Cherry tree care
SOIL PREPARATION & PLANTING
Choose a location in well drained soil that receives full sun. Space trees relative to eventual mature size. Dig the planting hole as deep as the existing roots, and at least twice as wide. Loosen the soil on the sides of the hole with a shovel or spade fork, especially if your soil is heavy clay. Prune out damaged or rotted roots. Form a cone of loose soil in the center of the hole and spread the roots over it. Position the plant’s height so that the crown (where the roots meet the trunk) is at or slightly below the finished soil surface, and rotate the plant to where you feel it looks best. Be sure the graft union is at least 1 inch above the soil surface. Fill the planting hole and cover the roots with native soil (dug from the hole) that has been amended with about 25% E.B. Stone® Planting Compost or Gardener & Bloome® Soil Building Conditioner.
WATERING & FERTILIZATION
Water the plants thoroughly at planting (even if it’s raining out!), and continue to water thoroughly for the next few years. You will know when it’s time to water again once the soil surface dries out slightly. As the seasons progress, you can let the soil dry out a little more between each watering.
Fertilize in April every year, using an All-Purpose fertilizer or a Fruit Tree fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the package for quantities recommended relative to the tree’s size.
THE GOAL OF PRUNING
Create and maintain a training method that increases fruit production and avoids future branch breakages
Control the tree’s size (if desired)
Enhance fruit quality through opening up the canopy
TIME OF PRUNING
Cherries are best pruned in spring and late summer. Pruning should take place after the tree has started growing in the spring. Dormant pruning gives some diseases opportunities to infect the tree.
Cherry trees are typically best trained and maintained using the open-center method. The idea is to create a tree that does not have a central leader (a single dominant trunk from the roots to the uppermost top) and instead has only 3-5 well spaced main branches. These main branches are called scaffold branches.
Start training the first year by pruning off everything but 3 or 4 strong and widely separated shoots to serve as main scaffold branches. If some of the branches chosen to be scaffold branches are very long, you can cut off the end of the branches to encourage more branching. The second year, continue your selection of scaffold branches by choosing a few more from the new shoots. Remove all the other young shoots. You may wish to reassess and remove branches previously planned to serve as scaffolds, leaving new shoots to serve in their place. Remember, you are training the tree for an ultimate goal of 3–5 well spaced and open scaffold branches. The third year, continue with the scaffold selection if you are not yet satisfied, and continue to prune out unwanted branches.
During the training process, you may wish to employ extra methods to space the scaffold branches other than selecting naturally grown
branches. Pieces of wood can be placed between branches to improve spacing (figure 1). Spacing with objects should be done for as short a time period as possible and should be done carefully so as not to damage bark.
Older sweet cherry trees require little maintenance pruning. Annually thin twiggy branches to allow light and air to penetrate further into the canopy. Also remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. You may remove the ends of scaffold branches annually to keep the tree at a desired height. Keep in mind that sweet cherries fruit at the base of last year’s new growth and all along older branches. Sour cherries fruit only on tissue that grew the previous year, so pruning of older sour cherries involves removing approximately a quarter of the branches that fruited the previous year. That way new shoots are stimulated to grow and have some room to do so.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
The best defense against pests and diseases is to provide the plants with the right location, adequate drainage, and deep watering. Cherries are susceptible to certain diseases and pests, and monitoring for problems is a good idea.
Good garden hygiene is also important. Use sharp, clean pruners to prevent damage and the spread of disease from other plants. Cleaning up dead leaves beneath the plants in the fall is also a good practice. This will help remove any diseases or pests which are attempting to overwinter there.