How To Grow A Cherry Tree: The Complete Guide

How To Grow A Cherry Tree: The Complete Guide

How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Cherries

Cherries are a fun and delicious fruit that can be grown right in your own backyard! Cherries are easy to grow in the midwest, specifically in Northern Michigan where the soil is sandy and the winter months allow for adequate ‘chill time’.

Cherry trees are also a beautiful addition to many landscapes. Cherry blossoms will appear on trees before the cherry fruits are produced. These blossoms are stunning to look at and attract many pollinators!

(Featured Image: Harvested Cherries by Beck)

Which Is Best: Sweet Cherries vs Sour Cherries

Sweet Cherries

Sweet cherries are typically the variety you’ll find in the produce section at a grocery store. These cherries have a sweet flavor when eaten raw, and offer much of the same type of flavor you would expect from other berries. This edible fruit is defined by a sweet flesh that surrounds the cherry pits, which are also the seed of the plant.

Sour Cherries

Sour cherries, sometimes referred to as tart cherries, are ideal for cooking and canning. It is less common for sour cherries to be eaten whole as sweet cherries often are. This type of cherry can offset sweeter flavors and are often used as pie cherries.

The Best Varieties For Michigan Growers

Michigan is well-known for its cherry production. If you are a Michigan grower interested in growing cherries in your own backyard, you’ll want to make sure you’re selecting a variety that is suited for your region. Check out our full guide on which varieties are best for Michigan growers here!

Getting Started: Everything You’ll Need To Plant A Cherry Tree

You’ll need a few things on hand when you plant your cherry tree:

  • Shovel – I recommend getting a short handled shovel when planting fruit trees. The shortened handle enables you to maneuver around the base of the tree without damaging any of the delicate lower limbs! This is the exact model I use: Ashman Short Handled Digging Shovel
  • Organic Compost – I make my own compost at home, but any high-quality organic compost will work just fine. For a more concentrated compost, I recommend trying worm castings which will go a lot longer than traditional compost. Worm Nerd is a great brand for worm castings!
  • Potting Soil or Cocoa Coir – If you have heavier soils with clay or rock, make sure you are adding at least one bag of potting soil (with perlite) or coco coir. These materials are well-draining and help to lighten heavy soils.
  • **MUST HAVE!** High Quality Fertilizer – Even if you don’t typically garden with fertilizers, I highly (highly!) recommend using a good fertilizer on your fruit trees. Fertilizers make all the difference when it comes to healthy, abundant fruit production. My go-t0 brand is Espoma Organics Tree-Tone which is a blend made specifically for fruit trees!

The Cherry Tree Planting Guide

When To Plant Cherry Trees

Cherry trees need plenty of time to get established before their first winter. Plant cherry trees in the spring as soon as the risk of frost has passed. In Michigan, this is typically around Memorial Day weekend. Pay attention to your local climate to determine the best time to plant.

As the weather warms up in the summer months, your cherry tree should grow considerably. During July and August, you may notice new growth on the branches and the roots will begin to spread underground. By early fall, the tree will start to enter dormancy and you will not see any more new growth.

Where To Plant Cherry Trees

Cherry trees like to be planted on higher ground where the risk of flooding is low. Look for a spot that is away from other large trees and structures, as some cherry trees can grow up to 30 feet tall!

While a cherry tree’s roots do not grow very deep into the ground, they can spread out as wide as the tree’s canopy above soil. For this reason, it is important to plant cherry trees away from sidewalks and decks to avoid any disruption as the tree grows.

Best Soil For Cherry Trees

Cherries will grow best in fertile soil that is not heavy with clay or rocks. A lightweight, well-draining soil is recommended for growing cherry trees. Depending on the conditions in your region, you may need to amend the soil for best results. Keep in mind the tree’s roots will grow well beyond the planting hole, so it is important to amend a large area of soil.

Sunlight Requirements

Cherries like at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, so be sure to plant them in a sunny spot. Take notice of some of the plants surrounding the cherry tree as well. Make sure the cherry tree is not planted next to something that can grow taller and block out sunlight in the future.

Water Requirements

Cherry trees will require a lot of water when they are first getting established. Daily watering is recommended on days that it does not rain. During the heat of mid-summer, a bucket of water per day is needed to keep the plant hydrated.

Beautiful cherry blossoms grace a cherry tree planted and growing in Traverse City, Michigan.

Cherry Blossom by V. Shioshivili

How To Plant A Cherry Tree

Planting a cherry tree requires some preparation and care to ensure its healthy growth. Here are the steps you can follow to plant a cherry tree:

1. Choose a suitable location

The first step is choosing a good location. Cherry trees require full sunlight and well-drained soil. Make sure the spot you choose receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day and has soil that drains well.

2. Prepare the soil

Before planting the cherry tree, dig a hole that is twice the width of the root ball and slightly shallower than the depth of the root ball. Add organic matter to the bottom of the hole such as compost, aged manure or peat moss, and mix well.

3. Plant The Cherry Tree

Remove the cherry tree from its container, or if it’s a bare-root tree, gently loosen the roots. Place the tree in the center of the hole and backfill with soil, pressing it down gently to remove air pockets. Make sure the tree is planted at the same depth it was in the container or nursery bed.

4. Water The Cherry Tree

Water the tree immediately after planting, and keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Cherry trees require regular watering, especially during dry spells.

5. Mulch The Tree

Spread a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk to prevent rot.

6. Prune The Tree

After planting, prune the cherry tree to remove any damaged or crossing branches. Pruning will encourage the growth of strong branches and help shape the tree.

7. Maintain The Growing Tree

Continue to water and fertilize the cherry tree regularly, following the instructions on the fertilizer package. Be sure to fertilize in late July and again in the fall. Watch for signs of common pests or diseases and take appropriate action if necessary.

Tart cherries hanging from a tree in Traverse City, Michigan.

Cherries by D.H. Wright

Cherry Tree Care

Caring for a cherry tree involves regular maintenance and the right conditions to ensure its health and productivity. Here are some tips on how to care for a cherry tree:

  1. Watering: Cherry trees need consistent watering, especially during dry spells. Water the tree deeply once a week, making sure the soil is moist but not waterlogged. Be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot.
  2. Fertilizing: Cherry trees benefit from regular fertilization, especially during the growing season. Apply a balanced fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. We recommend using a granular or spike fertilizer as it allows for controlled release into the soil.
  3. Pruning: Pruning is essential for the health and productivity of a cherry tree. Prune the tree in late winter or early spring to remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches, as well as any branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. This will help improve air circulation and sunlight penetration, reducing the risk of pests and diseases.
  4. Pest and disease control: Cherry trees can be susceptible to various pests and diseases, such as aphids, mites, brown rot, and bacterial canker. Keep an eye out for any signs of damage or infestation and take appropriate action, such as spraying with a natural insecticide or fungicide, and taking other steps for natural pest control. Proper pruning and sanitation practices can also help prevent the spread of disease. Natural predators include deer and other smaller mammals that may enjoy snacking on cherries if they can access them.

When and How To Harvest Cherries

Harvesting cherries at the right time is important to ensure their sweetness and flavor. Here are some steps you can follow to harvest cherries:

  1. Check for ripeness: Cherries are ready to harvest when they are firm, shiny, and fully colored. The color of the cherries will depend on the variety, but they should be a deep red or dark purple. You can also gently squeeze the cherries to check for firmness. If they are too soft, they may be overripe.
  2. Prepare for harvesting: Wear gloves and bring a bucket or basket to collect the cherries. Make sure the container is clean and dry.
  3. Harvest the cherries: Pick the cherries by hand, being careful not to damage the tree or the fruit. Hold the cherry stem with one hand and gently twist and pull the cherry with the other hand. If the cherries are high up on the tree, use a ladder to reach them.
  4. Store the cherries: After harvesting, sort the cherries and remove any damaged or overripe fruit. Store the cherries in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place for up to one week. If you have a lot of cherries, you can also freeze them for later use.
  5. Clean up: Dispose of any fallen or damaged cherries to prevent pests and diseases from spreading. Clean up any fallen leaves or debris around the tree to maintain good hygiene.

By following these steps, you can harvest your cherries at the right time and enjoy their delicious flavor!

Best Cherry Varieties In Michigan

Sweet Cherry Varieties

There are many sweet varieties of cherries, but these are some of the most common varieties for Michigan growers:

  • Bing: Bing cherries are one of the most popular sweet cherry varieties. They have a dark red, almost black, skin and a firm, juicy texture. They are sweet and slightly tart, with a deep, rich flavor. This is the best option for high yield fruit production in Michigan.
  • Rainier: Rainier cherries are a premium variety known for their sweet, delicate flavor and beautiful golden-yellow skin with a red blush. They are a bit softer than other sweet cherries, with a creamy texture and low acidity.
  • Sweetheart: Sweetheart cherries are a large, heart-shaped variety with a deep red skin and firm, juicy flesh. They are sweet and slightly tangy, with a rich, complex flavor.
  • Lapins: Lapins cherries are a dark red, almost black, variety with a juicy texture and a sweet, rich flavor. They are a late-season cherry, ripening in late June to early July.
  • Skeena: Skeena cherries are a newer variety with a deep, dark red skin and a firm, crunchy texture. They are very sweet with a hint of tartness, and have a delicious, fruity flavor.

These varieties are all great choices for those who enjoy sweet cherries, but there are many other delicious varieties to choose from as well.

Tart Cherry Varieties

Tart cherries, also known as sour cherries, are often used in baking and cooking due to their tangy flavor. Here are some of the best tart cherry varieties grown in Michigan:

  1. Montmorency: Montmorency cherries are the most popular tart cherry variety, with a bright red skin and a tangy, slightly acidic flavor. They are a versatile cherry and can be used in a variety of dishes, from pies to savory sauces.
  2. Balaton: Balaton cherries are a Hungarian variety with a deep, dark red skin and a rich, tart flavor. They are larger and sweeter than other tart cherries, but still have a tangy kick that makes them perfect for pies and other baked goods.
  3. Morello: Morello cherries are a dark red, almost black, variety with a very tart flavor. They are often used in preserves, jams, and other sweet and sour dishes.
  4. English Morello: English Morello cherries are a similar variety to Morello cherries, but with a slightly milder flavor. They are also a bit smaller and darker than other tart cherries.
  5. Meteor: Meteor cherries are a newer variety of cherry tree that have a bright red skin and a tart, juicy flavor. They are a bit sweeter than other tart cherries, but still have a tangy kick that makes them perfect for baking.

These tart cherry varieties are all great choices for those who enjoy the tangy flavor of tart cherries.

Grow Your Own Fruit Trees!

If you live in Northern Michigan, stop by our brick and mortar nursery to check out our selection of fruit trees and shrubs! Located just west of Traverse City, we offer a large selection of annual and perennial plants as well as everything you need for your gardening tasks!

If you’re not local, check out our other articles on growing your own fruit trees:

A pile of freshly harvested bing cherries from a cherry tree grown in Michigan.

Pile of Fresh Bing Cherries by Wikimedia Commons