Sweet cherries are fabulous to eat straight from the tree and their sour counterparts are excellent for cooking and jam. David Hall reviews how to choose, plant and maintain these delicious fruit trees.
Soil and Position
Both types will do well in deep, loamy soil that is well drained, sour varieties can tolerate poorer soils. The pH should be 6.0 – 7.0. Sweet cherries should be planted in a sunny position while sour varieties can do well on north facing walls and in more shady situations. As they flower early, keep trees away from positions that are susceptible to frost and shelter from cold winter winds. A dressing of lime when the tree is planted is recommended.
Form and Height
Cherries can grow into very large trees, perhaps the largest of all fruit trees. This means that they are impractical for the small garden and very difficult to manage. Picking fruit that hasn't been eaten by birds can be problematic.
Grow sweet cherries as staked bush trees only with a dwarfing rootstock such as 'Gisela 5' that will grow to about 10ft in 5 years or preferably as fans on a south facing walls.
Sour cherries can be grown on the 'Colt' rootstock to reach about 12ft tall or trained against a wall.
Pollination can be slightly complicated as some sweet cherries need pollination from other
These are all self-fertile:
Stella (Probably the best to choose - regular cropper, large black fruit)
Lapins (black fruit in late summer)
Sunburst (black fruit in mid-summer)
Morello (Proven to be the best cooking cherry with dark red fruits)
Container grown trees can be planted at any time of the year. Water the tree while it is still in the container. If the soil is easy to work, it is necessary only to dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball. If the soil is poor, dig deeper and wider, and mix in some organic matter or fertiliser with the top soil that has been dug out. Take the tree from the container and tease out the roots quite vigorously if they are pot bound. Returning the top soil, plant the tree at the same level as it was in the container. Firm the soil. Place two short stakes inside the wall of the hole and a cross bar. Tie the trunk of the tree to the cross bar, water thoroughly and mulch.
For bare rooted trees, plant in their dormant period i.e. late autumn and winter. Dig a hole about 3ft in diameter, putting the top soil to one side. If the soil is poor, mix into the top soil some organic matter and fertiliser. Drive a sturdy stake (at least 2ins in diameter) deep into the hole, ensuring the top will be well several inches below the lowest branch. Fill the hole, shaking the tree to work the soil around the roots. Note the previous soil level (visible on the tree stem) and ensure that the tree is planted at the same level. Firm in, mulch and tie to stake.
Cherries will benefit from a well balanced spring feed and organic mulch. Keep well watered especially when the fruit is developing. Keep the surrounding area free from weeds. Use fleece to protect blossom from frost, but allow in pollinating insects during the day. Net the fruits to protect them from birds.