Cherries are surely the most delicious of all our top fruits, and, with the fruits commanding consistently high shop prices, there is a strong economic reason for growing your own if you adore cherries. There are one or two considerations to bear in mind before selecting and planting your tree[s] but provided these are taken into account then it is perfectly possible to grow your own bountiful crops of cherries.
Cherries do well on most reasonably drained, well cultivated soils, providing it isn't too shallow. But they do favour a warm aspect to crop well. Often they are grown against a sunny wall in less favoured areas. This is the first important point; the second is that of birds. You may never see your cherries ripen unless you do something to deter these feathered fiends that will polish off your crop in the early morning as soon as they start to turn colour! Either grow your cherry tree in a fruit cage, or make sure you choose a small rootstock and net the whole tree. Vigorous old orchard trees are a fine site when bedecked in flower but are impossible to protect as they are too large. The best you could do under those circumstances is to sleeve individual branches.
Rootstocks for cherries
Has until now been the most favoured stock. It is more compact than older rootstocks that were used in the past, but still fairly vigorous. It makes the best fan for a wall wherte a space of 6-8' in height and width can be found. And it makes a good bush tree with pruning where it can be kept to 8-10' with pruning but will grow much more without. Crops can be very heavy and this is still a much-used stock.
Is new and it is dwarf. It has finally brought the cultivation of cherries well within the scope of all. It makes a very handily sized 6' tree that is ideal for containers, column growing or as a bush tree in the open. It has drawbacks; it likes a really good soil to make a decent tree. Don't bother growing Gisele if you have poor or stony, light soil. It can also present rather a week or spindly tree in the first year or two. But don't be put off; Gisele is by far the best choice for average to small gardens and patio's, and once it gets into it's stride it yields very well especially in proportion to the tree size, and it encourages crops of good quality too.
Is slightly more vigorous than the above and sometimes offered.
Is highly vigorous and really only suited to larger grassy areas and difficult sites.
Fan training cherries
Consists of planting a [prferably feathered] maiden tree. Reduce the current growth by a third. Select two horizontal laterals that are more or less opposite. Train these out and wait for further upright growth from these two laterals. This will provide the framework for your 'fan'. The leader will re-grow and will need re-pruning annually for a few more years. If you have too much growth then don't be afraid to prune out unwanted, crowded or weakly shoots. Sweet cherries will favour a south or west facing aspect. The Acid Cherry [Morello] can be planted in a shady or north facing wall.
Pollination of cherries
Quite simply it is the self fertile varieties that tend to be the better, more reliable varieties. These are to be recommended most highly for general garden situations. There are some lovely old varieties of bygone years, nearly all of which are self-sterile and which make far less satisfactory croppers. They have some fine qualities but should be left more to the enthusiast. These are the best self fertile Cherry varieties for planting:
Summer Sun [black
Stella [dark red]
Petite Noir [black, naturally dwafing]
There are no self fertile pale pink-yellow cherries; of these Merton Glory is the best and is pollinated by any of the above.
PLANTING AND STAKING. As you would for apples and pears.
PRUNING. All pruning should be done in the Spring or early Summer, to avoid infection of silver leaf disease. Plums and cherries can both be grown in a natural shape with very little pruning. Leave the tree almost entirely un-pruned until it settles down to fruiting, just remove the odd branches that re overcrowding the tree, if any. If you require more laterals that are produced naturally, simply shorten some of the side shoots, In later years just prune to keep the tree tidy, preferably in Summer (July).
THE DWARF PYRAMID. This is by far the best trained form for plums and cherries if you require your tree to remain an easily manageable size. Plums can even be grown in a fruit cage using this method and all trees are easily netted from birds, which is very important with cherries. After planting the tree it can be left until the Spring and as growth starts the main stem should be cut back to 4 feet from ground level. This may have been done at the nursery before despatch. During the Summer, usually in late July, all of the new side branches should be shortened to about 8 inches, pruning to a downward pointing bud, the leader (main stem) should be left un-pruned. If the side shoots appear too close together, remove some completely to leave a well shaped tree. All shoots below 18 inches from the ground should be completely cut off.
FOLLOWING SPRING & FUTURE SEASONS. As growth starts in the Spring, the leader should be cut back by about half to two thirds of the new growth, pruning to a bud the opposite side to the previous year’s pruning. In future years when the tree has reached the required height of 8-9 ft the leader should be cut back in May to control at this height. In Summer each year all of the current season’s growth of each branch should be shortened to about 8 leaves, all laterals growing from these branches should be pruned to 6 leaves, any vigorous shoots near the top of the tree should be cut out.
Your tree is now maintained in an easy to manage heavy cropping form. Rootstocks At Julian A and pixy for plums are both ideal for this culture as is Colt for cherries.
THE FAN TRAINED TREE. It is normally best to train your own fan trained tree if you require this form to grow against a wall or fence. By training your own tree, the end result is a tree to meet exactly your conditions and requirements.
Plant a maiden tree and the first Winter prune to 12 to 28 inches above the ground. This should be done as growth starts in the Spring, or sometimes in late Winter. In the first Summer choose five good shoots and tie them to the wall or wires, spreading them out so that the top one is vertical and the lowest two horizontal, with the remaining two evenly spaced between them to form the basic fan.
THE FOLLOWING SPRING. Prune all five shoots hard by cutting back half to three quarters of the growth.
THE SECOND SUMMER. You should now select on average 9 to 10 shoots and tie them equally spaced as before. All weak shoots that are not needed for branches should be pruned to 5 or 6 leaves.
THE THIRD SPRING. The branches should be all pruned by removing a quarter to a third of the past season’s growth.
GENERAL SUMMER PRUNING. In July as the new shoots are made, the growing point should be pinched out after 6 or 7 leaves. Any that are required for further training should be left. After cropping, between mid August and mid September, the shoots that you have pinched out should be pruned back further to leave 3 leaves to encourage the growth of fruit buds at the base for the following year. When your fan has covered your wall to your satisfaction, the growth that reaches the top wall should be cut back to a weaker lateral just below, in July.
FEEDING, ALL TREES. A balanced fertilizer such as Growmore should be applied at 4oz per square yard in February. Nitrogen can be applied at 1oz per square yard in late March if required. Mulch as for apples and pears.
WATERING. Water regularly during dry weather, avoiding irregular heavy watering when the fruit is ripening as this can cause splitting of the fruit, 4.5 gallons per square yard every ten days is normally sufficient until rain corrects a drought period.
THINNING. If the trees are carrying a very excessive crop, thin after the stones have formed. Those left on the tree should be two or three inches apart. It is NOT necessary to thin cherries.
PLUMS. Plums do not ripen at the same time so it is necessary to pick 2 or 3 times.
CHERRIES. Leave on the trees until they are ripe unless they start to crack, pick with stalk attached using scissors if necessary. If the stalk is left on the tree this may encourage brown rot.
PRUNING ACID (COOKING) CHERRIES
General culture is the same as for Sweet Cherries but pruning is different. When then tree has reached fruiting size, pruning is based on the fact that with acid cherries the fruit is produced almost entirely on the growth made in the previous Summer. The aim is to produce enough new shoots to carry the next season’s crop. In early Summer cut out a proportion of the older shoots to 1 year old wood so that the old wood is continually replaced.