Pruning Cherry Trees

After 4 years of experimenting and moving things around and some flops and some successes, we finally had our long-term garden plan in place and the decision of where to plant the sour cherry trees was made. I researched and picked out the varieties that best fit our needs and that fall, he drove to a nursery over an hour away to buy the trees. A few days later our boys helped me plant them. And we were done! We just needed to be patient and wait for the annual battle with the birds over the cherries. That’s what I pretended to believe, anyway, because the idea of pruning a tree was completely intimidating to me. A tree isn’t like a plant, which will usually recover in a short time or, worst case, leaves you out only a few dollars if it doesn’t recover. Trees are expensive and slow-growing so mistakes are a more serious matter.

Knowing pruning was inevitable if we were going to look forward to many years of healthy trees, I began my research. The amount of information available was overwhelming and the variety of opinions only added to the confusion. I quickly passed the pruners on to my husband and asked him to do the deed.

Pruning the cherry trees is not a one-time job. They need much attention the first few years of their lives to ensure they grow in a way that gives the proper structure for strength, air flow, and light penetration when they are mature, so I have since sat down and and invested more time in research. I made a few discoveries in the process, things that have made me feel confident that when the time comes, I will be able to make those cuts. I’ve made a short list summarizing the things I felt were the most important points to prevent me from over-thinking the whole process when it is time to prune.

Where to learn about pruning: I found that pruning instructions offered through university extension programs are typically the most straightforward, without obvious personal opinions that can make a novice doubt their ability to ever be informed enough to complete the task. It allowed me to focus better on just the basics.Many of them also use simple illustrations which make “seeing” the things we’re supposed to cut with pruning shears and the direction we should be cutting easier.Probably my favorite illustration can be found by following this link and scrolling to page 2. The simple silhouette and many of the tree pruning features you read about all appearing on one tree make it a great reference for quick learning.

When to prune: At the time of planting, all dead or diseased wood should be removed. One of the things that I found to be most contested, though, is when you should do major pruning of them. There are the winter pruners and the summer pruners. Summer pruners believe they have a better chance of avoiding disease. They also encourage slower growth of the tree, which is helpful for mature trees. The winter pruners encourage more rapid growth as they are not interfering with the tree during the time it is actively growing. Waiting until late winter, right before it emerges from dormancy should help with avoiding disease. I also found some combination pruners! They do the major pruning in the winter but prune away things like water spouts (thin, leggy vertical growing shoots) in the summer.

Knowing where to begin: Cherry trees benefit most from central leader training. This means one main trunk is chosen and 3-5 lateral branches are selected as the scaffold branches. These should be as evenly space around the tree as possible, not directly across or above/beneath one another, and should have 18 to 24 inches of vertical space between them to allow good airflow and light penetration as the tree grows. The crotch angle (the point where the branch meets the trunk) should be at around a 60 degree angle. Since cherry tree branches tend to grow vertically you may need to put metal spreaders in the branch crotches for a few years to train them to this angle. We had trouble getting these to stay in place and opted to tie the branches, close to the crotch, to stakes in the ground.

If you are starting with a whip, a young tree that looks like a stick with few or no branches, it will be cut back 1/4 inch above a bud that is 30-36 inches from the ground. Starting with a whip allows you be more selective about which branches to choose as your scaffolds as they begin growing from the trunk; However, since it is a very young tree, you have a longer wait until that first cherry pie. When purchasing older trees, keeping the idea of scaffold branches in mind will assist you with choosing the tree with branches that will be easiest to train.

How to cut: When you decide a branch needs to go, the whole thing should go. Do not leave long stubs. Leaving stubs causes slower healing times because the healing hormones that travel to the cut from the branch collar (the part where the branch and the trunk connect and are actually sharing wood) have to travel farther to the wound. And often, the stub will just die anyway. Cut it to 1/2 to 1 1/2 inch from the trunk, but not into the branch collar.
Similarly, if you are heading back branches, or shortening them, cut at about 1/4 inch above a bud. Hormones that heal pruning wounds also reside in the buds so, again, you don’t want them to have far to travel.

Cuts should be made at an angle to prevent water from sitting on the open wound. You want to angle the cuts so that new growth will emerge growing in the right direction. You don’t want to encourage it to grow toward the center of the tree.

What tools to use: Fiskars offers a large variety of tools for your pruning needs. Hand pruners can be used on branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Loppers can be used on branches up to 1 1/2 inch in diameter. Pruning saws can be used on branches over 1 inch in diameter. Pole pruners can be used on mature trees that have branches that are out of reach.

More extensive information about things such as how to determine which types of branches to remove, whether or not wound dressing should be used, etc. should be available through your local extension office, which can be located by following this link.



Cherries may be either deliciously sweet and deep brown-red, or quite tart and bright red. The two most common are the sweet cherry, Prunus avium L., and the sour (often referred to by growers as the pie or tart) cherry Prunus cerasus L.. Sour cherries have a lower sugar content and a higher acid content than its sweet counterpart. Not surprisingly, sour cherries are slightly less caloric than sweet cherries, containing about 60 calories per 3.5 oz (100 g) portion compared to 80 calories for sweet. Cherries are high in vitamin C, carbohydrates, and water, and include trace amounts of fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), niacin, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium.

Cherries are found in the wild and have been domesticated for centuries. There is a myriad of cherry types, resulting from new varieties and hybrids developed for hardiness and flavor. This fruit is found in Asia, Europe, and North America, with Iran, Turkey, United States, Germany, and Italy leading in the production of cherries. Together, 10 countries produce over 1.1 million short tons (over one million metric tons) of cherries annually.

Cherry trees offer products other than the fruit itself. The lovely, fragrant cherry blossoms are a rite of spring and are actually a tourist draw in places such as Washington, DC, and Door County, Wisconsin. In addition, parts of the tree itself have long been used for medicinal purposes. The bark, leaves, and seeds of the cherry trees contain cyanogenic glycosides—poisons that are lethal if ingested by children or animals. Native Americans and others use the leaves and carefully prepare teas with them for the treatment of colds or coughs. Others have experimented with cherry stalk tea in the treatment of kidney diseases. The cherry has also been associated with virginity from ancient times to the present day. The association may be derived from the fact that the red colored fruit that encircles a small seed symbolizes the uterus of Maya, the virgin mother of Buddha, who was offered fruit and succor by a holy cherry tree while she was pregnant.


The sweet cherry originated in the area between the Black and Caspian Seas in Asia Minor. It is likely that bird feces carried it to Europe prior to human civilization. Greeks probably cultivated the fruit first. Romans cultivated the fruit as it was essential to the diet of the Roman Legionnaires (their use likely spread the fruit throughout Western Europe). It is believed that English Colonists brought the fruit to the New World prior to 1630, but they do not seem to have flourished in the eastern United States. Spanish Missionaries brought sweet cherries to California, and varieties were brought west by pioneers and fur traders as well. Sour cherries also are native to Asia Minor, and were brought over to the New World by settlers rather early as well.

Today, the United States probably produces more tart cherries than sweet because the former are easier to grow. They are simply less fussy and are affected less by bad weather. Thus, they flourish in greater numbers. Now, cherry growers are able to purchase a variety of cherry types that best suit the soil and climate in which they operate. New cultivars (cultivated varieties) of both sweet and sour cherries are being developed that are hardier than older varieties; German varieties are proving to be extraordinarily successful for cultivation in this country.

Raw Materials

Generally, cherries flourish in deep, well-drained, loamy soils. Cherries require cooler climes rather than hot ones because they must be chilled for about 1,000 hours annually. The cherry trees bloom relatively late in spring, so frost is less of a hazard for this stone fruit than others such as peaches or apricots. However, too much frost late in the spring may adversely affect cherry production. The clime must be one that does not have excessive rain during harvest since too much rain at that time can cause the fruit (particularly sweet cherries) to crack. Tart cherries are a bit easier to cultivate and are more tolerant of frost as well as humid, rainy weather. The relative ease with which tart cherries are grown may be one reason why so many are grown in the United States.

Trees of good stock are also necessary for successful cultivation of cherries. It is imperative to acquire stock through tree nurseries that are suited for the soil and climate of the grower’s region. Bees, however, ensure that the cherry trees flower and ultimately produce fruit, and are an extremely important ingredient in the cultivation of cherries. Bees are usually brought into the tree orchard in the spring as the flowers first bloom in order to distribute pollen so that the fruit blossoms. Bee hives are generally rented by cherry growers each year. It remains imperative that fertilizers are applied to domesticated cherry trees via foliar (leaf-applied) feedings. Pesticides and fungicides are applied before harvest to deter diseases and pests.

The Production Process

Soil preparation

Different varieties of cherry trees flourish in slightly different soils. Generally, cherries prefer a moderate pH of 6 or 7. Most orchard owners periodically test the soil to ensure the pH is near that mark and may add special fertilizers to treat the soil. Extensive use of fertilizers may encourage vigorous growth but may retard blooming and fruit bearing, so cultivators must carefully assess their use of fertilizers.

  • 1 Root stocks are carefully chosen by cherry growers for their lineage and compatibility with the soil and climate of the orchard. Lineage, as one grower puts it, means that the stock is from healthy, dependable trees from reputable fruit nurseries. There is much contention about the most dependable root stocks for both sweet and tart cherries. A new root stock from Germany (a significant source for cherries) named Gisela allows production from dwarf trees with high yield efficiency and fairly early production.
  • 2 Some varieties of cherry trees, particularly those of the Pacific Northwest, do not naturally produce many branches. Thus, the center of the tree may be dense with a central limb. It is therefore essential for growers to prune the trees regularly so that all the flowers (and ultimately, fruits) receive the amount of sunlight and air circulation required for fruit production. This pruning may be done prior to harvest, after harvest, or at both times. Some growers are experimenting with ways to encourage branching (which still may require pruning). These trees must be carefully maintained. It takes five or six years for sweet cherry trees to produce fruit, with maximum yields obtained at about that time. Sweet cherry trees produce fruit for up to 30 years. Tart cherry trees produce fruit after about three years, and produce fruit for 20 to 25 years.

Fungicides and insecticides

The schedule for applying fungicides and insecticides may vary from orchard to orchard. Some growers apply the first fungicides at floral bloom in spring to prevents leaf spot. Insecticides to keep off bore worms and/or other insecticides may be applied every two weeks or so until harvest.

  • 3 Bees must pollinate the flowers. Just as the trees begin to blossom, cherry growers let bees loose in order to distribute the pollen so that fruit will blossom. The flower must be pollinated in order for the tree to bear fruit. Bees may be set in alternate rows to ensure pollination. Generally, 25-50% of flowers must set fruit each year in order for the crop to be commercially viable.
  • 4 It is approximately two months from flower to fruit. As the fruit ripens, growers hope for no frost and just the right amount of rain—too much rain will crack and damage the sweet cherries. Maturity is gauged by a variety of means, and may vary by grower. Traditionally, color has been a key indicator. Growers are increasingly moving toward determining fruit removal force—the easier it is to remove the fruit, the more mature it is. This maturity is measured by a pull gauge that pulls the fruit from its pedicel. Just before harvest, some growers who use tree-shakers to shake the cherries off their stems apply a spray that makes it easier for the cherries to drop off the tree.
  • 5 Both sweet and tart cherries intended for processing are shaken from trees when ripe. Tree trunks are shaken by a machine that forces the cherries from the tree; it takes just five seconds to drop the fruit from the tree using a shaker. The fruit drops onto a cloth or plastic cover so that it can be easily gathered. (Tree shaking is an ordeal for the grower as well as the tree—the machines are very expensive and if the shaking is done incorrectly, the machine vibrations may damage trees, particularly young trees.) However, sweet cherries that are to be consumed fresh are laboriously hand-picked and carefully boxed for prompt sale.
  • 6 Cherries are now ready to be processed into consumer or retail produce items. Cherries that are to be processed (canned, dried, or frozen) are quite delicate and are easily bruised. They also have a short shelf life, so they must be processed immediately. Tart cherries shaken from trees are immediately plunged into cold water and conveyed to processing plants, where they are washed, de-stemmed, pitted, and packed for freezing within hours of harvesting. Sweet cherries picked for fresh consumption may be hydro-cooled or dumped into cold water by pickers, then packed in shallow flats after being sorted based upon their size and color. Sweet cherries are then immediately shipped out, since their shelf life is just two weeks. They are still prone to brown rot and a variety of molds during this time.
  • 7 For many growers, there is little preparation of the trees for the winter. After harvesting, another spray is applied to foliage to prevent harmful leaf spot. Pruning of limbs and branches often happens after harvesting as well. Other than that, the trees are left unprotected. Cherry trees, like most trees, prefer a fall that gradually gets colder rather than one that is very warm and then very cold suddenly. The gradual cooling of the tree is called “hardening off” so that the tree is eased into the cold weather.

Quality Control

Cultivating a commercially viable cherry crop has many components. First, the soil pH and nutrients must be tested frequently (generally by a state university extension service) so that foliar fertilizers meet the requirements of the trees. Generally, growers keep a record of these soil tests. Second, the grower must understand the climate and soil types well enough to choose root stock that will flourish in that area. Third, pesticides or insecticides must be very carefully mixed and applied according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, recommendations of state university extension services, and the product label. Fourth, pollination of the cherry blossoms is absolutely imperative; if there are few bees in the area, growers must rent bees for this purpose. Fifth, the trees must be carefully shaken during harvesting (if the cherries are to be harvested) so that the tree is not irreparably damaged. Finally, vigilant pruning and assessing the amount of air and sunlight densely packed trees receive is imperative for large yields.

The Future

Perhaps the biggest issue looming for the cherry industry, which is fiercely independent and highly competitive, will be federal regulation of the crop (as other crop-growers are weaning themselves from these regulations). Tart cherry crops have been particularly problematic in the last several years. A bumper crop of tart cherries has resulted in exceedingly low crop prices (tart cherries are less affected by the vagaries of weather than sweet cherries and can be harvested in huge quantities). Several years ago the market was so saturated with tart cherries in Michigan that some growers were receiving five cents a pound for the crop, far below the twenty-cents per pound needed to break even. Federal regulations could establish the amount of cherries that may be offered for sale at market. Excess cherries may be frozen or stored, or given to charity. Some growers are trying to find ways to utilize these tart cherries in ingenious ways. A Michigan cherry grower recently combined lean ground meat with tart cherry pulp, resulting in a lean and tasty meat that appealed to the health-conscious. Others have turned to gourmet foods such as dried cherries, yogurt-covered cherries, or have developed specialty cereals in order to utilize the abundance of tart cherries.

Other issues involve the land upon which the cherries are grown. The cultivation of cherries is very labor-intensive and subject to the weather. Equipment is expensive, too; a cherry shaker alone may cost $175,000. Younger generations increasingly are un-willing to manage the family cherry orchard, realizing that much hard work may not even pay off in profits. Even established cherry growers are wondering if the work is worth the prices and uncertainty. In addition, many of these orchards are located in lush, lovely areas, and taxes on the prime parcels of land are putting some of the growers out of business. Families are deciding that it is not worth running the business, and are selling orchards that will be plowed under to make way for new housing.

Where to Learn More


Flesher, John. “State Cherry Growers Plot Strategies to Resurrect Their Troubled Industry.” Detroit News (January 2,1996).

Herzog, Karen. “Times, Taxes Shake Smaller Growers Out of Business in Door County.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (August 15,1999).


California Cherry Advisory Board. (December 2000).

Cherry Marketing Information. Growers’ Info. (March 2000).


Medicinal properties of cherries

Cherry tree

Edible properties of cherries

Cherries in the kitchen

Natural food

Medicinal properties of cherry tree

Common noun: Cherry tree, Sweet cherry

Scientific noun: Prunus avium L.

– Synonym: Cerasus avium (L.) Moench

Family: Rose family – Rosaceae

Habitat: It can be found in the wild, as a native tree, in many European woods, as well as in North Africa and Asia Minor.


A detail of the leaves, flowers and fruits

Characteristics of cherry tree

Deciduous tree of the Rose family – Rosaceae, up to 20 m.

Reddish brown trunk, with its bark breaking into horizontal stripes.

Leaves appearing after flowers, oblong or ovate, with a toothed margin, acuminate and pubescent in the angles of the nerves.

Flowers till 3 cm wide, gathered in bundles of 2-6 at the end of long stems.

Fruits in drupe, red.

Picking -up and storing cherries

Summit flowers must be picked-up in Spring, between March and April. Peduncles must be collected in Autumn, when fruits are well ripe (Although some varieties can be harvested in May, it is normally done during June)

Both, flowers and peduncles, should be dried in the shade and be kept in some air-tightened, well-cleaned container.

Cherry trees bloom in spring (Field of cherry trees)

Components of cherry tree

– Acids: citric, malic and caffeic (fruits) cyanhydric (seeds)

– Essential oil, rich in amygdalin and emulsin.

– Tannins

– Flavonoids

– Genistein




– Diuretic: It stimulates urine elimination, very useful in those cases in which it is necessary to stimulate the kidneys to increase micturition, in illnesses like: obesity, celullite, dropsy, (accumulation of liquids in the body with swelling of body tissues), edemas, kidney pain, nephritis, renal insufficiency, swollen eyes, etc. There are fundamentally two treatment types:

– Decoction of the floral peduncles or dry fruit decoction: Boil during 10 or 12 minutes 40 gr. of peduncles after having allowed them to macerate in water for 6 or 7 hours. Filter the preparation. Take three cups a day, after the main meals. It is a treatment that has a great diuretic power and it has to be used with wisdom in those people that have hypotension problems (with low blood pressure, using this treatment can lower blood pressure too much.)

– Infusion of peduncles: Carry out an infusion of a spoonful of peduncles for each cup of water, for 5 minutes. Cool and take three cups a day after the main meals.

– Antirheumatic: For its diuretic capacity it is used to help in the treatment of rheumatic illnesses: gout, arthritis, rheumatism, etc. (The same treatment previously seen)

– Circulator system: It fluidifies the blood and improves blood circulation, being very appropriate for the treatment of illnesses related with a faulty circulation: varixes, hemorrhoids, ocular pressure, etc.

– Cardiotonic: It has got cardiotonic properties, making the heart muscle to contract more powerfully, so it has been used in cases of light heart weakness that don’t require the use of foxgloves. (Digitalis sp.)


– Skin diseases: The preparation of slighter decoctions that the one previously seen exercises a healing power on the skin, to get rid of pimples , acne and other skin disorders and favouring the wound scaring. (Boil about 80 gr. of dry peduncles in a liter of water. Cool and apply with a gauze on the affected surface)

– Emmenagogue: Decoctions of floral summits are very adequate to favour menstruation, in cases such as dismenorrhea. It also alleviates women from premenstrual syndrome (Boil a teaspoon of floral summits for every glass of water during 10 minutes. Leave it cool and drink a couple of cups a day)

Edible properties of cherries

The fruit of the cherry tree, the cherry, is a very convenient food that should be taken in abundance in the short time in which we have it at hand, during spring time. Its little caloric power (52 calories each 100 gr.) and its richness in fibers is very useful to favor the intestinal evacuation, avoiding the constipation. In the same way, as it is very rich in vitamins and minerals (Take a look to the chart below) it is very appropriate to strengthen the organism and to avoid the spring asthenia.

A man picking cherries

Its high potassium content makes it specially interesting in the control of the heart activity, the good state of the muscles and of the nervous system, as well as in the calcification of the bones – very useful in the treatment of osteoporosis, too- It is very advisable to undertake a cure of cherries in spring. This cure consists on eating during three days 1500 gr of cherries and three yoghurts every day.

Nutritional composition of cherries

Approximated nutrition facts of cherry fruit

per 100 gr

Water 82 gr

Carbohydrates 35 gr

Proteins 0,9 gr

Fiber 1,90 gr

Fat 0,17 gr

Potassium 230 mg.

Copper 94 mg.

Manganese 63 mg.

Phosphorus 20 mg.

Calcium 17 mg.

Vitamin C 15 mg.

Vitamin B1 0.02 mg

Vitamin B2 0,04 mg

Vitamin B6 0,04 mg

Vitamin E 0,1 mg

Industrial uses of cherries

The wood of the cherry tree is very appropriate in turnery and joinery. If it is used for the fire, its smoke produces a very characteristic aroma.

Toxicity of cherries

The cherry tree, as the rest of trees belonging to the Prunus genus, such as the plum tree (Prunus domestica); The apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca); the peach tree (Prunus persica); or the almond tree (Prunus dulcis) contains in its seeds, flowers and leaves the cyanogenetic glycoside amygdalin.

This compound that, in the case of the almond tree, appears with a very big proportion in the seeds of the bitter almonds it is responsible for many intoxications. Amygdalin – C6H5CHCNOC12H21O10. – because of the action of the ferment emulsin, in contact with the saliva, becomes cyanhydric acid, – cyanide – a very potent poison.

In a same way cases of intoxications have been detected in animals, especially pigs that have eaten seeds, flowers or leaves of these plants.

The intoxication symptoms are the following ones: Suffocation, bad breath, vomiting, sickness, increase of the heart rhythm, respiratory failure and death.

Cultivation tips:

More information about natural medicine.

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing


Cherries, ready to pick. photo by Jack K. Clark, UC IPM Program English colonists first brought cherry trees to the United States in 1629. They were later introduced to California by Spanish missionaries. Cherry production has been well established in the San Joaquin and Santa Clara Valleys since the 1800s (California Cherry Board). California has the second largest sweet cherry industry in the U.S. with 82,000 tons produced on 33,000 planted acres in 2013 at a market value of $265,966,000 (USDA 2014). California growers have an advantage over producers in other states because they produce fruit from late April to late June, which arrives first to U.S. markets (USDA 2014). Approximately 25 – 35% of California sweet cherry production is sold to export markets (USDA 2012).

Domestic Sour and Sweet Cherry Production

Cherries belong to the Rosaceae family, along with other stone fruit crops such as almond, apricot, peach and plum (California Cherry Board). The two commonly cultivated cherry species are sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.) and sour cherry (Prunus cerasus L.). In the U.S., sweet cherry production has increased by 20% from the early 2000s to 70% of total domestic cherry production in 2013 (USDA 2014). In California, the primary cultivar with dark red fruit is Bing, while Rainier is the common cultivar with lighter, blushed fruit (California Cherry Board). The number of varieties grown in the state is increasing annually, mainly for adaptation to lower winter chilling conditions in the Southern San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere, greater resistance to rain-cracking, and large size, good firmness and retention of fruit stems. There is substantial interest in developing mechanical harvest of stem-on and stem-free sweet cherries. Research is being conducted to reduce dependence on labor, particularly in Michigan and Washington. California production is focused on sweet cherry. The majority of sour cherries are grown in Michigan, although some sweet cherries are also produced there. Approximately ¾ of sweet cherry production is sold to the fresh market. Cherries that do not meet strict fresh market standards are processed. Processed sweet cherries are commonly brined and sold as Maraschino cherries to be used in confectionary foods (e.g. desserts and drinks), while sour cherries sold for processing are mainly frozen. Other methods of processing include canning, converting the fruit into juice or wine, or drying (ERS 2012).

Ideal Climate and Soil Conditions

Cherry trees require specific soil conditions for commercial cultivation. Cherry grows best in deep, medium-textured soils, with good drainage, low alkalinity, and low salinity (UC IPM Website: Pests in Gardens and Landscapes). Cherry trees do not tolerate waterlogged soils, regardless of the rootstock used (Long and Kaiser 2010). In California, cherry trees grow well in locations with long, warm summer days and cool nights. During the growing season, excessively high temperatures can cause rapid growth and fruit deterioration during the current season (Crisosto et al., 2003) and high rates of fruit doubling and spurs (small side fruit formed on the normal fruit) the following growing season (Bethell 1988). In late winter, normal bloom and bud break require temperatures no lower than 20°F (Bethell 1988) because cherry is highly susceptible to frost damage (Lang 2001). However, adequate chilling is required to break dormancy. If the required chill hours have not been reached rest-breaking agents can be used to help offset the deficiency (Glozer 2010). Once adequate winter chilling (with or without rest-breaking agents) has been experienced, moderately warm spring temperatures without excessive heat (more than about 75°F), cold (prolonged temperatures below the mid-50’s °F), or frost is needed for even bloom development and good overlap of pollinizer varieties to set a viable crop.

Fruit Development

Cherry trees produce flowers and fruit primarily on spurs that are at least two years old. Fruit growth occurs for approximately 60 days after bloom (Lang 2001), and fruit is mature within 100 days of pollination (UC Master Gardener Program, 2013). Fruit must ripen on the tree for proper flavor development, as cherries do not continue to ripen after harvest. Pre-harvest rains are problematic because they cause the fruit to crack, making them difficult to market and considerably more susceptible to decay (Mitcham and Crisosto 2002). When rain occurs and penetrates the skin, fruit burst open, which can result in 90% of crop loss. This problem is especially challenging in firm cherry cultivars that have small crop yields (Brown et al., 1989).


Article by David Marks

Sweetheart is one of the most recent cherry varieties, it was raised in Canada, British Columbia at the Summerland Research Station, introduced in 1990. The parents of Sweetheart are Van and Newstar.

Use the checklist below to decide if the Sweetheart cherry tree variety is correct for you and your garden. If this is not the correct variety, see our cherry tree varieties page, to select another variety which may suit you better.

  • The fruits of Sweetheart are produced very late in the season season, ready for eating, on average, in the second week of August.
  • Fruits are of average size. They are red to dark red and have a sweet flavour with an excellent texture. There is a background acidity to the taste which is very pleasant to most people.
  • This an eating variety of cherry but can also be used used for jams and cooking although it will tend to loose its shape and form.
  • The picking period is longer than average (possibly the longest of all cherry trees) and lasts for at least two weeks, often into very early September.
  • This variety reliably produces a large amount of fruit, some seasons the fruits require thinning to avoid branch damage.
  • Disease resistance is good although mildew can be a problem in some areas.
  • Sweetheart is self-fertile and always produces a good crop even as a standalone tree.
  • It is fully hardy in all parts of the UK (however, see above about blossom) and a good choice for cooler areas.
  • It is also an excellent choice of tree for fan-training
  • Awarded a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2014.

Picture from public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0.


Sweetheart can often be found in your local garden centre and is also available online from several suppliers on Gisela 5 and Colt rootstock. We recommend growing it on Colt rootstock in most situations. It can be bought as both a potted tree (generally more expensive) all year round or as a bare-rooted tree from October to March (cheaper). We would recommend buying bare-rooted.


Sweetheart is in pollination group 3 to 4, self-fertile and does not need a pollination partner. It can be used to pollinate the following other cherry tree varieties in the UK:

Blossom of Sweetheart Cherry tree

  • Lapins, pollination group 2 to 3, eating variety
  • Van, pollination group 3, eating variety
  • Penny, pollination group 3 to 4, eating variety
  • Summer Sun, pollination group 3 to 4, eating variety
  • Stella, pollination group 4, cooking variety
  • Sunburst, pollination group 4, eating variety
  • Morello, pollination group 4, cooking variety


On Colt rootstock Sweetheart will grow to about 3m / 10ft tall when it has reached maturity after about 7 years. It can easily be pruned to reach a maximum height of 2m / 7ft. On Gisela 5 rootstock it will grow into a 2m / 7ft tall tree but will need more care than if grown on a Colt rootstock.


Click on the box below to see the full range of cherry tree varieties which we have reviewed in detail. Click on any one of them to see the full variety review.


The following are the key rules for growing this variety, for more detailed information about growing and pruning cherry trees:

  • Plant and grow in a full sun position.
  • The best time to plant Sweetheart is in late autumn to early winter. It can be planted at other times of year but will require watering more frequently to ensure it establishes well.
  • Plant the tree to the same depth as it was in the pot. If planting bare-rooted trees you will see a natural soil mark just above the roots which indicates the correct depth for planting.
  • Spread an 8cm / 3in layer of mulch around the base of the tree but not touching the main trunk. A mulched circle of about 1m / 3ft will be sufficient. This will retain moisture in the soil below and greatly help the tree to establish well.
  • Water very well immediately after planting.
  • Stake the tree for the first two years of its life on a Colt rootstock. If planted on Gisela 5 rootstock the tree will require staking for its life.
  • In the first summer after planting the tree, water well if conditions become dry.
  • Prune Sweetheart in the first year according to the suppliers instructions. Prune annually in later years, in mid July. See our detailed article on pruning cherry trees.
  • An annual mulch in late Spring will help to retain moisture and an even supply of water.
  • If any pests or diseases appear treat them as soon as possible. Consult our cherry tree pest and disease page for detailed information on identifying and treating problems.

Sweetheart Cherry Tree

Sweetheart Cherry Tree is a late harvest tree that grows upright. It has large, sweet, bright red fruit. This tree is also self-fertile making it a great addition to a small orchard looking for diversity.

Latin Name: Prunus avium
Site and Soil: Cherries like 1/2 day to full sun and well-drained soil.
RootstockDescription: Colt is considered a semi-dwarf rootstock which produces trees about 80% of standard size. Colt is adapted to most soils and is hardy, vigorous, productive, and forms a well-branched tree. Sweet Cherries on Colt rootstock can grow to 12-15 ft. in height.
Pollination Requirements: Sweetheart is self-fertile.
Hardiness: Sweetheart Cherry is hardy to about minus 20° F. or below.
Bearing Age: 2 – 3 years after planting.
Size at Maturity: 12-15 ft. in height.
Bloom Time: April
Ripening Time: Late Season
Yield: 50+ lbs.
Pests & Diseases: Bacterial Canker can damage Cherry trees. Symptoms of bacterial canker are dead branches and bronze colored exudation on branches or trunk. Apply a fall and winter copper spray to help prevent damage from this disease. To repel birds, you can cover your trees with netting or use flash tape to scare them away.
USDA Zone: 5
Sunset Western Zone: 2, 6-9,14, 15
Sunset Northeast Zone: Varies

Sweetheart Cherry Tree

Planting Advice for Sweetheart Cherry Trees

Our pot grown Sweetheart Cherry trees can be planted at any time of year, whereas bare root cherry trees can only be planted November – March. Sweetheart should be planted in full sun and spaced according to its rootstock, for example a semi-vigorous (Colt) rootstock will require approx. 4 metres between trees, whereas a dwarf rootstock will require approx. 3 metres between trees.

When planting, remove weeds and grass within a metre of your desired planting hole. Dig a square hole as deep as your root mass and approximately 2-3x as wide. To help fruit trees establish more effectively, sprinkle rootgrow in the hole.

Remove the pot, gently loosen the roots and place into the planting hole. Mix 50% of the original soil with 50% compost, fill in the hole and firm around gently. Avoid banking the soil up around the collar of the tree. We recommend planting Sweetheart Cherry trees with a stake and tie to ensure the roots are well anchored. The Cherry Tree Planting & Care guide has further information and videos.

Watering & Aftercare For Sweetheart Cherry Trees

If you’re planting in spring or summer, water well for the first few months. Increase watering if there are extended periods of hot or dry weather. If planting in autumn, you may only need to water a little. Keep the area free of competing weeds and grass for several growing seasons and if needed, use a rabbit guard.

Top tip: To check if the soil requires further water, dig a finger into the soil a few centimetres. If the soil feels even slightly moist, it does not need further watering. If it feels dry, water and repeat this test again.

Pruning Advice For Sweetheart Cherry Trees

Prune Sweetheart Cherry trees for the first few years after planting to ensure a healthy, natural shape with a strong branch structure. Your tree should have one central leader and several side shoots. Straight after planting, trim the main stem back to approximately 120cm and the remove the lowest laterals, allowing at least 50cm of clear stem. Carry out this formative pruning in early spring.

To maintain a strong branch structure, aim to have 7 or 8 main branches which are well spaced, allowing enough light and air inside the canopy. Prune any crossing, damaged or diseased branches, whilst making sure the overall form of your tree is balanced and attractive. Stone fruit trees, such as cherries should be pruned in summer when they are stronger and less susceptible to disease.

Welcome to The Old Cherry Tree

The Old Cherry Tree is a delightful 16th century grade 2 listed thatched pub at the end of Cherry Tree Lane in the the quaint village of Great Houghton.
We offer a warm welcome and a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere with a bar area made up of various alcoves and a separate dining room, plus a wonderful secluded beer garden and private parking for up to 15 cars.
We offer an extensive selection of wines from around the world, including 16 by the glass. Beers, ciders, spirits and soft drinks plus hot beverages.
Our menu is freshly prepared on the premises by our talented kitchen team using locally sourced produce.
Our lunch menu is simple and fresh with a variety of sandwiches and hot mains to enjoy. Our dinner menu is full of classic pub favourites (you must try our Cherry Tree burger) plus regular chef’s specials and delicious desserts. We also offer the best Sunday roast in the area served 12-4pm (booking is highly recommended). We can accommodate all dietary requirements offering dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan alternatives.
We can also cater for private dining in our restaurant (up to 30 seated) for your special occasion, creating a bespoke menu for you and your guests.
Christmas bookings are now being taken.

Japan’s Three Great Cherry Blossom Trees

Japan loves to put its tourist sights into a top three list. You may have heard about some popular top three lists in Japan before like the “Three Most Beautiful Gardens”, the “Three Most Famous Castles” and the “Three Most Beautiful Views”.

Did you know that there is also a list for cherry trees? The list is called the “Sandaizakura” (Three Great Cherry Blossom Trees).

Cherry blossoms or Sakura as they are called here in Japan are a big deal, so it probably doesn’t surprise you too much.

The Three Great Cherry Blossom Trees of Japan includes Miharu Takizakura in Fukushima, Usuzumizakura in Gifu and Jindaizakura in Yamanashi. The great trees have lived for many years and although they are individual trees, they are truly stunning and a must see in spring.

Here is a little about each famous tree to wet your appetite.

Miharu Takizakura, Fukushima Prefecture

Miharu Takizakura is an ancient cherry tree in Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture, in northern Japan. The beautiful tree is a weeping higan cherry tree or shidare sakura in Japanese, and is over 1,000 years old. Its light pink flowers spread in all directions from the branches, like a waterfall and hence its name “Takizakura”, which means “waterfall cherry blossoms” in Japanese.

It is a popular cherry blossom spot with around 300,000 people visiting the 12 meter-high national treasure every year. Many Japanese people regard it as the unofficial number one tree in all of Japan and it is a designated National Natural Monument of Japan.

Miharu Takizakura
The best time to see: mid to late April (varies each year)
Location: Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture
Variety: Shidare Sakura
Website (in Japanese):

Photo : shin–k on Flickr

Usuzumizakura, Gifu Prefecture

Usuzumizakura is an ancient cherry tree located in the beautiful mountains of Neo village in Gifu Prefecture. The tree is an Edohigan sakura and is one of Japan’s oldest at over 1,500 years old. It is believed to have been planted by Emperor Keitai in the 6th century.

The name Usuzumizakura means “pale grey cherry blossoms” and perfectly describes the very light grey colour of the blossoms just as they are about to fall.

The tree is unique as it initially sprouts pale pink blossoms, which change to pure white at full bloom, before finally changing to pale grey and falling to the ground. The tree was officially designated a national natural treasure in 1922, and is a must see come spring in central Japan.

Photo : Japan Australia on Flickr

Jindaizakura, Yamanashi Prefecture

Jindaizakura in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture is believed to be one of Japan’s oldest cherry trees at 2,000 years old. The ancient cherry tree is said to have been planted by Prince Yamato Takeru (an ancient hero of Japan).

The name Jindaizakura means “divine generations cherry blossom” in Japanese. The tree is an Edohigan sakura, and can be found within the grounds of Jissoji Temple. The trunk of the great tree is 12 meters around and it has been captivating visitors for hundreds of years.

The blooming of the cherry blossoms can vary from season to season depending on weather conditions. Keep an eye on the annual cherry blossom forecast for the latest news and reports and enjoy the wonderful cherry blossoms this season.

Photo : Shinya ICHINOHE on Flickr

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