by Matt Gibson
So you want to grow a cherry tree from a pit? Mankind has been consuming cherries since the dawn of civilization, literally. Fossilized cherry pits have been found in prehistoric caves by archeologists in Asia and Europe, dating back to the earliest civilizations. The earliest written mention of the sweet, red fruit was by the greek author Theophrastus, who documented them in his book, “A History of Plants,” in 300 BCE. The cherries we know and love today were brought to the Americas in 1600 by the Europeans.
There are over 1000 different known varieties of cherries. Though only about 20 different varieties are used in commercial production, cherries are available in over 500 different sweet varieties and nearly 500 tart varieties around the world. In the US, three states produce over 94% of the nation’s sweet cherries, Washington, Oregon, and California. Michigan produces over half of the nation’s tart cherries, which are primarily used for cooking, as opposed to eating raw.
An average cherry tree can produce 7,000 cherries per year. Modern cherry farmers use a mechanical shaker that grabs the tree and shakes it hard enough to loosen the fruit, which falls on a massive tarp, and is then funnelled into a conveyer belt. Though you are probably a long way away from a mechanical shaker and a conveyer belt, a couple of cherry trees on your property is one step closer to growing your own orchard.
Varieties of Cherry Trees
There are two main kinds of cherry trees that are grown for their fruit. The sweet cherry tree and the tart cherry tree, specifically. The sweet cherries are usually grown for eating ripe and the tart cherries are more commonly used for cooking. Both cherry types ripen early and are ready for harvesting in the late spring. Most sweet cherry varieties need a pollenizer, while most tart cherries self-fruit. Here are a few of our favorites of both kinds:
Black Tartarian – An early season favorite, the Black Tartarian boasts massive, black-purple fruit that is sweet, juicy, and tender. The Black Tartarian cherry tree is also a prolific fruit producer.
Bing – Bing cherries are one of the most commonly grown cherries and one of the most popular types available commercially. The fruit is large and dark and ripens mid-season.
Chelan – Resistant to cracking, chelan cherries grow upright and swiftly, maturing two weeks prior to Bing cherries.
Rainier – Rainier cherries ripen in mid-season. They are yellow in color, with a red blush. They are somewhat popular commercially.
Coral – Coral cherries have an excellent flavor. They have large, firm fruit, that is resistant to cracking.
Benton – Said to have surpassed the Bing cherry, the Benton is a self-fertile tree, whose fruit ripens mid-season.
Stella – Our late season favorite, Stella is a sweet cherry with a large blood-red fruit. The Stella cherry tree is sensitive to cold weather, but highly productive late in the season.
Early Richmond – The Early Richmond is a lovely sour cherry that is ready for harvest early in the season.
English Morello – Loved by piemakers and juice drinkers around the world, the English Morello cherry is a sour cherry worthy of a sweet spot.
Montmorency – Montmorency is the most popular and most widely grown sour cherry. It makes up 96% of the total production of sour cherries in the world. Available for harvest in the middle of the season.
Meteor – Late in the season, the meteor cherry is ready for harvest. A dark, tart cherry with a very distintive flavor.
How To Plant A Cherry Tree – Part One – Preparation
First, you will want to acquire some cherries. You don’t want to get them at the grocery store, as they are stored in refrigerated rooms that make the seeds a nightmare to germinate. Instead, you will want to source the cherries from a farmers market, or from a cherry orchard in your area. Eat them and put the pits into a bowl of warm water for around five minutes, gently scrubbing them clean of any clinging bits of fruit. Put the clean pits on a dry paper towel in a sunny windowsill and let dry for three to five days.
Next, place the pits into a tubberware and put the lid on securely. Label it so you don’t forget what it is, and put it in the fridge for 10 weeks. This process should be started around January to prepare the seeds for the springtime germination.This cold stratification period prepares the pits by mimicking what the plant will endure naturally during the winter months to prepare them for germination in the spring. After 10 weeks in the cold, your cherry pits are ready to become cherry trees.
How To Plant A Cherry Tree – Part Two – Germination
Once ten weeks have passed, remove the pits from the cold and allow them to come to room temperature and thaw out from their artificial winter. Once they are at room temperature, they are ready to plant. Use small containers filled with potting soil and place two or three cherry pits inside of each container. Water the seeds into place and keep the soil moist.
How To Plant A Cherry Tree – Part Three – Transplanting
Once the seedlings have grown to two inches tall, select the strongest seedling, and remove the others from the container. Keep the single seedling containers in a sunny spot indoors until all danger of frost has passed, then transplant them outdoors. Once the seedlings have reached a height of around eight to eleven inches, they are ready to be transplanted outside. Plant each cherry tree at least 20 feet apart from the next one.
Growing Conditions For Cherry Trees
Depending on the type, cherries are hardy to USDA zones 5-9. Cherry trees enjoy full sunlight and though they are not partial to any particular soil type, they do like a pH range of slightly acidic to neutral, and require deep, well-draining soil. When growing sweet cherries, you will want to grow different varieties that will pollinate each other naturally.
Care For Cherry Trees
There is no difference in care between sweet and sour cherry trees, though there are sometimes differences between the care of individual varieties. For the most part, however, cherry tree care is pretty universal. Apply mulch to retain moisture from waterings and rainfall.
Fertilize your cherry trees each spring until the tree starts to bear fruit. Afterwards, fertilize only after harvesting each season. Water your cherry trees often, especially in dry areas, and during droughts or dry spells. Drape netting over the trees to protect the fruit from birds and other scavengers. You do not have to thin back your cherry trees as the thinning process occurs naturally in the early summer months.
Prune your cherry trees every year in the late winter to encourage new growth. Do not prune during the fall. Harvest fruits only when they are fully ripe. Do not pluck cherries off by hand. Clip the stems off with scissors.
Health Benefits Of Cherries
Cherries are full of antioxidants. These cellular warriors help your body slow down aging and fight against chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and obesity.
Consuming cherries can help lower the risk of gout attacks, provide arthritis relief, and protect against diabetes. Eating cherries promotes healthy sleep, helps to curb high cholesterol, and can help reduce post-exercise pain.
Cherry Tree Pests And Diseases
Cherry trees are relatively disease free but are known to have issues with pests, as well as scavengers. You will want to prepare yourself to defend your harvests when necessary. You may run into issues with aphids, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, and the most notorious of scavengers, birds.
There are a few diseases that have been known to affect cherry trees. These include brown rot, black knot, and bacterial canker. Any branches that show signs of black knot or bacterial canker should be cut off and discarded immediately.
Videos About Growing Cherry Trees
This complete growing guide from MIgardener shows you how to grow a cherry tree from seed, giving you tons of valuable information along the way. The discussion ranges from pH levels, watering, fertilizing, sunlight, general care tips, and more:
Want to learn how to grow specific varieties of cherry tree? This video focuses on the Nanking Cherry Bush and the North Western Cherry specifically:
This video talk will teach you all you need to know about growing and harvesting cherries, from expert gardener Bill Merrill: