Cherry trees are a wonderful choice for home fruit growers. But can you grow a cherry tree from the pits of cherries? Absolutely! Though many backyard fruit growers purchase young trees at nurseries, learning how to grow cherry trees from seed—or pits—can give you showy, fragrant blossoms in spring and delicious fruits in late spring and early summer. This is a much less expensive option, and it’s even surprisingly easy. Follow these tips for getting some healthy cherry tree seedlings that, with proper planting and maintenance, will one day bear fruit. These freshly-pitted sweet cherries are ready for eating, and once cleaned, the seeds are ready to prepare for planting. TemmaTemmaTemma / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Selecting a Cherry Seed
First, you’ll want to determine what kind of cherry tree you want to plant. Sour cherries or sweet? Red cherries or black cherries? Cross-pollinating or self-pollinating? Here are important tips to help you select an appropriate cherry seed.
- Consider your growing climate. Cherry trees need eight hours of sun every day to produce fruit. They do best in well-drained soil with a neutral pH. Cherry trees are part of the Prunus genus like peaches, nectarines, and plums. As such, they can be grown in soil without having to test for toxic residue, as any residue will not make its way into the fruit.
- Zones for sour cherries: Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus), also known as tart or pie cherries, will grow in USDA zones 4 through 6, so these are best for colder climates. These trees grow up to 20 feet tall.
- Zones for sweet cherries: Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) grow up to 35 feet or taller in USDA zones 5 through 7, or in USDA zones 8 and 9 in the Pacific Northwest.
- Self-pollinating cherry tree: If you do not have room for two cherry trees to cross-pollinate for fruit, consider a dwarf cherry tree, such as the semi-dwarf ‘Stella’ cherry tree, which is self-pollinating.
- Talk to an orchardist: Check with your orchardist at the farmers’ market to confirm what kind of tree the cherries came from and if they’ve had any issues growing them in the area.
- Only use fresh local cherries for pits. Don’t get supermarket cherries as they may have been refrigerated after harvesting, and the viability of the seeds may be affected. Select fresh local cherries to harvest seeds from, so you know the trees they produce will survive in your agricultural growing zone, also known as the USDA plant hardiness zone.
Preparing, Planting, and Germinating a Cherry Seed
Once you’ve eaten your fill of cherries (the fun part!), save some seeds so you can grow more cherries at home. There are two ways to propagate cherry trees with seeds. One way is to prepare and plant them in the spring. The second way is to plant them in the fall. Preparing and planting cherry seeds in the spring:
- Put seeds in a bowl of warm water. Let them soak for a few minutes and then gently clean them to remove any bits of fruit pulp clinging to them.
- Spread the seeds out on a paper towel and let them dry for five days. Keep them in a relatively warm area, like a sunny windowsill.
- After five days, put the dry pits in a glass jar or plastic food container with a tight-fitting lid. Then they’ll go into the refrigerator for ten weeks. This is known as stratification and is necessary for the seeds to germinate; it mimics the cold period of winter when the seeds are dormant before spring. Mark the date on your calendar so you won’t forget them in the back of the fridge.
- After ten weeks, remove the cherry pits from the fridge and let them come to room temperature (this will take about three hours).
- You can then plant them in a small container with potting soil.
- Plant two or three pits in each container.
- Place in a sunny spot and keep them watered so the soil stays moist but not wet.
- Once seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them so the tallest plant remains. Keep in a sunny spot; if it’s gotten colder out at night, keep them inside in a sunny window. There they will stay until spring, after the danger of frost has passed, when you can plant them outside. The seedlings should be a few inches tall by then.
- Plant them 20 feet apart, and keep the site protected by marking with poles or sticks so they don’t get trampled on or mowed down.
Preparing and planting cherry seeds in the fall: You can also skip the stratification indoors and plant cherry seeds directly outside in the fall, allowing them to go through a natural cold period in winter. You may not get as many seeds to sprout, so plant a few more than you want in a garden spot where the seedlings will be safe from harsh winds or foot traffic (you will be transplanting these trees later when they get a few inches tall). Keep an eye out for them to appear in the spring. You’ll want to put a light layer of mulch around them to hold moisture in the soil. Transplant to their permanent spot when they’re 10 to 12 inches tall.
Protect Your Cherry Trees From Wildlife
If you have issues with deer or other wildlife that eat plants, such as rabbits or woodchucks, protect your young fruit trees in the winter. Wrapping them loosely in burlap in mid to late autumn is a good way (deer hate chewing through burlap), and it lets nourishing sun and rain through. Remove the burlap before blossoming in early April. You may want to do this every year for the first two or three years to protect the bark, as many critters find young fruit tree bark tasty, especially in a lean winter before spring foliage appears. Your chances of having these young trees reach maturity will be much better if you can keep wildlife from eating them.
How Fast Do Cherry Trees Grow?
You may wonder how long it takes to grow a cherry tree from a seed. Expect cherry trees to start bearing fruit within seven to 10 years. You can shorten the time to fruiting if you graft a cherry tree seedling onto existing cherry tree stock. Meanwhile, read up on how to prune and care for them, and how to troubleshoot any problems, such as why the tree isn’t bearing fruit. Whether your goal is fresh snacks, pies, or landscape interest, growing cherry trees is a fruitful endeavor, especially if you keep the following in mind. There are so many reasons for growing cherry trees: the satisfaction of picking your own homegrown fruit, creating family memories, preserving your harvest to enjoy during the cold winter months … the list is a long one! As you probably know, there are two types of cherries: Sweet cherries are what you usually see at the supermarket. They have a “meaty” texture, much like a firm plum, and a rich, sweet flavor and can be eaten fresh, cooked, frozen or dried. Sweet cherries grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 7 and most require pollination from another sweet cherry variety. Make sure that you plant alongside another variety with a similar bloom time for proper pollination. Bloom times can be found in each characteristic section. These cherry trees typically take about 4 to 7 years after planting to bear fruit. Sweet cherry trees will yield approximately 15-20 quarts for dwarf trees, and 30-50 quarts for semi-dwarf trees. The yield will vary based on sunlight, available nutrients, soil quality/drainage and local weather conditions during the season. Sour cherries are most often used for cooking, especially pies and preserves. Sour cherries, also referred to as tart cherries, are noticeably smaller than sweet varieties. They grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 6. These cherry trees typically take 3 to 5 years to begin bearing fruit, depending upon the tree size (dwarf trees will bear sooner) and the variety. Sour cherry trees will yield approximately 15-20 quarts for dwarf trees, and 20-60 quarts for semi-dwarf trees. The yield will vary based on sunlight, available nutrients, soil quality/drainage and local weather conditions during the season. Some important points to remember about growing cherry trees: Perhaps the most important decision you’ll make is choosing the right location for your new cherry trees. This requires some pre-planning to give your trees the best chance for success:
- Do you understand your trees’ pollination needs?
- Is this location you’ve chosen going to have enough sun?
- Does this location have the right type of soil for your cherry trees?
- Is there enough space for the trees to mature?
Learn how to prepare your soil prior to planting. You can also learn how to plant bare-root and potted cherry trees. The instructions are very easy to follow. After getting your cherry trees securely settled in their new home, you can address the “Care & Maintenance” phase. Learn how often and how much to water and how to prevent problems that arise from under- or over-watering. Trees need to eat, too! Fertilizing is critical to whether your trees just survive, or thrive. Equally important is when to start/stop fertilizing. Did you know that continual feeding to keep the trees from “going hungry” can actually make them vulnerable to winter damage? The Care & Maintenance section will also instruct you how about pruning cherry trees. Pruning keeps the tree’s canopy strong and open to light — essential to the quality and quantity of the fruit. Here, we also review common cherry-tree insect and disease issues, and explain the importance of spraying to control existing problems and help prevent future ones. Discover great tips on all these topics and others (like harvesting cherries) in our “How To Grow Cherry Trees” series. You can navigate to any article by using the “In This Series” menu, or follow the “Next/Previous” navigation markers at the end of each article.
Feeding and mulching
In late winter, feed cherry trees with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around trees growing in bare soil or two-and-a-half handfuls per square metre/yard around those growing in grass. Then apply a generous mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost around the base of the tree, to help hold water in the soil and supress weeds.See our guide to feeding and mulching fruit trees.
Once established, cherry trees shouldn’t generally need watering, except during long dry spells or in the early stages of fruit development. Newly planted trees should be watered regularly for at least the first year.
Plants in containers dry out much more quickly than those growing in the ground. They need careful watering throughout the summer to prevent the fruits dropping before they ripen or the leaves browning around the edges.
Protecting flower from frost
Cherries flower early in the year, so if frost is forecast, protect the blossom with horticultural fleece, removing it during the day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers.
Cherry trees are generally propagated by grafting or budding. Named cultivars will not come true from seed. Trees grown from seed or cuttings will be much larger trees than those grafted onto a chosen rootstock, and will be slower to start fruiting.
Pruning of cherries is usually carried out in late July or August, when silver leaf and bacterial canker are less prevalent, although light formative pruning can be done in spring as the leaves start to develop.
Cherries are usually grown as small trees (shaped as an ‘open-centred bush’ or ‘pyramid’) or as fans trained flat against a wall or fence. Both need regular pruning to keep them in good shape and fruiting well. Cherries are too vigorous to be grown as espaliers or cordons. Keeping cherry trees compact by annual pruning makes the fruit easier to pick and to protect from birds, and means the trees take up less space. Pruning also ensures there is a good balance of older fruiting wood and younger replacement branches. Acid cherries, for example, bear almost all of their fruit on the previous year’s growth, so need regular pruning to ensure good harvests. Fan-trained trees, grown flat against a wall, take up very little ground space and make attractive and productive features. But they need careful pruning annually to keep them productive and in good shape.
Formative pruning of an open-centred bush tree
In the first spring on a feathered maiden tree, choose three or four well-spaced wider angle side-shoots (laterals) about 75cm (2½ft) from ground level to be the main branches and shorten these by two-thirds. Cut the central leader back to just above the uppermost lateral. Remove shoots below the selected laterals. By the second spring the main laterals should have produced their own side-shoots, the strongest of which need shortening by half, pruning to an outward-facing bud to develop an open crown. Remove any weak or badly placed shoots. In the third spring continue developing a well-spaced framework. In the fourth year switch to early- to mid-summer pruning, as for established trees. Rub out any buds developing on the lower trunk and carefully pull off suckers arising from the rootstock. Pruning is mostly limited to removing crossing, weak, diseased material and strong vertical growth. If the branches are still crowded, then further thinning can be done.
Pruning established bush trees of acid cherries
In August, remove about one in four of the older fruited shoots, to a younger side-shoot that will replace the removed growth.
Shorten over-vigorous upright shoots crowding the centre, to a suitably placed side-shoot.
Pruning of established fans of acid cherries
In late July, thin new shoots formed along the main branches to 5–10cm (2–4in) apart and tie the retained shoots to their supports. Also prune back shoots growing outwards from the wall to two leaves, to keep the tree flat. In late August, tie in the current season’s growth that will flower and fruit next year. Then cut back fruited shoots to a suitable side-branch that can replace the removed growth.For step-by-step advice on pruning fan-trained cherries, see our expert guides: Fan-trained trees: initial training
Fan-trained trees: pruning established fans
Choosing a cherry
Cherry trees sold commercially are usually grafted, with the named variety forming the upper part of the tree and the roots (or ‘rootstock’) being a different variety that controls the tree’s size and vigour. Ungrafted cherries naturally grow into large trees, unsuitable for smaller gardens.
The most commonly used rootstock is semi-vigorous ‘Colt’, which restricts the tree’s size to 6–8m (20–26ft) wide and tall, and is suitable for growing as a fan against a wall. Acid cherries are less vigorous, growing to 3–3.5m (10–12ft) on a ‘Colt’ rootstock. Semi-dwarfing rootstocks ‘Gisela 5’ and ‘Tabel’ restrict to 3–4m (10–13ft), making them suitable for dwarf bush trees or containers. As well as choosing a rootstock, you also need to select the variety for the upper part of the tree, and whether you want sweet or sour cherries. Different varieties fruit at different times over the summer, and some are self-fertile, while others need a ‘pollination partner’ (another cherry nearby that flowers at the same time) to ensure a good crop. All acid cherries are self-fertile, but some sweet cherries are not. If you want to grow a variety that is not self-fertile, be sure to seek advice from the nursery on suitable partner cultivars to achieve cross pollination.
It’s also worth looking for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) – these performed well in trials, so should grow readily and crop reliably. See our list of AGM fruit and veg. Cherry trees are sold either bare-root (without soil around the roots) or in containers. Bare-root trees are only available while dormant, from late autumn to early spring, for immediate planting. Containerised cherries are available all year round. Specialist fruit nurseries offer the widest choice of cherry varieties, usually by mail order. Bare-root trees are generally only available from specialist suppliers. Cherry trees in containers are also available in garden centres and from other online plant suppliers.
Where to plant cherries
As cherries flower early in the year, choose a warm, sheltered site that is not prone to late frosts. A sheltered site will aid pollination, as insects will have easier access to the flowers. All Cherries prefer deep, fertile and well-drained soil that is ideally slightly acidic, with a pH 6.5-6.7. They dislike shallow, sandy or poorly drained soil. They can be planted in an open site, such as a lawn, or trained flat against a wall or fence. Sweet cherries like a sunny location, such as against a south- or south-west facing wall, while acid cherries tolerate some shade, so are ideal for a north-facing wall. Cherries grow particularly well in southern and central England.
How to plant cherries
Cherry trees are easy to plant, and are best planted while dormant, between November and March. Bare-root trees are only available while dormant, for immediate planting, but containerised trees are available all year round. They can potentially be planted at any time, but will settle in best from late autumn to spring. See our step-by-step guides for full planting details: How to plant a tree
Video guide on best ways of planting trees
Planting trees and shrubs
Cherries on semi-dwarfing and dwarfing rootstocks (‘Gisela 5’ and ‘Tabel’) are suitable for growing in large containers. Sour cherry trees, in particular, are naturally less vigorous, so are ideal in pots.
Choose a container that’s at least 45–50cm (18–20in) wide – terracotta pots or half-barrels are suitably heavy and stable. Use a soil-based compost (such as John Innes No.3), or multi-purpose compost mixed with one-third by volume of grit or perlite. You can also mix in controlled-release fertiliser pellets. For more details, see our expert guides: Trees in containers
Fruit in containers
Planting in containers
Cherries ripen from early summer onwards, depending on the variety. Pick during dry weather if possible, and hold the stalk rather than the fruit, which bruises easily. Eat sweet cherries fresh or store in a fridge in a sealed plastic bag for up to a week. Acid cherries are too tart to be eaten raw, but are excellent sweetened and cooked to make pies, puddings, liqueurs and preserves.
Cherries — early summer
Merchant is a high quality, early season dark red cherry which is heavy cropping and ideal for garden growing. Merchant will need a pollinator as it is not self fertile.
Cherries — mid-summer
Kordia is a black cherry which has become popular due to its large glossy black fruits which have a superb flavour. Kordia is largely resistant to splitting due to wet weather but it will need a pollinator as it is not self fertile.
‘Summer Sun’ AGM
Summer Sun is a moderately vigorous and upright cherry growing with a spreading habit. Summer Sun fruits are red/black and of good quality; however, a pollinator will be required as this variety is not self fertile.
Cherries — late summer
Lapins is a red cherry which is very heavy cropping, easy to grow and very suitable for garden growing. Lapins is self fertile so no pollinator is required for it to fruit.
Sweetheart is a very late season, large fruiting red cherry and is self fertile so no pollinator is required. Sweetheart also has the benefit of not all fruit ripening at the same time as happens with most other cherries which means a useful extended picking period.
Penny is a large late season black cherry which has an excellent flavour. Penny is ideal for growing in the garden but will need a pollinator as it is not self fertile.
Stella is a large, high quality black cherry which will crop heavily and regularly and is self fertile so no pollinator is required. However, Stella is liable to splitting in very wet conditions so is best for growing in the drier parts of the country or under cover.
Sour cherries — late summer
Morello is the best acid cooking cherry for garden use. It can grow well in shady situations and is self fertile so no pollinator is required.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Shedding of flower buds and immature fruit
This can be caused by drought, waterlogging or low temperatures, and bullfinches may damage fruit buds.
Water, reduce watering, protect plants with horticultural fleece or netting depending on the problem.
Spotted wing drosophila (SWD)
This small fruit fly was first reported in the UK in 2012 and is likely to become an increasing problem on fruit, especially cherries. Maggots infest the cherries and cause them to rot.
Use traps and fine mesh to help protect developing fruit.
Small insects suck sap at the shoot tips distorting shoots and leaves. This does not affect fruiting and acts as a form of pruning.
Attract natural predators, like blue tits, before the leaves curl. Cherries make a wonderful tree for all sizes of garden. Many varieties are attractive trees, bearing spring blossom, colourful fruit, interesting bark and leafy foliage that turns orange, red and yellow in autumn. Both sweet and sour (morello) cherries are available to grow, each type of tree needing slightly different requirements. All can be grown in containers, as freestanding trees or fan-trained against a wall. They do require careful maintenance, but enjoying freshly picked cherries makes growing them worth the effort. Grow cherries in moist but well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. Mulch annually with well-rotted compost or manure and prune in summer if necessary. More on growing cherries:
- What to prune in summer
- How to identify British native trees
- How to train a fruit tree
- Trees for small gardens
- Dwarf fruit trees
Where to grow cherry treesHow to grow cherries — fan-trained Morello cherry tree Cherry trees do best in a warm, sheltered frost-free spot in well-drained, slightly acid soil. Morello cherry varieties are generally smaller and will also tolerate some shade, so can be grown against a north-facing boundary. These varieties are also self-fertile, so can be grown without a planting partner. Sweet cherries can be grown as free-standing trees in larger spaces, or dwarf varieties can be grown as fan-trained trees against a warm wall, or in containers, but they do require plenty of sunshine. Some sweet cultivars need to be planted with a partner for pollination, so do check the requirements when choosing your cherry tree.
Planting cherry treesHow to grow cherries — planting a bare-root cherry tree Pot-grown cherries can be planted all year round but you can usually have a wider choice of varieties, for less money, if you buy bare-root trees in autumn or winter. Plant bare-root cherries from autumn to spring, when trees are dormant. Dig over the soil, remove weeds and dig a square planting hole. Plant the tree at the same depth it was growing in the field (check the soil ‘tide mark’ to help you), replace the soil and water thoroughly. Depending on the size of your chosen tree, you may need to position a stake to support a young specimen.
More like this
How to care for cherry treesHow to grow cherries — trained cherry tree Care at the start of the growing season is important for cherries as they flower early. Give the roots a good mulch with well-rotted manure or garden compost in February and feed regularly with a general fertiliser through until the end of March. Keep the trees well watered in this early stage of growth. If frost is forecast, it’s vital to protect any early blossom with horticultural fleece. In summer, you may want to net your trees to protect the fruits from birds. Alternatively, share the fruit with them.
Pruning and training cherries
Cherries are traditionally grown as either bush-type open trees, or are fan-trained against a wall or fence. Sweet cherries produce their fruit on wood produced the previous season or earlier, while morello cherries fruit on one-year-old wood. Pruning should be carried out to balance old and new growth, to remove dead, diseased and dying branches, and to shape the tree. The golden rule for all types of cherry is never prune in winter, as this puts the tree at risk of developing silver leaf disease or canker. As a general rule, prune young trees in spring, when new growth appears, while established trees should be pruned in summer, if needed.
Harvesting cherriesHow to grow cherries — picked cherries Cut bunches of cherries from the tree, with stalks intact, taking care not to bruise the fruits.
Sweet cherries are best eaten fresh, but will store in the fridge for about a week after picking. The acid varieties can be used in preserves, cakes and tarts. Looking for inspiration on how to use your crop? Our friends at olive have curated a delicious collection of cherry recipes, including their black forest gateau cheesecake.
Growing cherries: problem solving
Cherries can be prone to cherry blackfly, and fruit fly – maggots invade the cherries and cause rotting, and caterpillars. These insects can be controlled by encouraging natural predators like blue tits early in the season. Later, when the fruits have formed, birds can become a problem, eating the fruit, so you may want to net your crop. Diseases to look out for include, canker, blossom wilt, brown rot and silver leaf disease. Silver leaf can be managed by pruning in spring and summer.
Five cherry varieties to tryHow to grow cherries — cherry varieties to try
- Prunus avium – the wild species cherry has pure white flowers in spring followed by small, red-purple cherries in summer; these fruits are edible, but can be bitter. This tree does have high ornamental value with chestnut-coloured bark that becomes silvery with age, and good autumn colour. Prunus avium is only suitable for large gardens – trees can reach 20m in height or more
- Prunus ‘Sweetheart’ RHS AGM – a dark red, sweet cherry, with very good flavour, that crops through until September
- Prunus ‘Morello’ RHS AGM – this acid cherry can be planted on its own as it is self-fertile. With attractive blossom and lots of fruit in July and August, these make good garden trees. The cherries are good in preserves, cakes and tarts
- Prunus ‘Sunburst’ – a self-fertile, sweet cherry, the fruits are black and ripen in midsummer
- Prunus ‘Sylvia’ – grafted onto dwarfing rootstock, this is a compact variety perfect for large containers or growing against a wall. It produces pale pink blossom in spring, followed by sweet cherries. It is a self-fertile cultivar
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