The Q&A Archives: Cherries crack and split before harvest

Question: Last year I fertilized and sprayed my cherry trees, then covered them with netting as the fruits ripened. I will still disappointed, though, because many of the fruits cracked and split before I could harvest them. What did I do wrong? Orleen Piccirilli Cahumet, IL

Answer: Fluctuating moisture conditions probably caused your cherries to split and crack as they ripened, says Daniel Meador, Extension fruit specialist at the University of Illinois in Urbana. When a dry spell is followed by heavy rains, the cherries absorbwater quicker than the fruits' skins can expand, causing the splitting. The solution is to keep them well watered during drought conditions so that rains that follow won't cause the fruits' skin to expand dramatically, Meador explains. If no rainfalls for two or three weeks, water the trees by placing a lawn hose a few feet from the trunk and trickle water for 20 to 30 minutes, soaking the ground 10 to 12 inches deep, he says. Regular waterings and mulching with two to three inches of bark mulch around the base of the tree help keep the tree growing properly. Tart cherries such as Montmorency and North Star are less susceptible to cracking. Another possible reason for fruit splitting is putting the net on too early. Cherry netting reduces the amount of sunlight getting to the leaves, affecting the fruits' development, explains Meador. Delay placing the tree net on until it's obvious that birds are beginning to eat the fruits, he says

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