cherry trees are an absolute delight to grow in your own backyard. Not only do they show off a stunning flush of blossoms in the spring, but they also produce a bountiful harvest of fruit come summer. And honestly, what could be better than picking fresh cherries right off your tree?

Hands holding picked cherries with harvested cherries beneath person's hands.

When it comes to harvesting your fruit yield, you may be wondering exactly when is the right time to pick cherries. Various factors can influence this, such as a tree’s particular species and its growing conditions. Therefore, it’s easier to judge ripeness by sight, texture, and taste and harvest accordingly. Read on to find out more.

When Are Cherries Ripe?

Harvest time for cherries depends on several factors, such as the weather, sunlight, water intake, and the type of tree you have planted. Once your cherry blossoms have given way to fruit buds, you can typically expect to harvest ripe cherries anywhere from early June through to late July.

Sweet cherry varieties, which are great for eating fresh, ripen a little earlier than sour cherries, which are more commonly used for cherry pie and preserves.

The best way to check if your fruits are ripe is to look at their size and color, feel their texture, and of course, taste them. Leading up to harvest time, it’s advisable to check your trees daily so that you can monitor their progress.

The first sign to look out for is color. Ripe cherries will be fully colored, shiny, and full-sized, coming in at about 1 inch (2 centimeters) in diameter. This color varies from species to species, with some varieties ripening to a burgundy red (Bing cherry tree) while others, like Rainier cherries, are golden yellow with a red blush. Knowing in advance what color to expect will better prepare you for harvest time.

Closeup of dark red cherries on a tree.

In terms of texture, ripe cherries are firm but juicy, plump, and tender. In addition to this, their stems will release from the tree with relative ease.

Of course, if you want the most straightforward method for knowing when to pick cherries, your best bet is a simple taste test. Grab a ripe-looking cherry from your tree and give it a bite. Ripe sweet cherries are sugary and juicy, whereas ripe tart cherries are soft and sour.

How to Harvest Cherries

Once you’ve detemined that your cherries are ripe, it’s time to move on to the fun part: cherry picking.

When it comes to home-grown, organic cherries, there are two essential things to note. Firstly, cherries are delicate and bruise easily, so they must be handpicked.

Secondly, you’ll need to check your tree and pick at least every second day during your harvesting times. You’ll more than likely notice consecutive days of ripening occur over two weeks or less, and ripe fruit should not be left hanging on your tree where they can attract birds and bugs.

To harvest your cherries, simply grip a fruit between your forefinger and thumb, and with a gentle twist, pull it away from the tree. For sweet cherries, aim to keep the stems intact, as this will keep your cherries fresher for longer. Pie cherries come away from their stems more easily, and it is not necessary to store them with their stems if you intend to use them soon.

Hand picking a cherry. Knowing how to properly pick cherries is just as important knowing when the right time to pick cherries is.
Knowing how to properly pick cherries is just as important knowing when the right time to pick cherries is.

Once picked, place your cherries carefully in your picking container or cherry bucket, making sure not to handle them roughly or overcrowd them.

How to Harvest Large Amounts of Cherries

When it comes to cherries, there are, unfortunately, no two ways about it. These fruits are easily damaged, so they must be handpicked consistently throughout the harvesting season. If you have a few cherry trees, this might need to become a team effort.

An average standard-sized cherry tree can yield between 30 and 50 quarts of cherries per season and a dwarf tree between 10 and 15 quarts.

During harvesting season, you’ll be able to pick fresh cherries at least every two days.

A red basket of harvested cherries.

Tips for Harvesting Cherries

If you’re new to harvesting cherries, there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind for your first big pick. These guidelines will help you get the most out of your cherry trees so you can enjoy these delicious little fruits for as long as possible.

Don’t Pick Cherries When They’re Underripe

Cherries don’t ripen well once they’re off the tree, so it’s best to wait until they’re ready to consume before picking them. Sweet cherries become sweeter the darker they get. Underripe cherries are much tarter.

Don’t Leave Overripe Cherries on Your Trees

Overripe cherries become mushy and soft and lose a lot of their color. They are also far less tasty and spoil quickly.

Overripe fruit might also attract unwanted pests and diseases.

Keep Harvested Cherries Out of the Sun

Once you’ve picked your cherries, you only have a small window of time to store them to maximize their freshness. Try not to leave them out in the sun while you’re harvesting, and refrigerate them as soon as you get in.

Person holding a box of picked cherries.

Keeping Cherry Stems Intact

Sweet cherries last longer if they’re picked with their stems still attached. On the other hand, sour cherries tend to come away from their stems much more easily, which is fine if you plan to use them immediately.

Part of caring for both sour and sweet cherry trees is taking care when you harvest. So, when picking cherries, try not to tear the tree’s woody spur, as this is where they will grow new fruit each season.

Preserving Cherries After Harvesting Them

You want to be careful how you store your cherries. They only last a few days once off the tree, so your best bet is to refrigerate them in perforated plastic bags or freeze them immediately. In addition, don’t wash them until you want to use them, as that will make them spoil faster. In the fridge, cherries last for 5 to 7 days from harvest.

If you’re planning to freeze your cherries, you should start by removing their stems and pits and halving them. Then, lay them spread out on a baking sheet to freeze for 4 to 6 hours. Once frozen, place them in freezer bags, with as much air removed as possible. Frozen cherries for cooking or baking should keep for up to 6 months.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, cherries are very easy to can and store for use later.

Cooking and Baking with Cherries

There are so many delicious foods you can make with your sweet or sour cherry crop, be it cherry juice, cherry pie, or even savory cooking with cherries.

Imagine the satisfaction of rolling into your kitchen with a cup of cherries fresh from your garden and using them for a cheesecake, a cobbler, or a crumble? You can even try a unique barbeque sauce.

Closeup of plated duck with cherry sauce.
Duck with Cherry Sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I keep birds away from my cherry tree?

A: If birds present a threat to your cherry harvest, you can deter them by covering your tree with netting. Alternatively, you can try hanging repellents like aluminum pans or balloons tied to the tree’s limbs.

Q: Can cherries be left out at room temperature?

A: Cherries should be refrigerated as soon as they’re picked unless you plan on eating them within a few hours. They are highly perishable fruit and will spoil if left out for too long.

Knowing the Right Time to Pick Cherries

Cherry cheesecake with a wedge missing.
Delicious food is the ultimate reward of knowing the right time to pick cherries!

Cherry trees are such a joy at harvest time. A well-tended tree can produce plenty of cherries ready for eating or preserving, and cherry picking can be just as fun as using your yield in the kitchen. Knowing the right time to pick cherries is a key part of growing cherry trees — otherwise, all your efforts for the year will go to waste!

There’s More to Know!

There’s so much more to discover about cherries. Visit our Cherry Trees hub for information about all kinds of cherry varieties, how to grow and care for cherry trees, and lots of recipe ideas for using your cherries.