How to Care for a Cherry Tree

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The cherry tree (Prunus avium) sways in the cool spring breeze, the petals breaking free of their buds and opening into a cloud of white and pink blossoms. As the cherry's flowers and leaves emerge after the tree's winter dormancy, the cycle of care begins anew.

Fertilizing the Tree

Fertilize the tree between two weeks and one month before the flowers open or new leaves emerge. However, if you miss that window, you can still fertilize while the tree is in bloom, up to the end of June. Fertilizing later than June encourages tender new growth; depending on your location, the growth coud be damaged by early frosts. Cherry trees thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8, depending on the cultivar, so your tree may have a short growing season.

Tip

  • A soil analysis provides an accurate measure of the composition of the soil and nutrients needed to support your cherry tree, but you can use a general-purpose fertilizer to feed the tree.

Young Trees

In general, young trees that are not yet producing fruit may be fertilized with a balanced 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 slow-release fertilizer. One treatment is sufficient for the season.

Scratch 2 ounces of fertilizer for each inch of the trunk's diameter into the soil, beginning 1 foot from the tree's trunk and scattering the fertilizer out to the drip line. Water thoroughly after applying the fertilizer. Rake 4 inches of mulch over the soil, pulling it back 6 inches from the tree's trunk. Mulch reduces weed growth and slows water evaporation from the soil.

Mature Trees

Fertilize a mature cherry tree with a fertilizer formulated for orchards, such as a 45-0-0 slow-release fertilizer. Apply 1/4 pound, or 4 ounces, of fertilizer for every inch of the tree's trunk in spring, approximately two weeks before the tree flowers. Scratch the fertilizer into the soil, beginning 1 foot from the trunk and scattering the fertilizer over the soil out to the drip line. Water thoroughly after fertilizing to prevent the fertilizer salts from damaging the tree's tender roots.

Warning

  • Wear gloves and safety goggles when applying fertilizer and spraying dormant oil to protect your skin and eyes.

Watering the Tree

The cherry tree requires weekly watering to produce blossoms and fruit. Apply 10 gallons of water for every inch of the tree trunk's diameter. Reduce watering in winter, when the tree is dormant, or if it is raining, and water twice a week in extremely hot weather.

Cleaning up in Fall and Winter

To prevent the spread of fungal diseases and discourage pests from overwintering, clean up under the tree in fall and again after pruning in late winter. Rake up all the dead leaves, twigs and other debris and place them on the compost pile or in the green bin for trash pickup. Also remove the old mulch and replace it with a fresh layer of mulch.

Dormant Oil Spray

Begin applying dormant oil in late winter and throughout the growing season. Apply it to the tree when temperatures are between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. To control insects, such as San Jose scale, mix 2.5 to 7.5 tablespoons of dormant oil concentrate with 1 gallon of water. Soak the trunk and branches, especially the undersides of the limbs, with the solution. Repeat if necessary to reduce insect infestations. To control powdery mildew, mix 2.5 to 5 tablespoons of concentrate with 1 gallon of water. Apply at 10- to 14-day intervals until the cherry pits begin to harden. Reapply after harvest to reduce overwintering fungi.

Pruning the Tree

Cherry trees tend to grow upward, requiring annual pruning to encourage fruiting and maintain the shape of the tree. Maintain the tree's shape by cutting the central leader at 2.5 to 3.5 feet above the ground, with three or four large branches forming a wide scaffolding. Alternately, in older or larger trees, prune the central leader at a specific height every year to encourage horizontal branches to develop.

Warning

    • Sterilize your pruning tools between cuts with a solution of equal parts water and rubbing alcohol. This prevents the spread of disease.
    • Wear shoes or boots, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, gloves and safety glasses when pruning to protect your skin and eyes from debris and stray branches and twigs.

Step 1

Prune the cherry tree in late winter or early spring, while the tree is dormant. Begin by removing dead, broken and crossing branches. If the entire branch is removed, cut it flush with the branch collar.

Step 2

Examine the branches while pruning. If any branches show signs of disease or dark streaks in the sapwood, sterilize the pruners again and cut the branch down to healthy wood.

Step 3

Remove upward growing water sprouts from the branches and all leaves, limbs, and root sprouts that may appear below the graft on the trunk. Prune water and root sprouts when they appear, while they're still small and manageable.

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