Cherry Tree Care

  1. The Power of the Sour Cherry

    The Cherry traces its history as far back as 3300 BCE. Both the Sweet and the Sour Cherry have been a highly desired part of the human diet for thousands of years. Recently, the Sour Cherry has been fading in popularity in the home garden. But with the attention to healthy eating and growing your own, the Sour Cherry is due for a renaissance.

    Sour Cherry varieties are some of the most adaptable of all cherry types. Growing well in zones 4-9 and newer varieties – like the Romeo and Juliet - are showing promise in zone 3-4. The Nanking Cherry has proven a good choice for zone 2. With this wide range of adaptability and the fruits seemingly unlimited uses, the Sour Cherry stands out as a first consideration for today’s home garden.

    The versatile Sour cherry can be cooked, juiced, dried, frozen, eaten fresh or even distilled as the liquors Kirsch and Ratafia. They are included in any number of different preparations including baked goods, pies, preserves, main and side dishes or even for medicinal uses.

    For example, the sour cherry is paired as a main dish with meat in Persian cuisine or used in the preparation of Sour Cherry Saffron Rice (Polow), a wonderful flavored side dish suited for royalty. The most popular variety for this is the red-fleshed English Morello cherry (shown left), though the North Star cherry with its dark red flesh would surly be a good consideration as well. 

    The fresh Sour Cherry pies of Michigan and Wisconsin are always in demand during cherry season. The popular Montmorency Cherry is always in demand for those pies.  

    The tremendous health value of Sour Cherries has been realized as far back as 3000 BCE. Only today are we able to define what that really means. In more recent studies, the term “super fruit” has become associated with the Sour Cherry. This is due to the high antioxidant values the Sour Cherry possesses. It has been shown in studies to have high anti-inflammatory benefits, improve memory, lower the risk of heart disease and colon cancer, and has even been cited as contributing to a good night’s sleep. 

    For centuries, the Sour Cherry has been used as a cough suppressant, prized for its sedative, expectorant, drying and cough control qualities. This is mostly the effect from grindings of the bark.    

    Sour Cherry trees are ideally suited to the modern landscape. A full size sweet cherry is often too big and needs pruning to fit into today’s smaller landscapes. The more popular sweet cherry varieties like Bing require a pollinizer, which means another tree. Sour Cherries are all self-fruitful, requiring no extra tree. In addition, the Sour Cherry is a natural dwarf and is often referred to as a bush Cherry because of its low growing canopy. Sour cherries can easily be maintained to below 8 feet with just a little summer pruning.

    Their value as an edible ornamental shrub is tremendous: Prolific blooms in the spring followed by bright ornamental fruit, and a wonderful vase shaped dormant structure. This can readily be achieved with the early season fruiting of the Early Richmond variety of Sour Cherry, long a favorite of American and English gardeners.

    The resurgence of the Sour Cherry’s role in the home garden is here. The facts are in: the Sour Cherry complements our good health and is a beautiful addition to our modern landscape. 

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  2. Pruning Cherry Trees

    dead cherry tree branch

    One of the primary problems faced by gardeners when growing cherry trees is that they do not understand how to prune a cherry tree properly.  Pruning cherry trees plays an important role in ensuring proper growth and fruit production. Before growing one, any gardener must fully understand how to prune a cherry tree properly.

    Before understanding how to prune a cherry tree, it is important to know how cherry trees grow. Cherry trees are central leader trees.  This means that there is one main upright trunk, called the leader. All branches will sprout and grow out of this.

    A properly pruned cherry tree should have a scaffold shape. This means that there are branches circling the tree, perpendicular to the leader, and there should be an area of about two feet between the levels to allow for light to reach the lower leaves and fruit.  Pruning cherry trees should be done in the late winter, encouraging the plant to grow more during the growing season.  The first level of branches should begin between twenty-four to thirty-six inches above the surface of the soil. The branches growing out of the central leader should be either weighted down or tied loosely to string to promote outward growth as opposed to vertical growth.

    cherry blossom

    The outward growing branches will produce more fruit and grow less vigorously.  Pruning cherry trees during the summer will inhibit growth, and should be done once the desired size has been reached.  Pruning cherry trees too early in the winter may make the tree vulnerable to bacterial infections.    

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  3. Planting Cherry Trees

    Planting Cherry Trees

    Planting cherry trees in a home garden will allow for delicious fruit that everybody can enjoy. Planting cherry trees does not differ much from planting other types of trees, but there are some special things to consider when planting these fruit trees. One is that they are typically not self-pollinating, meaning that only one tree in the garden will generally not be able to produce much fruit. Planting two or more different species with similar bloom times is a good idea.

    The location should have soil that is well drained, since standing water will easily kill the trees.  The location should also have good air drainage, keeping low-lying cold air in the spring away from the tree. The location used for planting cherry trees should also provide for full sun access.  If planting cherry trees in a lawn, the grass should be removed from the planting area in a four-foot diameter circle, to prevent the grass from competing with the young tree for nutrients and water.

    Once the site is selected, the first step in planting cherry trees is to dig the hole. The hole should be approximately twice the diameter of the root system, and two feet deep.  The soil should also be loosened up around the border to allow the roots to break through more easily. The roots should be spread out on the loose soil, ensuring that they are not twisted or crowded. Soil should be placed around the roots and pressed down firmly, to remove any air pockets.  

    When planting cherry trees, it is important to ensure that the location of the graft is at least two inches above the soil. This will ensure that no roots will grow out of the scion. When finished planting cherry trees in the garden, watering will remove any extra air pockets in the soil. A newly planted cherry tree may need to be supported with a stake until the roots can take hold.

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