Sweet and Tart Delights: Tips for Sourcing and Nurturing Cherry Trees

Cherry Trees

Cherry trees are bountiful blossoms and delectable fruits. From the sweet, plump cherries of the ‘Stella’ variety to the tart, pie-ready fruits of the ‘Morello’, there’s a cherry tree suitable for almost every garden in Britain. This article will guide you through the essential tips for sourcing and nurturing these delightful trees, ensuring a thriving orchard or a singular, stunning tree in your landscape.

Choosing Your Cherry Tree

1. Understand the Varieties: Before you embark on your cherry tree journey, it’s crucial to understand the two main types of cherries – sweet and sour. Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) thrive in warmer, sheltered spots and are perfect for eating fresh. Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus), on the other hand, are more tolerant of colder climates and are ideal for cooking and baking. Popular sweet cherry varieties in Britain include ‘Stella’ and ‘Sunburst’, while ‘Morello’ and ‘Montmorency’ are go-to choices for sour cherries.

2. Pollination Partners: Many cherry tree varieties require a pollination partner to produce fruit, although some are self-fertile. When choosing your tree, consider whether you have space for two trees or if a self-fertile variety like ‘Stella’ would be more suitable. For those needing a partner, ensure you select compatible varieties for successful pollination.

3. Size and Rootstock: Cherry trees are grafted onto rootstocks that control their size. For smaller gardens, look for dwarfing rootstocks like Gisela 5, which limits the tree’s growth while still providing a generous yield. Larger spaces might accommodate semi-dwarfing rootstocks such as Colt, offering more substantial trees without overwhelming the landscape.

Sourcing Your Cherry Tree

1. Choose Reputable Nurseries: Quality and health start with where you buy your tree. Opt for reputable nurseries or garden centers with a good track record of supplying healthy, well-grown trees. These establishments can also offer invaluable advice on care and variety selection tailored to your local conditions.

2. Online vs. Local: While local nurseries offer the advantage of viewing the tree before purchase, online nurseries provide a wider variety of options. If buying online, ensure the nursery offers a guarantee on their plants and check reviews to gauge the quality of their trees and customer service.

3. Inspection Time: Whether online or in-person, inspect the cherry tree for signs of disease or stress, such as discolored leaves, pests, or damaged roots. A healthy tree should have a strong structure, vibrant foliage, and, if appropriate for the season, budding or fruiting evidence.

Planting Your Cherry Tree

1. Timing is Key: The best time to plant cherry trees in Britain is during the dormant season, from late autumn to early spring. This timing allows the tree to establish roots in its new location before the growing season begins.

2. Soil and Site Preparation: Cherry trees prefer well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. Before planting, enrich the site with well-rotted manure or compost and ensure good drainage by incorporating grit if your soil is heavy clay. Avoid sites where water pools after rain.

3. Planting Process: Dig a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the root ball. Mix some compost into the removed soil and place the tree at the same depth it was grown at the nursery, indicated by a change in stem color. Fill in around the roots with your soil-compost mixture, firm gently, and water thoroughly.

Early Care for Your Cherry Tree

1. Watering Wisdom: In the first few years, your cherry tree will need regular watering to establish itself, especially during dry spells. However, avoid over-watering, as cherry trees do not fare well in waterlogged conditions.

2. Mulching Matters: Apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost around the base of your tree each spring. This will help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and gradually improve soil fertility. Keep the mulch away from the trunk to avoid rot.

3. Feeding for Fruitfulness: In early spring, apply a balanced granular fertilizer around the base of your tree, following package directions for amounts. This will encourage healthy growth and bountiful fruit production in the coming season.

Ongoing Care for Cherry Trees

1. Seasonal Watering: As your cherry tree matures, it will become more resilient but still benefit from occasional deep watering during prolonged dry periods. This is particularly important from early spring through summer, as this period is crucial for fruit development.

2. Annual Mulching: Continue the practice of applying a mulch layer around the base of your tree each spring. This not only conserves moisture and suppresses weeds but also provides a slow release of nutrients as the organic matter breaks down.

3. Monitoring and Managing Pests: Cherry trees can attract a variety of pests, including aphids, cherry fruit flies, and birds that feast on the fruits. Monitor your trees regularly for signs of pest activity. Employing netting can protect your harvest from birds, while eco-friendly pest control options can manage insect invaders without harming beneficial pollinators.

Pruning Cherry Trees

1. Why Prune: Pruning is vital for removing dead or diseased wood, shaping the tree, and encouraging the growth of fruiting spurs. Additionally, it enhances air circulation, which in turn lowers the likelihood of fungal illnesses.

2. When to Prune: For sweet cherries, prune during the summer after harvesting to minimize the risk of silver leaf disease. Sour cherries, however, should be pruned in late winter or early spring while still dormant.

3. How to Prune: Focus on creating an open, vase-shaped canopy that allows light and air to reach the center of the tree. Remove any crossing, dead, or diseased branches, and thin out the canopy to prevent overcrowding. Always make clean cuts just above a bud or branching point.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

1. Disease Prevention: Cherry trees can be susceptible to several diseases, including bacterial canker and powdery mildew. To prevent these, ensure good air circulation through proper pruning and select disease-resistant varieties when possible. Remove and destroy any infected material promptly to prevent spread.

2. Addressing Fruit Drop: If your cherry tree is dropping fruit prematurely, it could be due to overcropping, water stress, or poor pollination. Thinning the fruit can help reduce stress on the tree, ensuring the remaining fruits develop fully. Regular watering and mulching can alleviate water stress, while planting pollinator-friendly flowers can attract more bees to your garden to improve pollination.

3. Coping with Weather Challenges: Late frosts can damage blossoms, reducing fruit yield. Where late frosts are common, consider frost-resistant varieties or use horticultural fleece to protect your trees on cold nights.

Author: Sarah Sadie