Cherry Trees – How to Grow & Care For Cherries

The cherry tree belongs to the same family (Rosaceae) as almonds, medlars, peaches, plum trees and apricots. There are many varieties growing across the world, ranging from Europe to North America and Asia.

cherry tree in fruit
Cherries are an attractive addition to any fruit garden.

Cherry Tree Growing Seasons

Cherry trees are one of the most impressive fruit trees in terms of their spring display of beautiful colours. They make a lovely addition to the UK garden and are a popular choice among the fruit gardening community. They are fairly hardy which is a great bonus with the erratic UK weather.

Cherry trees can grow as high as 10 metres if you grow one from standard rootstock. The trees can reach full maturity anywhere between 10 and 20 years after being planted.

Cherry blossom appears in early spring.

Blossom & Fruit: You will see the wonderful white and pink blossom emerge on your cherry tree early in the Spring.

The flowers will be closely followed by the leaves, and the succulent ruby red fruit will appear soon after in July during the tree’s brief fruiting season.

Depending on the planting process (pot, fan-trained etc) your cherry tree will fruit from the 2-4 years mark. You’ll get a full cherry crop roughly 2 years later.

Planting that cherry tree provides you with a visual delight of precious pinks, while you dream about tasty fresh cherries.

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How To Grow Cherry Trees

Although a tough tree, generally speaking, cherry trees need love and care throughout the year to make sure they grow to their full potential. These beautiful fruit trees prefer growing in a well-drained, light soil, such as a sandy loam. The fruit will need to be protected from birds in the summer, either by netting around the individual fruit clusters or using a bird scaring device, such as a scarecrow.

Cherries are prone to a range of ailments, including damage from rain and hail. They are also prone to attack from aphids, so if you grow them in your garden it’s a good idea to encourage ladybirds and lacewings to visit your garden, which will keep the aphid population in check. You can encourage them by planting a few wild flowers at the base of your tree, and avoid using pesticides, which can kill them.

When To Plant Cherry Trees

You can plant your cherry tree anytime between November and March and this goes for specimens grown as a tree, fan-trained against a wall or fence, or a potted variety.

Where To Plant Cherry Trees

Your cherry tree can be fan-trained if you prefer, along a trellis or wall. They prefer well-drained soil that is deep – nothing shallow. They don’t necessarily need full sun and will tolerate some hours of shade. This means they can be fan-trained in a north-facing direction which can be handy. A container or tree which is fan-trained will suit many smaller gardens, bearing in mind they can grow very high as an open tree.

How To Prune Cherry Trees

Pruning promotes good health of your tree and should be done during the suitable months of the year. It’s important to stick to the appropriate times of the year otherwise you risk doing more damage than good.

If your cherry tree is fan-trained then pruning is required to help retain its shape and to stop it from becoming overcrowded and wild. A new tree should be pruned during the summer to encourage good shape and fruit growth. For an established tree, pruning should be carried out and finished by late August. 

Pruning an established tree encourages new young wood to grow which in turn will provide a healthy fruit crop. You can remove any damaged branches or ones that are causing an area to become overcrowded. In June, shoots can be tied to the framework and you can cut back leaves to around 6 per shoot. Once harvesting has occurred you can cut the leaves back further, to encourage more fruit for the following season.

When To Harvest Cherries

You will be able to pick your cherries in July, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. This largely comes down to the climate. You’ll know when the fruit is ready because they will be soft and a deep red in colour. Hold it from the stalk when ready to pick to avoid that pesky bruising.

Edible Cherry Tree Types

There are two types of edible cherry tree: sweet and sour. You can also buy ornamental cherry trees solely for their beautiful spring blossom.

Sweet cherries are best for eating straight from the tree, although they can also be cooked for use in jams and desserts. Sour cherry tree fruit is best eaten when used in cooking and jam making. If you want to grow cherries in your garden, however, you’ll only be able to grow either a sweet or a sour variety. The two varieties don’t cross-pollinate so you’ll need to have two of the same type. The Morello variety of sweet cheery is self-fertile, so you’ll only need to have one of them in your garden.

If you are interested in purchasing edible cherry trees, the below section contains links to our online fruit shopping resource. You can compare products and prices from leading UK garden merchants.

Sweet Cherry Trees

sweet cherries

Sweet cherries originated in Western Asia and Europe and are the most popular of the cherry trees to grow in gardens.

Much of this is due to the fact that sweet cherry varieties can be eaten fresh straight from the tree. Sweet cherries taste great in pies, as a jam, in salsa, in cocktails, or of course, on their own.

Varieties include: Sasha, Lapin, and Stella.

Sour Cherry Trees

sour cherries

Native to Asia and Europe, sour cherries make stunning garden trees but can also be found widely across much of the UK in hedges and green spaces. They can be readily foraged from the wild.

The fruits are round and can be very deep red in appearance, almost black-like. Sour cherries were historically used for medicinal purposes. Sour cherry tree fruit is cooked due to its sharp taste – you can eat it in tarts, jam, cakes, sorbets, and sauces.

Varieties include: Nabella, May Duke, and Morello.

Many sour varieties of cherry can be bought on a dwarf rootstock (reaching a height of just 2m) and trained along a trellis in a fan shape. They are also very hardy so will tolerate a north-facing wall. Handy if you have nothing else to grow on it.

Cherry Blossom Trees

Largely considered an ornamental tree, cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan.

These types of trees will produce fruit that you can eat but they can be very sharp-tasting and often very small. The fruit can’t generally be eaten without cooking.

They do, however, make a wonderful feature in your garden with their wonderful array of blossom and flowers.

Varieties include: Kanzan, Snow Goose, and Royal Burgundy.

Eating Cherries – Are All Cherries Edible?

All cherries can be eaten, however some will not be pleasant if consumed without being cooked. It’s also important to always remove the pips of cherries before cooking, as some varieties will have higher levels of arsenic in them than others. If you accidentally swallow a cherry pit whilst eating, this is unlikely to cause you issues. The harmful element is encapsulated inside and will not be released into your body if swallowed whole.

If you have recently inherited a cherry tree in a new property, you might be asking yourself “can I eat the cherries on my tree?” The answer is yes – you just need to work out if your cherry tree is a sweet or sour variety to see if they can be eaten fresh or need to be cooked.

Are The Cherries From Blossom Trees Edible?

All cherries are edible, even cherries from blossom trees. Many people think they are poisonous and therefore should not be eaten. Ornamental cherries should most definitely be cooked before eating, and the pits should be removed. If you have a blossom tree, you might be able to harvest the fruit for pies, jams, and baking.

Are Wild Cherries Edible?

Sour cherries are commonly found in hedgerows, and can be eaten safely. You will generally have to cook wild cherries to make them palatable, but there’s nothing better than free fruit from hedgerows. The only thing you need to be mindful of when foraging wild cherries to eat is to ensure you’ve correctly identified the fruit as cherries. There are many identification guides for foragers, so do consult one before heading off in search of hedgerow treasures!

Cherry Tree FAQ’s

When it comes to cherry trees, we have put together concise FAQs for your ease of reference. Never be confused about cherry trees again!

How Big Will A Cherry Blossom Tree Grow?

Of course, this answer largely depends on how you have planted your tree in the first place. At their biggest, they can reach the great heights of 10 metres, perhaps more in the right environment. Ones planted on dwarf rootstock can grow up to around 2 metres – perfect for those more modest gardens.

How Fast Will Cherry Trees Grow?

Cherry trees do not grow particularly quickly and you can expect anywhere up to 20 years before it reaches full maturity. Smaller ones will mature quicker than this.

How Do You Pollinate Cherry Trees & Do You Need Two To Produce Fruit?

Sour cherry trees are self-pollinating but will still benefit from another cultivator nearby (of the same variety). Some sweet cherry varieties will also self-pollinate, in particular, the more modern varieties.  Due to early blossom, your tree will benefit from hand pollination when possible which involves transferring pollen from flower to flower.

How to Grow Cherries From a Pit?

You can indeed grow a cherry tree from a pit but it’s not without its problems. For the best chance of success, use the pit from a local cherry tree or from a local market. Basically, avoid supermarket cherries because this may come from a hugely different climate. 

Scrub your pits to get rid of any leftover fruit and leave to dry for a few days. Once dry, pop in a container in the fridge for up to 10 weeks. When they have been taken out of the fridge and come back to room temperature they can be planted inside in containers. After all cold weather has passed, you can then plant outdoors.

Do Cherry Blossom Trees Grow Cherries?

Cherry blossom trees do grow cherries – although they aren’t the tastiest of the cherry varieties and are also small in size. The only ones to be cautious of are wild cherries as some of these shouldn’t be eaten raw.

What Do Cherry Trees Look Like?

The trunk of the cherry is often a reddish-brown, and the leaves appear after the blossom, proving a spectacular spring display. Cherry blossoms are pretty and pink, and some varieties of the tree such as ‘Kanzan’ are just grown for their ornamental display. Many of these ornamental cherries have no reproductive function at all. Instead of stamens and pistils they have extra petals. These are known as double flowers and are incredibly decorative.

Health Benefits of Cherries

Cherries have been shown to have a range of fruit health benefits, including boosting the immune system, preventing heart disease, improving blood circulation, and helping with the treatment of certain rheumatic illnesses, such as gout.

Cherry trees are extremely versatile. They can be grown as ornamental trees with spectacular blossoms, sour fruit trees that can be trained along a trellis, or large sweet fruiting varieties that produce delicious cherries that you can eat straight from the tree. Whatever your reasons for growing these beautiful trees, they will bring years of pleasure – in both their ornamental blossom, and the delicious fruit they produce.

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