By National Gardening Association Editors
- Tart cherries thrive in zones 4 to 6, sweet cherries in zones 5 to 7.
- Plant cherry trees in early spring.
Tart cherries are self-fertile. Sweet cherries need a compatible variety for cross-pollination.
Choose sweet cherry varieties that are especially adapted to your climate and resistant to the major diseases in your area.
Standard-size trees start bearing in about their fourth year, dwarf trees in about their third year.
One mature, standard-size tart or sweet cherry tree will produce 30 to 50 quarts of cherries each year; a dwarf tree, about 10 to 15 quarts.
- Choose a sunny site with good air circulation and deep, well-drained soil. Avoid low areas or places surrounded by buildings or shade trees, where cold air settles.
- Plant sweet cherries on standard rootstocks 35 to 40 feet apart; dwarfs, 5 to 10 feet apart. Space tart cherries on standard root stocks 20 to 25 feet apart; dwarfs, 8 to 10 feet apart.
Set trees on standard rootstocks with the graft union a few inches below the soil level. Set trees on Colt dwarfing rootstock with the graft union several inches above the soil level.
- Train dwarf tart cherry trees to a central leader. Train semi-dwarf or standard-size cherry trees to a modified leader.
- Prune trees every year in late winter to encourage the growth of new fruiting wood. Don't prune in the fall.
- Fertilize each spring until trees start to bear, then fertilize only after harvest each season.
- See our article Fruit Pests and Diseases for controls of common cherry pests such as plum curculio, cherry fruit fly, brown rot, and cherry leaf spot.
- Prevent birds from eating your harvest.
- The sugar content of cherries rises dramatically in the last few days of ripening, so wait until they turn fully red, black, or yellow (depending on the variety) before harvesting.
Harvest as the cherries ripen over the course of about a week.
Pick the cherries with the stems attached, being careful not to tear off the fruit spur that will produce fruit year after year.