Cherry trees are a little more particular in their requirements than apples, pears and plums but have so many attributes they are so well worth the extra care involved and with a few handy pointers can give great results and are very rewarding to grow.
The spring blossom is amongst the most attractive of all spring flowering trees and you often get good autumn foliage colour of orange gold and red – which is unusual for a fruit tree. Plus of course they are simply delicious – nothing compares to a bowl of luscious home grown cherries!
These fruits tend to command a premium when sold in the shops so there is also a strong financial incentive to growing your own.
Cherry trees are versatile with many ways of growing them so there’s sure to be a spot for them in any garden.
Cherry trees in the garden – and on the patio.
A cherry tree is very versatile with many ways to grow them. Remember they always prefer a sunnier warmer aspect where possible and a good light to medium soil.
Heavy clay soils that are cold in winter are less suitable so look to growing them in containers instead or at least improve the soil as much as you can beforehand. There are plenty of self fertile varieties so variety selection is easy.
1. In the traditional orchard
If you are lucky enough to have space for an orchard of trees – whether many or just a handful – the cherry can be happily incorporated. They prefer to be situated in the centre of any such planting so they gain that bit of extra protection from surrounding trees.
You want trees grafted on to colt stock for an orchard planting because these trees will be big enough to mow and walk beneath and have the stature to fit in appropriately but not so very big that most of the fruit is out of reach.
There are traditional older stocks that grow much more vigorously still but are impractical for harvest and upkeep. Colt is a good compromise with growth of 3 metres or more which is quite sufficient for an orchard setting.
It is earlier to come into bearing than older seedling stocks which should really be avoided. You will often get your first crop just a couple of seasons’ after planting with colt rootstock and it generally imbues a certain amount of disease resistance as well. You should allow not less than 3 metres in spread for each tree when siting.
2. Against walls and fences
The fan trained cherry is very successful against a south or westerly aspect where the tree can get plenty of sun and a certain amount of protection and reflected warmth.
You will need a space about 2 metres across and the same in height or maybe a little less. It takes 3 years to train a tree into a fan shape and this is when cropping usually starts.
Once trained they are quite easy to upkeep with little maintenance involved. When growing against a fence or wall the fruit usually ripens that bit earlier than trees grown n the open and it is easier to protect the ripening fruits from bird predation.
Trees for fan training should be on colt rootstock; dwarfing stocks don’t make such good fans and the more vigorous stocks are to be avoided as well.
Colt makes an excellent fan and although not dwarfing, as fan training is a restrictive growing method you don’t need the influence of a dwarfing stock as well and training will be easier with more growth to work with.
3. In the fruit cage
A fruiting cherry tree will be a star performed in any fruit cage. You will get a full crop with no birds around and whilst a few years ago cherry trees tended to be too big for the restricted height of a fruit cage nowadays with the advent of dwarfing stocks they are easily accommodated.
Look out for ‘Gisle 5’ stock which can easily be controlled to 2 metres or a little less – just nicely within the scope of the average fruit cage! Another dwarfing stock called ‘Tabel’ which was briefly popular has now largely been superseded by Gisle 5 as Tabel is more tricky to grow into a decent tree. You can also fan train within a fruit cage against eaither end with some supporting wires.
4. The dwarfing bush tree
Again choose the Gisele 5 stock with it’s smaller stature, 2 metres high and the same across is the normal growth expectancy. Ideal for garden borders or an intensive orchard, crops are heavy and as this is a precocious rootstock it tends to come into fruit earlier in it’s life than any other stock.
Productive too as the crop produced often exceeds the comparative adjustment in growth when compared to bigger trees. Gisele 5 is quite simply the ideal garden cherry tree and all popular varieties are compatible.
5. The weeping fruiting cherry tree
The weeping form is normally associated with ornamental flowering cherries. But for the more adventurous it is possible to train your own fruiting cherry into a handsome pendulous form. The process is known as festooning and it creates a beautiful looking and productive tree.
The rootstock selected should be ‘Colt’ and you need to start with a young tree which is flexible enough to be trained. Pegs and straining wires are fixed into the ground around the tree and the side laterals are tied down; the main leader is bent over and tied down to the main stem.
This might sound hazardous but with young trees the growth is more than pliable enough. The practice actually encourages free and early fruiting and after two to three years the wires can be removed completely whereupon you will have a lovely weeping tree of no more than 2 metres. Well worth trying and perhaps a growing method that really should be utilized more often.
6. Columnar cherries
The ideal space saving option for an intensive row of fruit, pots and containers, or for using against arches, walkways or simply grown in the border amongst other subjects.
The trees will be supplied on the dwarfing Gisele 5 stock which is more tolerant of hard pruning and can easily be kept to 2 metres or a little less. Better still the ultimate spread is no more than 18”.
All that is required to grow this simple form is to cut back the ide shoots by 3-4” late each summer and reduce the leader if required at the same time. The flowers and fruit will be borne on those short side laterals and with the benefit of so much sunlight reaching all the growths the wood ripens well for prolific flowering and copping, the fruit is really sweet and flavoursome and ripens well.
Blackfly are less of a problem with columnar cherries because there is less soft new growth to attract them. Very much the easiest method to grow, train and prune and ideal for any restrictive space.
7. Growing in pots and containers
With the release of the Gisele 5 stock growing cherries in containers have never been easier or more practical. Contained in this way the ultimate height and spread is even smaller than when grown as a bush tree in the open ground and with the naturally warmer temperatures of the growing medium they are really happy.
Make sure you use a loam based compost and a container size of around 20 litre capacity. Perfect for the patio or any seated area or stood by the door where the spring blossom can welcome you! A whole range of good self fertile cherry varieties are available on this revolutionary dwarfing stock.
Good Cherry Varieties
There are any number of varieties raised over the years but these are our recommendations. Many of the older heritage types have been superseded as they aren’t that reliable and tend not to be produced on to dwarfing stocks thus making big trees. The following are exemplary garden varieties that are easier to grow and predominantly self fertile too.
LAPINS One of the most popular garden varieties raised in Canada 1984. A prolific crop of split resistant dark red to almost black fruits which are usually ready in mid July.
MERTON GLORY The best ‘white’ cherry which means the fruits have a white inner flesh, the outer skin has a pretty pink blush. Super sweet taste which makes it sought after although not so prolific as better varieties. Pollinate with Sunburst or Stella for the best results.
KORDIA An award winning variety raised in Northern Europe. Valued as a later ripening cultivar with handsome almost black fruits which you can enjoy in early to mid August. Not self fertile so plant with another variety such as Sunburst, Stella or Morello.
SUMMER SUN Raised not far from here in Norwich and a very good variety with shapely easily maintained habit and good flavour from the dark coloured fruits. Ready for picking mid July, fruits keep well on and off the tree. Self fertile.
PENNY A new English raised cherry noted for it’s very large black-red fruits, outstanding on the tree and in the fruit bowl. Ripens late, in August, and also very beautiful in flower. Best crop produced with a partner tree such as Lapins, Morello or Sunburst.
STELLA One of the firs self pollinating sweet cherries and popular in gardens ever since, remaining a first choice amongst many. Mid July ripening with dark red sweetly flavourful juicy fruits. Canada raised in the 1960’s. Does well on all rootstocks and a good pollinator for other varieties as well but perfectly suited to life on it’s own.
SUNBURST Mid July ripening and an outstanding self fertile variety with large quality dark fruits full of flavour. Hardy and suits all growing methods.
VAN This is an older variety that continues to do well with especially dark fruits ready early-mid July. Extremely flavourful and wonderful eaten fresh but versatile too, has been used in liqueurs and cooking. Vigorous grower full of blossom. Pollinate with Lapins, Sunburst or Morello for the best results.
MORELLO A specialist variety for pies, jams, preserves and juicing. Renowned for it’s hardiness, self fertile and very prolific. Easy ro grow with very useable fruits! Also a good pollinator for sweet varieties.
Common Diseases Of Cherry Trees
There are two common maladies to be aware of.
The first is blackfly. These small greenfly relatives will al most certainly infest the new growths from early Summer unless precautions are taken. The growths become curled and sticky and the insects are clearly identified clustered inside. It’s best to snip off the most heavily infested growing shoots [ a new shoot will quickly form from the bud just below the cut] Spray the tree with a good systemic insecticide such as Provado.
Contact insecticides are less effective because the insects are usually hidden inside the leaves. It is recommended to apply an insecticide in the Spring as the leaves unfold to offer protection before blackfly takes a hold. Repeat the application around 4 weeks later. You can also apply a winter wash to kill any overwintering populations but this should only be done whilst the tree is dormant.
The second is bacterial canker which manifests itself as sticky oozing sap from a wound or fissure in the main trunk or branches. Where this occurs on branches that can be removed then cut them out cleanly at the base of the trunk. Spray the tree with Bordeaux mixture.
When canker appears lower down on the main trunk it can prove fatal in the long term. It is more common in wetter milder localities but not exclusively so.
The leaves can also show signs of leaf spot which may be caused by any number of fungal infections. It is best to use a good broad spectrum fungicide and again, as prevention is better than cure apply this in the Spring soon after the leaves has opened. Trees which are growing strongly and generallty happy are less likely to be affected.
Fruit drop may occur with immature fruits shedding before they reach maturity. This is usually either a sign of stress – especially if the tree is too dry – or simply a sign that the tree has over produced and is naturally adjusting.