Not all cherry trees produce fruit. Some types, called ornamental cherry trees, are specifically bred just for their spectacular spring floral display. Fruiting cherry trees pack a two-for-one punch -- they are also covered in showy spring blossoms, and their fertilized flowers produce fruit. As a member of the Rose plant family (Rosaceae), cherry trees are botanically related to plums, peaches, apricots and nectarines. These plants are called “stone fruits” because of their large seeds, also called “pits.” Fruiting cherry trees vary in height; dwarf types are only 8-10 feet tall at maturity, which makes these cultivars good choices for smaller yards. Other types reach up to 30 feet, which is still relatively small compared to stately oaks and other large trees. Fruiting cherry trees are deciduous, which means they shed their leaves in autumn. Their white or pink flowers appear on bare limbs before the leaves open, and the colorful fruit ripens in summer -- red, purplish-black or yellow with a red blush, depending on cultivar. As a rule, fruiting cherry trees need to “borrow pollen” from a nearby cherry tree, called a pollenizer, so the flowers can be fertilized and produce fruit. Although some fruiting cherry trees can produce cherries without a second tree for cross-pollination, harvests are typically larger when two or more trees are planted. Most fruiting cherry trees are perennials in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-8, but some cultivars are bred for colder climates in zone 4.
You can’t get healthier fruit than growing it in your own yard! Packed with vitamins, such as C and A, and minerals, such as iron, potassium and magnesium, cherries are also fiber- and antioxidant-rich. For the maximum health benefit, eat cherries right off the trees or store them in the refrigerator for several days. Toss cherries in salads, make preserves or bake them in pies and cobblers.
Other than planting fruiting cherry trees for their harvest of fresh cherries, the trees also have these ornamental uses:
• Spring Flowers. If the only spring flowers in your yard are from bulbs, such as daffodils, or shrubs, such as azaleas, you’ll love seeing the dazzling display when your cherry trees burst into bloom.
• Shade. After the flowers fade, the leaves appear and fruiting cherry trees add shade to your yard. The trees are often as wide as they are tall to provide a lush canopy of leaves overhead.
• Summer Privacy Screen. A row of cherry trees provides a green screen to block unsightly views in summer.
• Select a site for planting your fruiting cherry tree that receives full sun (at least 6 hours per day).
• Fruiting cherry trees respond to rich soil, but they may struggle in heavy clay.
• Loosen the soil and add organic amendments, such as compost or well-aged animal manure, so the site is well-draining. This is a must for fruiting cherry trees.
• If you plant more than one cherry tree, space them so they are at least 10 feet apart (for dwarf cultivars), and 20 feet apart (for taller varieties).
• Check the soil pH to make sure it’s 6.0-7.0. If the pH falls outside this optimal range, contact your nearest Cooperative Extension Office for advice on adjusting the pH and for recommending fertilizer types, rates and frequency of applications.
• Dig a planting hole that is only as deep as the root ball and two to three times as wide as the longest lateral root.
• Place the fruiting cherry tree only as deep in the planting hole as it was in the container. If your tree arrives bare-root, plant it just so the top roots are covered with soil.
• Water deeply; let the soil settle around the roots; and water deeply again.
• Water. When natural rainfall brings at least 1 inch of water each week, you won’t have to water your fruiting cherry tree. But if rainfall isn’t sufficient, water deeply and thoroughly every 7-10 days.
• Note: cherries may crack if you give fruiting cherry trees too much water near harvest time.
• Pruning. Our horticulturists have carefully pruned our fruiting cherry trees, so you won’t have to prune it during its first year after planting. Thereafter, remove any dead or injured limbs or limbs that cross each other. Wait until the dormant season (late winter) before pruning to shape your tree for the next season’s growth.
• Spraying. Cherry trees may need spraying for pests to ensure a healthy harvest. Typically, you’ll spray dormant oil during the winter and a fungicide when the buds form and/or during full bloom and active growth. Your local Extension Office can advise on a spray regimen for your area.
• Harvesting. Mid-summer is harvest time for cherries.
• Tip: If your backyard birds begin feasting on the fruit, you may need to cover your trees with bird netting. Depending on whether a tree is a dwarf cultivar or a standard-sized specimen, the average yields for a mature tree are between 8 to 20 gallons per tree.