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Cherries

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Cherries - growing

1.57

Cherries are delicious fruit to grow. Make sure you protect them from birds.

Cherry trees - choosing the right one for you

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Choose the right cherry tree for your garden with the help of the RHS experts.

Cherry pruning

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Pruning needs to encourage younger replacement branches to form.

Introduction

Sweet cherries produce delicious fruit and are usually grown as small open trees, or trained as fans against walls or fences. They can also be grown in large containers - self-fertile cultivars will fruit without a pollination partner. Acid cherries are self fertile, tolerate some shade and are ideal for a north-facing wall. Their fruits are excellent for cooking and make delicious jam.

Plant

Cherries prefer deep, fertile and well-drained soil with pH 6.5-6.7. They dislike shallow, sandy or badly drained soils.

Acid cherries tolerate some shade and are suitable as fan-trained trees against north-facing walls or fences, or as open centred bush trees.

Cherries grow particularly well in southern and central England.

Sweet cherries are grafted onto rootstocks, usually semi-vigorous ‘Colt,’ restricting growth to about 6-8m (20-26ft) making large trees and are best grown as fans – ideally against sunny walls in gardens.

Alternatively use or semi-dwarfing ‘Gisela 5’ and ‘Tabel’, reaching 3-4m (10-13ft) – the latter are ideal as dwarf bush trees or for containers.

Acid cherries are less vigorous, growing to a height and spread of 3-3.5m (10-12ft) on ‘Colt’ rootstocks.

Some sweet cherries need pollination partners, others are self fertile, producing fruit on a single tree. Acid cherries are self-fertile. Cherries flower early in the year, if frost is forecast, protect the blossom with horticultural fleece, removing it during the day to allow access to pollinating insects.

Plant cherries from November to March. Read more on planting trees in our advice profile.

Grow

Mulch cherries with well-rotted organic matter, in late February. Feed with general fertiliser like Growmore at 100g per sq m (4oz per sq yd) from February to March. If fruiting is poor, apply sulphate of potash at 15g per sq m (½oz per sq yd).

Protect cherry flowers from frost damage: cover with horticultural fleece if frost is predicted. Keep trees well watered during the early stages of fruit development, they also benefit from a top-dressing of a general fertiliser in mid-spring.

Pruning

Sweet cherries are usually grown as small trees (‘open-centred bush’ or ‘pyramid’), or fans against a wall or fence.

Sweet cherries fruit on one-year-old and older wood; pruning creates a balance between older fruiting wood and younger replacement branches.

Formative pruning takes place in spring as the buds begin to open, established trees are pruned from late July to the end August.

For pruning of mature fan trees and for pruning of bush sweet and acid cherry trees, read more about pruning trees in our advice profile.

Formative pruning of acid cherries

Initial fan training is also as for other fruit trees: read more on fan-training trees in our advice profile.

Acid cherries bear almost all of their fruit on the growth formed the previous season. The aim is to achieve a balance between one-year-old fruiting wood and new replacement branches – this is called replacement pruning.

Pruning of established bush trees of acid cherries

In August, remove about one in four of the older fruited shoots, to a younger side shoot to replace the removed growth.

Shorten over-vigorous upright growth that is crowding the centre, to a suitably placed side shoot.

Pruning of established fans of acid cherries

In late July, thin new shoots formed along the main branches to 5-10cm (2-4in) apart and tie the retained shoots to their supports.

Prune back branches projecting from the wall to two leaves, to keep the tree flat.

In late August tie in the current season’s growth that will flower and fruit next year.

Cut back fruited shoots to a suitable side branch that can replace the removed growth.

Harvest

Pick fruits preferably during dry weather, doing so by the stalks, not the body of the fruit, which bruise easily.

Eat sweet cherries fresh or store them in the fridge in a sealed, plastic bag for a week. Acid cherries are too tart to be eaten raw, but they are excellent cooked and make delicious pies, puddings, liquors and preserves.

Varieties

Sweet cherry

‘Stella’ AGM: Black, large, rich, high-quality fruits. Heavy, regular crops; self-fertile. Prone to splitting in wet weather. Late season; harvest in July.

‘Lapins’: Self-fertile, with black, glossy fruits for picking in late summer.

‘Sunburst’:  Self-fertile cherry with black fruits for picking in midsummer.

Acid cherry

‘Morello’ AGM: Self-fertile with dark red fruits excellent for preserves and tarts. Attractive in blossom, heavy cropping, late season for harvesting in July and early August.

‘Nabella': Self-fertile, for picking in late summer.

Problems

Shedding of flower buds and immature fruit: This can be caused by drought, waterlogging or low temperatures, and bullfinches may damage fruit buds.

Remedy: Water, reduce watering, protect plants with horticultural fleece or netting depending on the problem.

Read more information on fruit drop

Silver leaf: Leaves develop a silvery sheen, cut branches reveal red staining.

Remedy: Prune from the end of June until the end of August or in early spring. Keep pruning cuts to a minimum, pruning regularly so cut surfaces are small.

Read more information on silver leaf

Cherry blackfly: Small insects suck sap at the shoot tips distorting shoots and leaves. This does not affect fruiting and acts as a form of pruning.

Remedy: once the leaves have curled it is too late to spray. Attract natural predators like blue tits; winter wash or use soft soap-based sprays before the leaves curl.

Read more information on cherry blackfly

Buy cherries

Buy cherries from the RHS plant shop.

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See also…

Gardening calendar
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Plant
Harvest

Do Now

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