Growing Cherry Trees Organically:
Planting Cherry Tree & Caring for/Pruning Cherry Trees

Growing cherry trees is a good choice for gardeners who are a little short on time. Once established, they need less pruning than other trees like pears or apples. You also won’t have to spend time thinning crops early in the season.

As well as delivering crisp crops of sweet- or tart-tasting fruit, planting cherry trees will allow you to enjoy the annual glory of a cherry blossom display each spring.

Growing Cherry Trees (Prunus Avium: sweet, Prunus Cerasus: tart): Plant Snapshot

Growing Cherry Trees
  • Recommended Varieties (types of cherry trees to grow at home):
    • Balaton (tart tasting)
    • Emperor Francis (sweet tasting)
    • Hartland (sweet tasting)
    • Hedelfingen (sweet tasting)
    • Meteor (tart tasting, resistant to leaf spot)
    • Montmorency (tart tasting)
    • Northstar (tart tasting, genetic dwarf rootstock)
    • Royalton (sweet tasting)
    • Stella (sweet tasting, self-fertile)
    • Surecrop (tart tasting)
  • Group with crops from: n/a (perennial)
  • Low winter temperatures that damage fruit plants: -20 F (-29 C)
  • Time until plant bears fruit after planting: 3 to 5 years after planting bare root plant or two year old transplanted tree
  • Approximate yield per plant: 40 to 120 pounds (18 to 54 kg); Note: sweet cherry trees produce a bit more fruit than tart/sour trees
  • Life of plant: 15 to 20 years

Before you continue reading below, check out the following overview pages if you haven't done so already. They contain important general instructions that apply to most types of fruit trees...

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Growing Cherry Trees: Planting Time

Where to Find Planting Supplies...

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Choosing a Variety

When choosing a variety of cherry tree, growers need to consider how much space they have and what flavor cherries they like to eat.

Cherry flavor comes in two main types: sweet and tart/sour…

  • Sweet cherry trees
    • Most sweet cherries require cross-pollination with other cherry trees, so you’ll need enough space to plant two or more trees.
    • Sweet cherry trees require more space (up to 25 feet/7.5 meters) than smaller tart-tasting cherry trees.
  • Tart/sour cherry trees
    • Self-fertile, making them an easier choice for growers.
    • Can thrive in a smaller area of 6 to 12 feet (1.8 to 3.6 meters).

If you’re hoping to grow your cherry tree in a container, sweet varieties work best. A self-fertile variety like ‘Stella’ is great for container growing. Northstar, with its genetic dwarf rootstock, grows well in containers, too.

Where to plant cherry trees

All cherry trees need a sunny spot that’s sheltered from the wind in order to fruit well. Since cherries flower early in the growing season, pick a south-facing area that is protected by a wall or fence if possible.

Most cherry trees are grown on grafted Mahaleb and Mazzard rootstocks. This is because their genetic rootstock would result in a very large tree. If you only have limited space, Mahaleb will result in a smaller tree that spreads to a height and width between 15 to 18 feet (4.5 to 5.5 meters). However, this variety is more likely to suffer rot problems if your drainage is not good. Mazzards may grow between 15 and 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters).

When & how to plant cherry trees

Plant bare root trees during the winter, except when the ground is frozen in colder climates. Young trees you buy in pots can be planted at any time during the year. If you intend to prune or shape your tree, add supports at this stage.

Your cherry trees will also benefit from tying into a stake to prevent them from rocking. This will also help the roots establish themselves.

It’s important that your young cherry trees have good drainage and not get waterlogged, so do not plant it in a hole that results in a low lying area that will collect water. When planting…

  1. Dig a hole that is just deep enough to cover the roots.
  2. Add a layer of organic compost to the base of the hole and plant the tree.
  3. Make sure that the union between the tree and rootstock is at least 3 inches (7.5 cm) above the soil level. Planting it lower may result in rotting or disease, which is a relatively common problem for cherry trees.
  4. Fill the hole and add soil so that it creates a mound above ground level (this will settle over time).

Snapshot: Planting Cherry Trees

  • Easiest to grow from: one or two year old tree
  • Planting timeframe range (varies by climate): From early to late winter for bare root trees, throughout the year for container grown trees
  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 6.5 to 6.7
  • Spacing in rows: 15 to 18 feet required for fan trees (5 to 5.5m)
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Growing Cherry Trees: Care & Pruning

Where to Find Growing & Plant Care Supplies...

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Young cherry trees will need watering every two weeks if the weather is dry. Look at the soil surrounding the tree as an indicator. It shouldn’t be waterlogged must mustn’t dry out. Once your tree is established, it should only need watering during long dry spells or drought.

When you begin to prune your young tree, plan for its eventual mature shape. Cherry trees are best pruned into a vase shape that branches out and upwards. They’re also well suited to fan shapes. Cherry trees are a good choice for gardeners with limited time because - once they’re established - they need less pruning than other fruit trees like pears or peaches.

You’ll need to prune your cherry tree after flowering, rather than when the tree is dormant. You can easily tell the impact your pruning will have by the amount of cherries you’ll get… with each blossom branch you remove, you will get less overall cherries from the tree. Avoid pruning during the dormant winter season as this makes your tree vulnerable to diseases.

Since cherries are such small fruit, there’s no need for fruit thinning during the season.

Cherries like fertile soil and will benefit from a mulch of organic rotted farmyard manure over the winter. As with the planting stage, make sure this doesn’t cover the union between the rootstock and tree. Spread the manure over the ground area underneath all the branches, not just around the tree trunk.

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Growing Cherry Trees: Harvesting Time

Cherries will be ripe in early to late summer depending on variety.
Ripe cherries will have darkened skin, while over-ripe fruit will begin to drop.

When your cherries are ready, pull their stems from the tree by hand. If you intend to freeze them, choose slightly firmer fruit.

And don’t be tempted to squeeze cherries as you pick them. Cherries bruise easily and this will affect how well they store.

Snapshot: Harvesting Cherry Trees

  • Time to harvest: About 3 to 5 years, then annually
  • Yield per plant/tree: 40 to 120 pounds (18 to 54 kg); Note: sweet cherry trees produce a bit more fruit than tart/sour trees
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Storing Cherry Trees and Freezing Cherry Trees

If you refrigerate your cherries, they can last up to 10 days after picking. If left in your fruit bowl they will begin to deteriorate after a day.

Pit and drain cherries before freezing. Store them in a sealable plastic bag that holds up to 2 pounds (0.91 kg) of fruit. Add syrup at this stage if you intend using the cherries for pies or other fillings.

Snapshot: Storing Cherry Trees & Freezing Cherry Trees

  • Storage temperature: Refrigerator: 40 F (4.5 C); Freezer: 0 F (-17 C) or below
  • Storage life (refrigerator): up to 10 days
  • Storage life (frozen): 8 months
  • Storage humidity: 90 – 95%
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Growing Cherry Trees: Pests & Diseases

A poor join between rootstock and tree is the most vulnerable part of the cherry tree for diseases, especially in sweet cherries. To avoid this, make sure trees are supported by stakes that are planted at least 18 inches (45 cm) into the ground.
As well as hindering root growth, strong winds against un-staked cherry trees may also result in the rootstock coming loose from the main tree.

In addition, keep the area around the base of the tree free from debris. This will discourage pests and diseases.

Finally, birds love cherries, especially the sweet varieties. If you have a small tree, you can use garden netting thrown over the branches and secured to the trunk to protect your crop.

Larger cherry trees are too big to cover. You can try bird scarers such as hanging reflective strips or old CD’s or aluminum pie trays, although this may not be completely successful, especially if you don’t pick ripe fruit quickly.

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Cherry Trees. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.


  • Aphids
  • Armored scales
  • Borers
  • Boxelder bug
  • Caterpillars
  • Citrus cutworm
  • Earwigs
  • Fall cankerworm
  • Fall webworm
  • Grasshoppers
  • Green fruit beetle
  • Green fruitworms
  • Leafrollers
  • Lygus bugs
  • Nematodes
  • Cherry slug
  • Soft scales
  • Spider mites
  • Spotted wing dropsophila
  • Stink bugs
  • Western flower thrips
  • Wester tussock moth

Common Diseases

  • Bacterial leaf scorch
  • Brown rot
  • Canker and blast
  • Cherry buckskin
  • Cherry leaf spot
  • Crown gall
  • Cytospora canker
  • Oak root fungus
  • Phytophthora root and crown rot
  • Powdery mildew
  • Verticilium wilt
  • Viruses
  • Wood decay
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