Care & Maintenance

Cherry Tree Care & Maintenance


Cherry trees obtained from a mail order company will usually come bare root. These are best planted in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. Garden centers will often have bare root plants that have been planted in one-gallon to five-gallon pots. These trees can be planted in the fall or spring. If you believe that the potted tree has been growing in warmer than current outside conditions, you may need to give it a chance to acclimate to their new outdoor environment. To acclimate a tree, place it in a partially shaded area for a week, but take it inside if freezing or extremely hot conditions are predicted.

Cherry trees do best in soil that is well-drained and fertile with a pH of 6.0-7.0. Cherries also require full sunlight for a least 6 hours daily. Do not plant your tree near water/sewer lines or a patio. If you’ve selected a dwarf variety and are planting multiple trees, be sure that they are 8-14 feet apart. If you’ve selected a semi-dwarf variety, the spacing should be 12-18 feet.

Bare root stock needs plenty of room for the roots!Bare root tree planting

Like all trees, prepare the planting hole so that there is ample room for the roots to be spread (if bare root), or create a hole approximately three times the diameter of the pot (for potted trees). In heavier clay soils, add some compost to the backfilling soil to ensure better water infiltration and oxygen access. Cherries will come as grafted stock, so ensure that the graft junction is several inches above the final soil level.

Graft junction should be several inches above the soil line.Graft junction above soil line.

Sour cherries are usually self pollinated, but even sour cherries can benefit by planting two varieties near each other.


Under typical Midwestern conditions, your tree should not need to be watered. However, if your area is experiencing a particularly dry spell (less than 1 inch of rain per week) then you should water your plan as needed. Contact your county’s extension specialist if you’re not sure whether to water your tree.


Sour cherry trees are small feeders and prefer multiple, spaced out applications depending on where it is at in its growth stage. Low nitrogen fertilizers such as 5-10-10 or 10-15-15 work well. Apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer in early spring, 2 to 3 weeks before blossom and if needed, fertilize throughout the season using soil testing. Avoid applying fertilizer after July 1st because the tree is not actively producing at this time and needs time for new growth to harden off before winter. Hardening off of the tree before winter is essential for a healthy cherry tree so new growth can avoid cold injury.


Desired pruning shape of tree depending on the age. (Image courtesy of Stark Brothers)

Pruning is an important part of caring for a cherry tree. The best time to prune is during the late winter while the plant is dormant. Prune your tree to have an open center to obtain optimal light and air circulation in the tree’s canopy. Make your prune cut about 1/4 inch above the nearest outward-facing bud. After your tree has become well-established (3-5 years), cut the older sections of limbs on the tree to allow for better growth. For a more detailed explanation of pruning your cherry trees, visit

Stark Brothers Cherry Tree Pruning Guide


Your tree will take 3-5 years to start bearing fruit. When this happens, you can harvest when the cherries are fully ripe. This can be anytime between early June and late July, depending on the variety and year. A typical yield for a sour dwarf cherry tree is 3-5 gallons, while semi-dwarf is 12-18 gallons. You can store your cherries in your refrigerator for 7-10 days (longer if you keep the stem in) before you use them. There is also the option to freeze or can your cherries depending on your needs.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor during cherry harvest! (Image courtesy of Sour Cherry Farm) Image result for sour cherry harvest



Planting, Growing & Harvesting Cherries – Old Farmer’s Almanac

Short YouTube Video on Cherry Cultivation