There is something strangely unique about tasting cherries off the tree in your own orchard. Most people are used to the large, sweet, Bing and Rainier cherries sold in grocery stores. They are always blemish free and look clean, but I have to wonder just what it took to get them to that point. What kind of chemicals does it take to get that perfect look? Growing cherries in your backyard orchard is rewarding because you not only know what is put on the fruit, but fresh picked fruit tastes better too. I have always been a fan of fresh picked sour cherries, the kind sold in cans at the store and mixed with sugar syrup to make pies. They do not come with syrup on the tree, but even a sour pie cherry can be delicious off the tree.
Growing cherries can be easy once you learn what to do. Let’s take a look at the two different types of cherries and what it takes to grow them.
Sour cherries are the easiest to grow here in central Great Plains. Sour cherries are self-pollinating, meaning that they can produce cherries with only one tree; they do not need a pollinator to produce fruit. Planting for both types is best done in the spring or fall, when soils are warm. All cherries are early bloomers, so a late frost may kill most of the flower buds; this is a problem with apricots as well in our area. Sour cherries usually begin to bear fruit after about 4 years; trees bought at a nursery may be ready to bear in 1 or 2 years. Sour cherries are mostly disease resistant; you may see some leaf spotting or other issues, but nothing major. Tent caterpillars can be devastating on both types; they should be pruned or picked off immediately when found. Sour cherries bear ripe fruit in June. Follow Grimm’s Gardens pruning guides for help pruning cherries; they typically need little or no pruning. The best cultivars of sour cherries are ‘Danube’, ‘Kansas Sweet’, ‘North Star’, ‘Montmorency’, and ‘Meteor’.
Sweet cherries grow similar to sour cherries except they are not as tolerant of weather changes, meaning they do not like fluctuating temperatures in the winter. They also often catch late frosts and freezes which severely damage fruit set. Sweet cherries also are more susceptible to diseases and insects than sour cherries. Brown rot is one of the worst cherry diseases; some cultivars are resistant to it. Sweet cherries will begin to set fruit after 5 or 6 years, around 2 years after sour cherries. All cherry trees should be planted where they get at least 6 hours of full sun for best production. The best sweet cherry varieties are ‘Stella’, ‘Black Tartarian’, and ‘Rainier’.
If you are looking to expand your orchard by adding some cherry trees, or just adding a few to your yard, I hope I have given you a place to start deciding what to do.