Cherry tree with cherries

Tips For Planting Cherry Seeds: Can You Grow A Cherry Tree Pit

If you’re a cherry lover, you’ve probably spit your share of cherry pits, or maybe it’s just me. At any rate, have you ever wondered, “Can you grow a cherry tree pit?” If so, how do you grow cherry trees from pits? Let’s find out.

Can You Grow a Cherry Tree Pit?

Yes indeed. Growing cherry trees from seed is not only an inexpensive way to grow a cherry tree, but it’s also lots of fun and delicious!

First off, can you grow a cherry tree in your region? Cherry varieties are hardy through USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9, depending upon the type.

Now comes the hard part. Eat some cherries. That’s a tough one, huh? Use cherries from either a tree growing in the area or purchased from a farmers market. Cherries from the grocers are stored in such a way, refrigerated, that makes starting seeds from them unreliable.

Save the pits from the cherries you’ve just devoured and put them in a bowl of warm water. Let the pits soak for five minutes or so and then lightly scrub them free of any clinging fruit. Spread the clean pits out on a paper towel in a warm area and let them dry for three to five days, then, transfer the dry pits to a plastic container, labeled and fitted with a tight lid. Store the pits in the refrigerator for 10 weeks.

Why are you doing this? Cherries need to go through a cold or stratification period that normally occurs naturally during the winter, prior to germination in the spring. Refrigerating the pits is artificially mimicking this process. Okay, seed planting of cherry trees is now ready to commence.

How to Grow Cherry Trees from Pits

Once the ten weeks has passed, remove the pits and allow them to come to room temperature. You are now ready for planting the cherry seeds. Put two to three pits into a small container filled with planting medium and water the seeds in. Keep the soil moist.

When the cherry seedlings are 2 inches tall, thin them, removing the weakest plants, leaving the sturdiest seedling in the pot. Keep the seedling in a sunny area indoors until all danger of frost has passed for your region, and then transplant outside. Multiple trees should be planted at least 20 feet apart.

Seed Planting Cherry Trees

Growing cherry trees from seed can also be attempted directly in the garden. In this method, you are skipping the refrigeration and letting the seeds go through a natural stratification process through the winter.

In the fall, gather the dried cherry pits and plant them outside. Plant a few since some may not germinate. Set the seeds 2 inches deep and one foot apart. Mark the planting sites.

In the spring, the pits will sprout. Wait until the seedlings are 8-12 inches in height and then transplant them to their permanent site in the garden. Mulch well around the transplanted seedlings to retard weeds and aid in water retention.

And, there you have it! Planting cherry seeds is as simple as that! The difficult part is waiting for those luscious cherries.

Prunus avium, Prunus cerasus

I have about zero control when it comes to eating fresh fruit. In the past I’ve cleaned entire raspberry bushes of edible fruit, snagged a few days’ worth of apples and pears, and passed out with a belly full of strawberries. That last one caused a stir back in the day!

This dedication to sun-warmed produce by the bucketful places cherries high on my list of favorite fresh fruit. I was fortunate to grow up near a few cherry trees that were at their peak of production, but since then I’ve helped individuals plant their own trees and may have treated myself to a few of those fruits when they were ripe.

That’s the gardener’s privilege, right there.

Establishing a healthy tree demands some forethought and proper planning that may be intimidating to the casual gardener. But fear not! We’ve put together an excellent guide for how to start growing cherry trees. Check out our list of suggested cultivars, too, for our recommended picks.

What Are Fruiting Cherry Trees?

Cherries are stone fruits which produce “drupes,” or fleshy material surrounding a single seed. They are in the genus Prunus and are closely related to other stone fruits and nut trees such as peaches, almonds, apricots, nectarines, and plums, along with other ornamental flowering trees and wild species.

What Type Is for You?

Fruiting cherries are derived from two different species withing the Prunus genus.

Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) tend to grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-7. These fruits are perfect for fresh eating and will produce plenty of fruit each year. The sweet cultivars are self-sterile, so you’ll need to plant at least two or three for fruit production.

Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) need temperate climates to grow well.

Sweets also require ample spacing to grow without becoming crowded. Your sweets need to be planted 35-40 feet apart, although dwarf varieties need a mere 5-10 feet of breathing room.

Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) will grow in Zones 4-6, and are more cold-hardy. Use these fruits when baking and cooking, but less often for fresh eating (they’re called “sour” for a reason!). Most sour cultivars are also self-sterile, so you’ll need at least two or three to produce any fruit.

Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) are much more cold hardy and are a good fit for much of the continental United States and Europe.

Fortunately, these trees need only 35-40 feet of space between one another, while dwarf varieties require about 8-10 feet.

So, to recap: sweet cherries are for fresh eating and baking, while sour cherries are usually used in baking and are not typically eaten fresh.

Patience Is a Necessity

Most fruiting trees take a few years to begin producing something that’s edible and tasty, and cherries are no different. Expect a period of 3-5 years of waiting before your trees start producing fruit. The trees need to establish themselves in their new home and gain a solid foothold before they can begin to produce fruit.

A timeline of several years is all the more reason to get started with planting now!

What’s that? “But I love the taste of sour cherries…”

Me too! Chances are you’ve found them frozen at the grocery store and labeled as ‘Bing’ cherries. If you’re lucky, you’ve also been able to find them fresh in the middle of summer at the farmers market, often towards the end of July.

Grow your own and have the freshest crop available for the beautiful window when they’re ripe. With the size of the crop you’ll get, you’ll be able to share them with friends and neighbors too!

Planting Best Practices

Whether you’re planting sweet or sour, both types want similar conditions.

Proper soil is critical to the health of your trees. For some species, you can dig a hole and plop the root ball into it, and let the plant do the rest of the work. Cherries, on the other hand, need deep and well-drained soil; this can make planting in rocky areas or soils with a high clay content problematic.

I’d recommend digging the hole deeper and wider than it needs to be for the root ball to fit inside. Really break that soil up and replace about one-quarter of the native soil with compost to give the plant a chance to set roots and spread into its new home.

Full sun is important for any fruit tree, so place your plant where it will be sure to get at least 8 hours of sun a day. A bit of protection from the hottest afternoon sun can be helpful on the more southern edges of the growing zones.

Sour varieties are at their best in soil with a pH of 6-7, while sweet cultivars prefer a pH of 6.3-7.2. They’ll grow in other acidic or basic conditions beyond these recommendations, but prefer this narrow range. Get your soil tested so you’ll have a good starting point before selecting varieties.

Did You Know?

Cherry trees with dwarfing rootstock can also be grown along wires, fences, or walls in a method known as espaliering. The branches are slowly adjusted so that they grow in a completely horizontal shape, which makes them easier to pick and easier to cover with bird netting. Espaliering also promotes airflow and exposure to sunlight, which promotes ripening and helps to prevent fungal infections.

Water and Nutrient Requirements

For all of the fruit these trees produce, they don’t require much in the way of fertilizers and water. About an inch of rain per week is ample. Use a rain gauge that sacrifices style in exchange for an easy-to-read and practical setup.

If you’re in a dry spell and aren’t reaching that rain requirement, you can water once a week. However, don’t over saturate the roots and soil; dry roots are healthier than waterlogged ones. A good soaking once a week during periods of dry weather is plenty.

Fertilization is even easier. Because cherries are low feeders, you can get away with any of the following fertilization methods:

  • Use a low nitrogen fertilizer, or a general-purpose fertilizer at half the recommended rate, once a year before flowers bloom.
  • Add twice-yearly application of compost. A light dressing will do the trick.

Easy enough, right? If you like to feed your plants, you can get away with one more application of a granular fertilizer after the plants stop producing fruit.

Pruning and Thinning

Fortunately, you don’t need to thin the fruit, since this is a plant that does that on its own. And that takes a load of effort off your back!

Pruning should be done twice a year, once in early spring (before buds break but after threat of a cold snap), and once in later summer.

The early spring pruning is when you make more aggressive cuts and remove limbs and large branches. This is intended to provide the tree with a few strong limbs for bearing fruit, instead of many weak limbs that cannot support the weight of fruit.

Early spring pruning is a great way to remove weaker branches and to shape the tree for maximum yield.

Late summer pruning, aka “thinning,” is intended to clean up the canopy and to increase air circulation as a preventative measure to protect against fungal infections. We aren’t shaping the tree during this time and are only opening things up; make only a few cuts when pruning in late summer.

Again, your goals during late winter or early spring pruning are to shape and to make aggressive cuts, and in late summer you want to focus on opening up the canopy for airflow.


Unfortunately, plenty of critters enjoy cherries as much as we do, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for their presence on your trees.

You’ll have a chance to find aphids, various caterpillars, Japanese beetles, thrips, mites, leafhoppers, borers, and the cherry fruit fly.

You can use a product like a general fruit and nut orchard spray to control all of these buggies. Select one that contains sulfur to control fungal diseases, and pyrethrins to control insects – but understand you’ll potentially be damaging beneficial insects as well if you resort to this option.

Neem oil is another solution that targets insects. It is “organic,” but keep in mind that organic doesn’t necessarily mean non-toxic. And it will also harm beneficial insects just like the manmade pyrethrins will.


Powdery mildew, galls, cankers, a host of rots and fungi, and buckskin are fungal issues and diseases that can cause you grief with your fruit production. These problems are more difficult to identify and control than common pests.

A horticultural oil is good for removing most plant ailments, while copper fungicide is an excellent organic method for taking care of fungal issues and various cases of rot.

Preventing Bird Damage

It’s a miracle birds can take flight after feasting on an upcoming crop of cherries, with their bellies full of partially developed fruit. Worse yet is when they pick and peck at each individual fruit, leaving behind a rotting mass that’s still attached to the stem.

Birds like this sparrow can pillage your crop in a day or two.

The University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Sciences suggests a few excellent methods of preventing bird damage. These include:

  • Wrap the tree in bird netting
  • Tye reflective tape to branches to distract and disorient birds
  • Use a dummy owl/hawk and move its location daily
  • Eliminate insects on the branches to deter birds
  • Install a birdhouse to attract the predatory kestrel
  • Plant wildflowers like echinacea and rudbeckia to give birds an easier meal

No one method works better than the others, so swapping between different preventatives is the best solution to keeping your plants healthy and full of fruit. Also keep in mind the inherent dangers to wildlife when using bird netting. It’ll keep the critters out, but those hapless ones who get stuck are almost guaranteed to die.

The American kestrel eats small reptiles, mammals, and fruit-eating birds. Having a kestrel nearby can deter mouse, chipmunk, and herbivorous bird activity in the vicinity.

I’ve pulled out too many dead birds and chipmunks from bird netting to ever use it at my own home, but it does work to keep your fruit harvest safe from damage.

Another tip with bird netting is to install it just before the fruit begins to appear on your plants. If you install it early and keep it in place from the start of the season, birds are likely to learn how to get inside, essentially making the netting worthless as a barrier.

Bird netting applied just before ripening can prevent fruit loss while minimizing the impact to wildlife.


Another condition common in fruit trees and especially cherries is called “gummosis.”

Cherry trees release a resin-like sap when they’ve been injured. Sometimes a yard tool knicks the trunk and the tree will react by expelling this thick sap to plug and heal the wound. Most of the time these injuries are minor, and the tree can fix itself right up.

Gummosis in cherries can be caused by cut injuries, insect activity, or even some fungal infections.

However, other times the sap expulsion can be caused by borers or cankers.

If you discover sawdust around the base of the trunk and beneath the site of the sap, you likely have borers; spray your tree for borers with an appropriate fruit and nut orchard spray.

If there is no presence of sawdust, pull away the sap and check the bark. If it’s dead and brittle, you’ve got some cankers to contend with. Cut them out and remove them, or call a professional to do it for you in the event that you’re hesitant to start cutting into the wood.

Other causes for gummosis can be fungal in nature, specifically Cytosporina and Phytophthora types of fungus. These are more serious issues to contend with and require careful removal of infected tissue and an application of a fungicide to control. Get a head start on these issues by removing dead limbs and branches in the winter and disposing of them.

Read more about gummosis in fruit trees here.


It can take three to five years before your tree will begin to produce fruit, but full-size varieties can produce up to 50 quarts of fruit a year! Dwarf specimens can produce up to about 20 quarts, so that investment in time and patience will certainly pay off in time.

Harvest time is between May and August, depending on your locality and the cultivars you are growing.

Determining when they are ripe is a tasty and fun method of experimentation. Research the varieties you’ve planted to find a good, clear image of what they look like when ripe. As your crop is beginning to ripen, take a walk around the tree, find a specimen that looks ripe, then pluck it and eat it!

Ripe fruits are firm but tender, and juicy. If the cherry you plucked tastes good, use it as your key to decide if others are also ripe.

Try to maintain a bit of patience when harvesting. The sugar content in the fruit rises significantly in the few days before they fully ripen, and this sugar content does not increase after the fruit is plucked. That makes the best cherry a few days away from being subpar if you’re impatient.

Storage and Preservation

The fruit can be stored for up to a week in dry conditions in the refrigerator, but it declines in quality to a tremendous extent very quickly in room temperature conditions. A few hours at room temperature results in greater loses than an entire day spent in refrigerated conditions! If you aren’t going to eat your harvest right away, stick it in the fridge.

Leave the stems on to maintain their freshness even longer. Pitting the fruit is up to you; I personally enjoy spitting out the seeds, but not everybody does. You can increase the firmness of the fruit after harvest by layering it between paper towels.

You can freeze your harvest as well, so long as the fruit has been rinsed and patted dry first.

Cherry Trees for You to Consider

‘Bing’ is a good choice for lovers of the sweet cherry. It has a wide range of growing Zones (5-9) and reaches a height of about 18 feet. Fruit is typically ready for harvest in mid- to late June, but in cooler climates a bit of a delay until the beginning of July isn’t unheard of.

Potted ‘Bing’ Cherry Trees via Nature Hills Nursery

The ‘Bing’ type can be paired with ‘Rainier,’ ‘Montmorency,’ and other early pollinators to produce fruit.

You can find them for sale at Nature Hills Nursery.

‘Rainier’ is among the most popular and best-tasting out there, so you likely won’t be disappointed from the huge yields and juicy taste that this type can produce.

Potted ‘Rainier’ Cherry Trees via Nature Hills Nursery

The fruit ripens in mid-June and can grow in Zones 5-9. It reaches a maximum of 25 feet in height and is a good choice for medium-sized yards and growing areas.

‘Rainier’ pollinates with ‘Montmorency,’ ‘Stella’ and ‘Lambert’ cultivars, and other mid-season varieties.

You can find them at Nature Hills.

The Arbor Day Foundation has the most popular sour variety in the country for sale, the ‘Montmorency.’

‘Montmorency’ Cherry Tree via the Arbor Day Foundation

It will typically grow to about 20 feet in height and is comfortable growing and producing in Zones 4-7. As a bonus, it is also self-fertile. If you’ve only got room for one specimen, this could be the one for you!

Can’t decide between sweet or sour? Why not grow both? The ‘Carmine Jewel’ is grown on dwarfing rootstock and it does well in Zones 4-7.

‘Carmine Jewel’ Cherry in #2 Container, available from Nature Hills Nursery

This type is a cross between sweet and sour varieties (P. fruticosa x Pr. cerasus) to provide a harvest to satisfy all tastes, with about 20 pounds of fruit produced on average during its peak production! It is also self-fertile, so really, what’s not to love?

You can purchase trees from Nature Hills Nursery.

So, which should you get?

I would recommend purchasing a self-fruiting tree like the ‘Carmine Jewel’ or the ‘Montmorency’ if you have a small and contained area to grow in. If you’ve got the room for more, I’d recommend planting the ‘Montmorency,’ ‘Rainier,’ and ‘Bing’ together to ensure a good yield.

If you live in Zones 2-4 and need a cold tolerant variety, see our guide to the best cold hardy cherry varieties.

Like apple trees, cherries have different pollination groups and require other cultivars to be in bloom at the same time.

Quick Reference Growing Chart

Plant Type: Stone fruit (drupe) tree Tolerance: Modern cultivars have better disease resistance, heat and humidity tolerance
Native To: Northern hemisphere from North America to Asia Maintenance: Low
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 4-7, depending on species and cultivar Soil Type: Sandy, loamy
Season: Spring and summer Soil pH: Neutral, 6.6-7.3
Esposure: Full sun Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Time to Maturity: As little as 2 years to fruiting for dwarf varieties, 4-6 years for standard selections Companion Planting: Cover crops like clover, lupine, alfalfa; nasturtiums, marigolds, hyssop, and other pest-discouraging plants
Spacing: Standard: 35-40 feet Dwarf: 8-10 feet Family: Rosaceae
Planting Depth: Same as nursery pot, or set crown of bare root stock just below the soil surface Genus: Prunus
Height: 16-25 feet Subgenus: Cerasus
Water Needs: Moderate
Attracts: Birds Species: P. avium, P. cerasus
Pests & Diseases: Aphids, tent caterpillars, Japanese beetles, thrips, mites, leafhoppers, borers, cherry fruit fly, powdery mildew, galls, cankers, root rot, fungi, buckskin

Now Get to Plantin’

It takes a while to get there, but when your cherry trees are finally producing pounds and pounds of fruit, you’ll see that it was all worthwhile. Fresh fruit is always delicious, but fresh cherries are at top of the list for taste and flavor.

With self-fruitful (and self-unfruitful) options available, you’ve got plenty to pick from and to look forward to. Thanks for reading! Come back again soon, and leave us any questions or insights in the comments below.


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© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on July 14, 2019. Last updated: January 22, 2020 at 22:34 pm. Product photo via Nature Hills Nursery and the Arbor Day Foundation. Uncredited photos: .

About Matt Suwak

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

How to grow and care for cherry trees

Interested in planting fruit trees? Growing your own fruit can be so rewarding — both because of the beauty and the bounty the trees can provide. Here’s how to grow and care for cherry trees.

Image by Couleur from

A guest post by Emma Metson

If springtime is your favorite season, you may have an uncanny excitement when you see cherry trees. A juicy cherry is a rare treat that you can enjoy for a month or two each year. They make good jams or juices. Some gardeners fantasize about having their own cherry trees where they can enjoy its springtime blossoms and pick its fresh fruit.

If you want one in your garden, we’ll guide you through the process on how to select, plant, grow, and care for a cherry tree.

Types of cherries

There are thousands of varieties of cherries but they can be classified into two types: sweet cherries and sour cherries. Sour cherries are used for baking and cooking, while sweet cherries can be eaten fresh from the tree or when bought at a grocery store.

Sour Cherries

Sour cherries develop in cooler atmospheres and will need around two months of winter temperatures beneath four degrees Celsius. They are firm, which is why they suited for baking or cooking.

If you want to have a beautiful cherry tree for landscaping purposes in springtime, a tree that produces sour cherries might be the best to grow in your garden. Sour cherries are disease resistant, tolerant of cold temperatures, self-fertile and adaptable to poor soil.

Sweet Cherries

Compared to sour cherries, sweet cherries usually have a meaty texture, are rich, juicy with a sweet flavor and can be eaten either fresh, frozen, cooked or dried. They thrive in areas where the temperatures are mild, and the humidity is low. This type of cherry is more difficult to grow. Growing sweet cherries requires access to the more quality soil types, so if your garden soil is comprised mainly of sand or clay then you may struggle to grow this type.

Growing either type of cherry trees requires some difference in care. However, in general, they just need to have good air circulation, an adequate amount of sunlight, and well-drained and fertile soil.

However, cherry trees are vulnerable to root rot. Thus, the soil needs to be well-drained.

Growing a cherry tree

I bet you’ve wondered if you can plant cherry trees from seed. The answer to that is yes. Sure, you have to take a different approach, but growing it from seed is inexpensive and fun. You won’t be able to use the seeds from your store-bought cherries though. Usually, cherries from the grocers are refrigerated, which makes their starting seeds unsuitable for planting.

If you purchase cherries from the farmers market though, you’re in luck. Those seeds can be saved and planted. Taking this route will take longer though. Cherry trees bear fruit in an average of three to seven years, so you will need to wait for your seedling to mature before you can expect a harvest.

If you want to save yourself the hassle of getting your cherry seeds ready for planting, you can get a tree at the nearest garden center in your area. If you want to get quality cherries from the tree, this would be the best option. Garden centers are committed to taking care of plants in your locality. Usually, they would have adequate experience with the local climate, soils and most importantly the plant.

Trees from garden centers are usually one to two-year-old plants, and fruit-bearing will depend on the species of fruit or if it is a dwarf or a standard. The main difference between the dwarf and standard types is how tall they get before the tree bears fruit. Usually, standard types get to 25 to 30 feet tall, while dwarf trees only get to 10 to 15 feet; which makes them easy to maintain.

You need to grow your cherry trees on higher ground as low lying areas get the most frost during early spring. The early blossoms of growing cherry trees are delicate and vulnerable to frost damage.

Image by Gerald Friedrich from

Cherry tree care

As for tree care, you can take the following steps for caring for your own cherry tree:

  1. Water your tree. This is by far one of the most critical parts in caring for your trees. For cherry trees, however, they can mostly survive for weeks without water. However, keep in mind that the soil dries up faster when it is hot or windy. Maintain the soil by using a soaker hose around the tree for deep watering. Organic mulch can also help maintain soil moisture.
  2. Fertilize the soil. Give your tree sufficient nutrients for it to reach its optimal health and fruit production. Spreading a thin layer of compost around your tree to support new growth helps.
  3. Pruning. Keep your tree healthy and fruitful by balancing the top growth of your tree through pruning. Pruning is the process of cutting away dead branches or stems. This is also important to keep the shape of your beautiful cherry tree.
  4. Keep pests away. Humans are not the only ones attracted to this shiny, tasty, juicy fruit. Here are a few pests known to attack cherry trees:
  • mites
  • tree borers
  • fruit flies
  • birds
  • green fruit worms

Over the winter, fungi, viruses, and bacteria lead to diseases like blight, brown rot, and leaf curl. You can control this by utilizing a copper sulfate formula or Bordeaux mixture. Spray the entire trunk and the branches of the tree two or three times during the winter months. However, if fungi or viruses have taken over, take any infested fruit or branches off the tree to stop it from spreading to healthy areas.

Image by Isabell Demuth from

Keeping your cherry tree happy and healthy

Now that you have found out the ways of growing and caring for your own cherry tree, you can then decide when you want to add this to your garden. Take note that sweet cherries and sour cherries should not be planted together. As these are two different types, they may not give you the best quality fruit when planted near each other.

You can cover the tree with netting to prevent birds from harvesting your cherries. Installing hanging scaring devices can also do the job. However, if you don’t mind sharing your crops and enjoy the sound of birds in your backyard, you can leave them be.

About the author: Emma Metson is a part-time property developer, part-time home improvements and gardening blogger at Fixtures and Flowers, and full-time Mum. Given her background, Emma has a lot of advice, tips and tricks that she loves sharing on her blog.

Variety variation

California growers rave about the early coloring Royal Rainier cherry, but nurseries and researchers warn that varieties may not perform the same in different areas.

The Royal Rainier cherry has failed to live up to expectations for Washington State orchardist Frank Lyall. It may be big, and it may ripen earlier than the original Rainier cherry, but at his Mattawa orchard, it tastes like oxidized wine and has a sulfurous aftertaste, he says.

“It’s totally inedible. We’re looking at either having to graft those trees over or bulldoze them out. We paid a tremendous premium for those trees. I don’t know how in the world that thing got to market. Nobody must have actually tasted the cherry.”

But down in California, where the Royal Rainier originated, Kingsburg grower Brent Jackson couldn’t be happier with it. “For us, it’s been wonderful,” he said. “The fruit sizes nicely, and has good sugar levels, and low acid.”

Royal Rainier came from the breeding program of Zaiger’s Genetics in Modesto, California. It is a cross of experimental varieties and is not related to Rainier, a cross of Van and Bing bred at Washington State University.

Leith Gardner, manager at Zaiger’s, said Royal Rainier was selected in 1983, was evaluated thoroughly to make sure it had the quality that was necessary and didn’t bruise too easily. It has been planted commercially since 1999.

Dave Wilson Nursery near Modesto, California, is the exclusive supplier of Royal Rainier trees. General Manager Dennis Terry said he’s perplexed by reports from Washington that the cherry tastes bad. He describes it as a remarkable, highly flavored variety that taste panels consistently rank the best. It’s so good, he says, that at his nursery it outsells Rainier by a two-to-one margin. He estimates that about 750 acres of Royal Rainier have been planted, the vast majority in California.

“We have dozens and dozens of growers who have it here in California. I think the most universal comment I have is, ‘The flavor’s outstanding.’ It’s been our number-one cherry.”

Terry said he’s not convinced that Royal Rainier can’t be grown successfully in the Pacific Northwest. No matter where the cherry is grown, if it’s picked too early, as soon as it begins to blush, it won’t taste good, he said. “Determining the true picking time of the variety is the most critical thing that’s going to change when you move from one geographic location to another.”

Lyall said there is a tendency for growers to pick fruit early to gain a marketing advantage and the sulfur taste is worse in less ripe fruit, but it never completely goes away. “Maybe our volcanic soil brings out that sulfurish taste,” he wondered.

John Williamson in Caldwell, Idaho, has a fourth-leaf planting of Royal Rainier that produced its first full crop this year. Williamson said the variety develops more red blush than Rainier.

“I think you have a tendency to go out and want to pick them. They look ripe, but they’re really not. I thought they had a little bit of an off flavor until they were really ripe, and then they were fine.”


Grower Brent Jackson has found that a cherry variety can vary greatly in quality, depending on where it’s grown. He’s grown the original Rainier in test blocks and has nothing good to say about it.
“It’s probably one of the worst-eating white cherries I’ve ever eaten in our area. In northern California, it’s a nice-eating cherry. I’ve bought Rainiers from Washington, and it’s a completely different-tasting cherry. It eats real nice.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Royal Rainier may not be as good in Washington as they are here because I’ve seen the opposite be true with Rainier,” he added. “Climate makes a huge difference.”

12 acres

Jackson has 8,000 acres of peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, and Asian pears, but only 80 acres of cherries. Royal Rainier was the first cherry he planted about seven years ago, and he feels fortunate that his 12 acres of that variety have turned out well.

“Since then, we’ve taken about 15 to 20 cherry varieties per year and put them in our test block, and out of those, maybe one or two a year will make commercial grade,” he said.

He has no qualms about planting new peach or nectarine varieties on a commercial scale, but says the risk is much greater with cherries. Even cherry varieties developed at Zaiger’s Genetics, just two hours north of his orchard, don’t necessarily perform the same in the central valley, south of Fresno, where the temperature typically exceeds 100 degrees for 25 to 50 days each year. Bing –produces 80 percent doubles in those conditions.

Terry has also observed that cherries perform differently in the different regions. “We have Lapins (from British Columbia, Canada) that come down here that are absolutely fabulous,” he said, “But –conversely, Benton

doesn’t strike me as that great, but it’s been raved about.”


Lyall, in Washington, believes that numerous new and hyped-up cherry varieties have failed to live up to expectations because cherry varieties are being pushed onto the market too soon, before they’ve been fully tested beyond research plots.

This is hard on growers because of the tremendous investment that goes into planting cherries, he said. Oregon State University agricultural economist Dr. Clark Seavert estimates that a grower invests $15,000 per acre in a new cherry planting before it begins to generate a return.

Tieton, a WSU release, is very site dependent and may produce soft fruit in lower-elevation orchards, Lyall said. Chelan, an early-maturing variety from WSU, is large and attractive but doesn’t have much –flavor if picked too early.

Terry, at Dave Wilson Nursery, thinks Chelan is lacking in flavor everywhere it’s grown. “Everybody’s kind of underwhelmed with the flavor of the variety, and it’s all about flavor,” he said. “Chelan is a variety that really needs to be replaced with something better.”

Dr. Matt Whiting, cherry horticulturist at WSU in Prosser, said if the market is good, growers might be encouraged to harvest early varieties a little too early. “And when you do that, you have a different—tasting Chelan, or Royal Rainier, than something that’s allowed to grow on the tree a little longer. Fruit maturity does make a big difference, and how the environment affects all those components of flavor as it develops towards maturity is a big unknown.”

He wonders what role nutrition might play in flavor, also.


Dr. Jim Olmstead, manager of WSU’s cherry breeding program in Prosser, said researchers analyze new selections at the research station, and advanced selections are planted in the orchards of grower collaborators. Researchers could keep selections until they evaluate every trait and find out how they perform in different locations, but that would take many years.

“We can definitely do that,” he said. “But that’s not the feedback I’m getting from the grower community. They’re willing to take on an acceptable level of risk, and that’s a very loaded term. How do you decide what’s acceptable? And it’s different for each grower.”

A large, diversified operation can take on more risk than a small grower who is depending heavily on the new planting for income, Olmstead pointed out.

“There’s an inherent risk that you’re going to try something and it’s not going to work, and particularly with cherry varieties there tend to be some environment-specific interactions that go on.”

Whiting believes that new varieties are inadequately tested because growers are so eager to plant them. “We’ll be looking at a selection in Prosser, and you have growers in Wenatchee or the Basin saying, “I want 5,000 trees of those.”

Gardner at Zaiger’s Genetics advises growers not to start out on too big a scale.

“Think small until you know it’s going to fit into your program and will perform the way you want it to,” she said. “For some growers, 40 acres is small, but to me, that’s too big a risk. Cherries are a little fickle, and they don’t always perform like a peach or nectarine would. Plant a row or two rows, but keep it to five acres or less.” 

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Rainier Cherry Tree

Rainier Cherry (Prunus avium ‘Rainier’) is an outstanding sweet cherry tree that produces large, delicious yellow fruit with a beautiful dark red blush. It’s an easy to grow, low maintenance backyard variety that was originally produced by crossing the popular Bing red cherry with the age-old favorite, Van red cherry.

Rainier is one of the world’s sweetest yellow cherries and is in high demand by home gardeners. It was developed in the Pacific Northwest by Harold Fogel, and was named for the area’s highest mountain peak. Like its namesake, Mount Rainer, the Rainier Cherry has reached a mountaintop level of appreciation by cherry lovers!

Often called a “white cherry” for its creamy white flesh, or a “blond cherry” for its yellow skin that’s blushed red, the Rainier is prized for its exceptionally sweet fruit. It is often considered the best yellow cherry ever developed and is even considered by some to be the best of ALL cherry varieties.

This is an early bearing variety, so plan to start enjoying your delicious harvest in mid-season, when other garden treats are just getting started.

Because this cherry requires a pollinator, it is recommended that a later ripening Van, Lapin’s or Sweetheart Cherry be planted as a pollination partner. You’ll be glad you planned ahead, as you can extend your cherry harvest by almost a month with a careful selection of later bearing cherry partner trees.

Rainier is a prolific and heavy bearer, so you’ll have plenty of its sweet and healthy cherries to cook, freeze or just eat fresh right off the tree. The thin-skinned fruit typically has a very high sugar content, measuring in at 20 to 25 Brix rates, which are much higher sugar levels than the Bing Cherry or other red cherry selections.

It’s not just the cherries you’ll love. You’ll also adore the beautiful spring blooms almost as much as the cherries. The pink-tinted, white blossoms are beautifully displayed upon the limbs of the typically upright growing cherry tree canopy. In autumn, Rainier puts on another show when its foliage transitions to spicy tones of bronze and yellow.

It’s easy to prune Rainier Cherry tree to under 10 feet tall. Called size control pruning, it makes harvest a lot easier.

The only thing that remains is how quickly you can get one in the ground. Cherries can take up to 3 years to bear fruit. The sooner you have it planted the sooner you’ll be enjoying the finest cherry variety ever created.

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Recommended pollinators: Van, Lapins, Bing, Stella

Choosing a Location for Cherry Trees

The best tactic for success: Plan before you plant!
Let’s discuss location: Do you know where you want to plant your new cherry trees? Avoid many future problems by considering all facets of the planting spot, such as:

  • Cross-pollination
  • Sun and good soil
  • The immediate surroundings
  • Spacing
  • Room for future plantings

NOTE: This is part 3 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow cherry trees, we recommend starting from the beginning.


Stark Bro’s sells both sweet cherry trees and sour cherry trees along with some popular heirloom cherry varieties. Many of our cherry trees are self-pollinating, meaning your mature tree will bear fruit without requiring another cherry variety’s pollen; however, additional nearby (within 50 feet) cherry trees of a different variety can improve fruit-set and yield. Remember, two of the same variety will not work for cross-pollination (with the exception of seed-grown cherries) and sweet cherry trees and sour cherry trees are not recommended pollinators for one another.

Self-pollinating cherry trees work well for small spaces, because another cherry tree is not required for fruit production. Consider planting one of these popular self-pollinating cherry trees:

Sun, Soil Type and Drainage

Cherry trees thrive in a location that gets full sun and has a well-drained, fertile soil. “Full sun” is defined as at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. Sunlight is critical to fruit production and quality, and also helps keep fungal issues from getting a foothold. Keep this in mind when choosing a location for your new cherry trees.

Good soil drainage is necessary to keep a cherry tree’s roots healthy — and healthy roots are the foundation of a healthy tree. If your native soil is composed of heavy clay that retains water after rainy weather, you should choose a different site for your cherry tree. Conversely, if your site has fast-draining sandy soil, then your cherry tree may suffer drought stress and require more frequent watering. We do not recommend planting cherry trees in either rocky or heavy, pure-clay soils. If you can’t plant elsewhere, try improving the soil prior to planting.

Even if your yard’s soil isn’t the best, take heart: cherry trees can be very adaptable and respond well to soil additives like compost or fertilizers. How you amend your soil depends heavily on your individual location, so communicating with your local county Cooperative Extension is a wise first step. In general – to help with water distribution – you can add coir like our Coco-Fiber Planting Medium to your cherry tree’s planting hole, or mix in one-third sphagnum/peat to the soil at planting time.

As an alternative to all of that digging, you can:

  • Build a bottomless raised bed (at least 12 inches deep and at least 3 to 4 feet around); or
  • Plant your cherry tree in a container. Plant your new tree in a 5-gallon container, to start. You can “pot-up” cherry trees into successively larger containers as the trees outgrow them.


Cherry trees, with their breathtaking blossoms, can also be a landscaping asset — so choose a planting site with this in mind. Imagine your new cherry tree as a full-grown tree, and think everything through:

  • Are there utility wires or any other obstructions overhead?
  • Are there underground cables, pipes, irrigation systems, utilities or other lines to avoid?
  • Is there a sidewalk, driveway, or foundation within the range of your cherry tree’s mature spread?
  • Might your cherry tree block the view of something you want to see, once it’s fully grown?
  • Will neighboring trees be in the way, or block sunlight from your cherry trees as they grow?
  • Even a year or two after planting, a cherry tree can be very hard to successfully transplant, so take the time to plant it in just the right place the first time!

Space Wisely

Growers often ask about the recommended planting distances for cherry trees to keep them away from patios, sewer lines, water pipes, etc. Ordinarily, patios will not be a problem because the soil beneath them is dry and compacted, and the roots will not be as encouraged to grow into this area. Conversely sewer and water lines tend to be wet, which will encourage cherry tree roots to grow around them if planted too closely.

A smart distance is somewhere beyond your cherry tree’s estimated maximum spread, which is roughly equal to the mature height of the cherry tree you choose to plant. Our recommendations are below:

  • Dwarf: 8 to 14 feet
  • Semi-Dwarf: 12 to 18 feet

Space for Future Plantings

If you’re new to planting cherry trees, or you’re planting them in a new location, it’s wise to start with just a few. Later on, especially after you have enjoyed the benefits of growing your own cherries firsthand, you may want to expand your orchard. Always err on the safe side and leave room for future cherry trees, other fruit trees, berry plants, and other garden plants. You’ll be glad you did.

Spacing between trees:

Dwarf Sweet, 8-10 feet
Semi-Dwarf Sweet, 15-18 feet
Standard Sweet, 18-25 feet

Dwarf Sour, 8-10 feet
Semi-Dwarf Sour, 12-15 feet
Standard Sour, 15-18 feet

In This Series

  • Introduction

Getting Started

  • Acclimate
  • Location
  • Planting
  • Soil Preparation

Care & Maintenance

  • Fertilizing
  • Pest & Disease Control
  • Pruning
  • Spraying
  • Watering

Other Topics

  • Harvesting

Cherry Tree Care – How To Grow Cherry Trees

Have you been thinking about planting cherry trees? They are grown for two reasons. Often, people are growing cherry trees because of the delicious fruit. Sometimes, however, people plant cherry trees because they are beautiful when they blossom in the springtime. Let’s look at how to grow a cherry tree in your garden.

How to Grow a Cherry Tree

Planting cherry trees requires well-drained, fertile soil. Cherry trees are very susceptible to root rot, so the soil needs to be drain well. They also require about eight hours of sunlight daily, so you cannot plant them where they will grow in the shade of other trees.

Any cherry tree care manual will tell you that sour cherry trees are self-pollinators. This means they do not require more than one tree to produce the fruit. However, if you plant the sweet variety, you will need at least a couple of trees for proper cherry tree pollination.

Make sure when growing cherry trees that you plant them in higher ground. You don’t want them planted in low lying areas because these areas get more frost during the early spring. The blossoms of the growing cherry trees are very susceptible to frost damage, which lowers your fruit crop. Sweet cherry trees bloom earlier than the sour variety, so they are also more susceptible to frost damage.

Also, when thinking about cherry tree care, you should remember to have the trees pruned so they produce a good harvest of fruit. Properly pruned cherry trees produce better fruit and in more quantity.

Harvesting Cherries

Birds love cherries. Because of this, you’ll either have to share your cherries with the birds, or cover your tree with netting to prevent the birds from getting at your crop. Sometimes, you can prevent birds from taking as much by hanging scare devices, like aluminum pie pans, from the limbs of the tree.

When harvesting your growing cherry trees, taste the cherries before picking them. Sour cherries are soft and juicy when they are ripe. Sweet cherries are ready when their color is uniform and they have a sweet flavor in a meaty fruit.

Harvest your cherries with the stem attached. This helps retain their freshness after you pick them. Also, they keep better and longer if the stem is still attached after harvest.

Cherries can be used in all sorts of things. You can make jams, can them, or just eat them plain. Sour cherries are the perfect pie cherry. Just keep in mind the cherry tree care that these trees need and you should end up with a great crop.

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PHOTO: by Amy Stross April 6, 2016

Cherry trees can be an excellent food crop for the backyard or small-farm setting. The most important decision when planting cherry trees is whether to plant the sweet cherry (Prunus avium) or the tart cherry (Prunus cerasus). By knowing the differences between the two species you can determine which will be right for you.

The Sweet Cherry

Sweet cherries are more challenging to grow. Sort of the Goldilocks of fruit trees, they require everything to be “just right”—excellent drainage and a drier climate but not too hot—in order to thrive. Because of the heat factor, they don’t tend to grow well in the southern United States, instead being relegated to hardiness zones 5 to 9, west of the Rocky Mountains in low-humidity areas, where they have fewer pest threats.

Standard-sized sweet cherry trees reach 20 to 40 feet tall, while dwarf or semi-dwarf trees reach 8 to 15 feet tall. The sweet cherry requires at least two different cultivars for cross pollination.

Sweet Cherry Varieties:

  • Bing: large, dark-red, meaty fruit commonly seen in stores; prone to cracking in wet weather
  • Black Tartarian: juicy, sweet black cherry with an early ripening season
  • Emperor Francis: yellow skin with a red flush; among the sweetest of cherries; tolerant of various soil types
  • Kristin: sweet red fruit; resistant to cracking in wet weather; cold-hardy
  • Stella: dark-fleshed fruit; prone to cracking in wet weather but is self-fertile

The Tart Cherry

The tart cherry is more widely adaptable to various climates. It prefers well-drained soil but can tolerate a rainier, more humid climate than the sweet cherry. Tart cherries grow best in hardiness zones 4 to 8.

Tart cherries, aka pie cherries, are not as tart as the name implies and can be quite enjoyable eaten straight off the tree. Those with a penchant for sweeter fruit will find that cooking them for just a few minutes on the stove with a tablespoon of water will mellow their flavor and turn them into something akin to pie filling without the added sweetener.

Standard-sized tart-cherry trees are considerably smaller than their sweet counterparts, reaching only up to 20 feet tall. Dwarf or semi-dwarf tart cherry trees will reach 8-12 feet tall. Tart cherry trees are self-pollinating, meaning there’s no need to plant two different cultivars for cross pollination.

Tart Cherry Varieties:

  • Meteor: a natural dwarf variety; large, bright-red fruit; cold-hardy and disease-resistant
  • Montmorency: the standard pie cherry with large, bright-red fruits; early ripening season; fruit resists cracking in wet weather
  • North Star: a compact tree that produces medium-sized red fruit; cold-hardy and resistant to cracking and disease; does well in rainy, humid conditions

Which Rootstock Is Right For You?

As you begin your search for the perfect cherry tree keep consider whether a standard-sized tree or a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety is best for you. Both have their advantages and disadvantages that you’ll need to weigh for your climate, growing space and use of the fruit.

Standard Cherry Trees

Standard-sized cherry trees will generally be more vigorous and resilient and have a longer lifespan and higher yield than dwarf varieties. Although they take up more space, they can be pruned to remain small if you’re growing in a smaller urban or suburban plot. Keep in mind that the larger the tree, the more difficult it will be to harvest from.

Standard-sized trees will begin bearing at 3 to 7 years of age and yield around 150 to 300 pounds of fruit per year once they start producing.

Dwarf and Semi-Dwarf Cherry Trees

Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees will be naturally smaller, taking up less space, and will yield fruit at a younger age. However, they typically have a shorter lifespan, yield less and can be more finicky about their growing conditions. Because they have a less vigorous root system, they will be more likely to need supplemental irrigation and fertilization, making them the less likely candidate for remote locations.

Planting A Cherry Tree

When To Plant

Fall is the most advantageous time to plant fruit trees, and cherry trees are no different. The summer heat can be taxing to a new tree, so when planted in the fall, they’ll have extra time to adapt to their new home and develop a strong root system that will help them thrive through hot, dry spells. If you’re planting in the spring, be sure to give your new tree enough water throughout its first summer when there isn’t sufficient rainfall.

Where to Plant

Cherry trees need well-drained soil. If you have high groundwater or live in a rainy, humid climate, plant your tree in a raised mound so the roots will sit above standing water.

Both sweet and tart cherries prefer a location in full sun. Although tart cherry trees can tolerate some shade, the more full sun they can get, the better chance you’ll have against pest and disease problems. Access the morning sun, in particular, allows the dew to dry from their leaves, reducing fungal issues.

A late-spring frost can threaten to kill cherry blossoms, which would mean no fruit that year. To protect your trees from frost damage, plant them on the northeast side of a building or slope.

When the proper care is taken, cherry trees can be a beautiful, delicious, and productive addition to the backyard garden or small farm. The hardest part will be deciding which type to grow—sweet or tart.

Once your trees are fruiting, try out these recipes:

  • Goat’s Milk & Cherry Spiced Smoothie
  • Quince & Cherry Strudel
  • Tart-Cherry Cinnamon Soda
  • Cinnamon Cherry Muffins

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