ABOUT CHERRIES: Prunus avium & cerasus

ROSACEAE

Relatives: Sweet Cherry, Sour Cherry, Bush Cherry, Cambridge Cherry, Greyleaf Cherry, holly-leaved Cherry, Japanese Bird Cherry, Korean Cherry, Mongolian Cherry, Nanking Cherry, Rum Cherry, Western Sand Cherry

Cherries are divided into two groups: the Sweet Cherry (avium) and the Sour -many would instead say Pie- Cherry (cerasus). Cherries have been around and cultivated for hundreds of years. They probably originated in Asia but pretty much grow wild everywhere now. To that extent, Cherries come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes and tastes.
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DESCRIPTION

Trees vary, usually by group: Sour Cherries tend to be bushier in shape and Sweet Cherries take on a more tree like shape. Cherries are about average in their growth rate, but can sometimes live a hundred years.
Leaves: Deciduous, rather, either blunt shaped or pointed, and tend to be very lightly serrated along the margins.
Flowers: White to pink, rather delicate and small and occasionally a little fragrant. Pollination is by bees and insects, although there are several self-fertile Sour Cherries.
Fruit: A rather firm (will get mushy when over ripe), round shaped fruit in colors from almost black, red and on into some funky yellows. Very juicy flesh that has one pit; can be eaten fresh from the tree or stored.

CULTIVATION

Cherries are very easy to grow and are especially well suited for the beginning small fruit gardener. They are most forgiving of soil types but not so tolerant of maritime conditions.
Location: Simply put, they grow best in full sun; they are moderately wind tolerant; some shelter from continual, strong winds will help and avoid planting out in low lying 'frost pockets' to minimize dangers to spring blossoms.
Temperature: Cherry fruits grow best in warm areas but can actually survive freezing temperatures. See Location above..
Chilling: Chilling refers to the number of hours, 45 degrees F and under, during the dormancy period. All fruit and nut trees need a specific amount of chilling hours before they will produce fruit. The amount varies with each variety and the hours need not be continuous. For example as listed: (500 hours).
Soil/water/nutrients: Cherries grow best in deep, well drained, loamy soils, although they are remarkably tolerant of even sandy and clay soils. Cherry trees are only moderately nutrient hungry, but Cherries will benefit from an annual addition of nutrients in the spring season. Any balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 would probably be fine. A good, well rotted and 'not hot' manure is probably the best thing I know of to incorporate into the soils around your Cherry trees. Finding such an old sawmill site is the problem.
Pruning: Trees need to be pruned in early autumn and set to allow light and air to penetrate into the crown, which gives good leaf and fruit production, as well as reduces the risk of fungal diseases. Cherry trees will benefit from an annual pruning that tends to make the lateral branches into fruit bearing branches; in other words, it seems that the more horizontal your branches become, the more fruit is borne. Prune out all crossing branches and remove any suckers that sprout (Sour Cherries readily sucker and can become a tangled mess if left unchecked). Remember that Cherries can effectively produce fruit on the same lateral spurs for two to three years.
Pests and diseases: Cherries are not the most problematic small fruit, but having said that, they do bring a laundry list to the table. Bacterial canker is the one I see most in Cherries (lesions develop on the tree bark and a runny, dark colored sap leaks out and down the tree. It is kind of yucky looking and is really not good for the tree). I have a long standing bet with friends to show me a mature, wild Cherry tree that does not have canker on it. Keep an eye out for the birds and the neighbors once fruit production kicks in. Don't be surprised if you have shoo birds away with one hand while you pick your Cherries with the other one. To keep away the birds, you might need to include netting, and be sure to the bottom on the ground or the little buggers will just go under the net.

CULTIVARS

There are many Sweet and Sour Cherries available today, and they offer you a nice selection, with the Bing Sweet Cherry being one of the most recognizable small fruits in the entire world. Just remember: none of the Sweet Cherries are self-fertile, so you will need a pollinator. Sour Cherries, on the other hand, tend to be self-fertile. Rabbit Ridge Nursery currently offers the following cultivars, which will do quite nicely in our area:

QUICK FACTS

AVERAGE YEARS TO BEARING: 5 to 6 years

AVERAGE YIELD PER TREE: 50 - 100 + pounds on mature tree

SPACE NEEDED PER TREE: 20 foot circle

POLLINATION REQUIREMENTS: Cross with another cherry

COMMON INSECT PESTS: Curculio, cherry fruit fly

COMMON DISEASES: Brown rot, leaf spot, bacterial canker

USEFUL LIFE: 20 + years

NUMBER OF TREES FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR: 2 trees

BEARS FRUIT ON: Spurs that are 2 to 5 years old

A FINAL WORD ON CHEERY FRUITS AND CHERRY TREES

@@ means needs a pollinizer
%% means cherry tree is grafted onto a Mazzard Rootstock
$$ means cherry tree is grafted onto a Mahaleb Rootstock
Pie means cherry fruit is better suited for cooking
Sweet means cherry fruit is better suited for eating

(Click on Cherry Variety to link to that Cherry)