How to Grow a Cherry Tree

Whether you like them sweet enough to eat right off the tree, or served warm, tart and cocooned in flaky pie crust, growing your own sweet or sour cherry fruits is well worth the challenge. Depending on the variety or cultivar, a sweet cherry tree (Prunus avium) and a sour cherry tree (Prunus cerasus) are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8.

A 1- to 2-year-old, nursery-started cherry tree produces fruits more quickly than a tree started from seed. Expect a nursery-started sour cherry to fruit in three to five years and a sweet cherry in five to seven years.


    • Keep dogs, cats and horses away from a cherry tree so they don't snack on the potentially toxic leaves, stems or pits.
    • Some cherry trees are considered invasive in parts of their growing range, thanks to cherry-stealing birds dropping pits that sprout where they're not wanted.


  • Draping a small cherry tree with bird netting tied to its lower branches helps limit unwanted spread. For a larger tree, use the netting on the lower half of the branches and harvest the upper ones as soon as their fruits ripen.

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The Ideal Site


A properly fertilized cherry tree grows well even in nutritionally deficient soil, as long as it has good drainage. Solid clay is off limits, but other slowly draining sites are acceptable if amended with 1 part sphagnum peat moss to 2 parts soil at planting time.

Things You'll Need

  • Spade or rotary tiller
  • Rake
  • Sphagnum peat moss

Step 1

Loosen the top 6 inches of the planting site's soil with a spade or rotary tiller.

Step 2

Rake a 2-inch layer of sphagnum peat moss evenly over the soil.

Step 3

Spade or till the peat moss thoroughly into the loose soil.


During the growing season, a cherry tree needs six to eight hours of daily direct sun exposure. More is better, but the sunlight can occur any time of day as long as it totals at least six hours.


As the smaller of the two species, a sour cherry tree usually needs less space than a sweet cherry tree. Set multiple dwarf sour cherry varieties 8 to 10 feet apart, semi-dwarf sour varieties 12 to 15 feet apart and standard-size sour varieties 15 to 18 feet apart.

Allow 8 to 10 feet between dwarf sweet cherries, 15 to 18 feet between semi-dwarf sweet cherry trees and 18 to 25 feet between standard-size sweet cherry varieties.


  • Most sweet cherry cultivars aren't self-pollinating. Grow only one tree, and you can enjoy its fragrant spring blooms. Don't expect fruits from it, however, unless you plant it with a compatible cross-pollinating cultivar that blooms at the same time. Space the trees fewer than 100 feet apart so bees can transfer pollen from one tree to the other.

    Sour cherries are self-pollinating, but even they are likely to produce more fruits with cross-pollination.

Fertilizer for a Cherry Tree

A Non-Fruit-Bearing Tree

A healthy cherry tree should grow 8 to 12 inches per year until it begins producing fruits. If your tree is achieves that growth rate, then don't fertilize it.

If the tree's growth slows before it starts producing fruits, then dose its soil in spring with fertilizer. One fertilizer manufacturer recommends using a 22-24-12 formula.

Things You'll Need

  • 1- to 2-gallon watering can
  • Tablespoon measuring spoon
  • Water-soluble, granulated, 22-24-12 fertilizer
  • Wooden stir stick or spoon

Step 1

Fill a 1- to 2-gallon watering can with water.

Step 2

Add 1 tablespoon of water-soluble, 22-24-12 fertilizer granules for each 1 gallon of water in the watering can. Stir the water to dissolve the granules.

Step 3

Pour the contents of the watering can evenly onto the soil around the non-fruit-producing cherry tree, from its base outward to its drip line -- where rain falls from the outermost branches to the ground. Use enough to wet the soil thoroughly.


  • Fertilizers are made in different strengths. Follow the directions on the label of the fertilizer you choose concerning how much fertilizer to give a tree and how often to apply it.

A Fruit-Producing Tree

Fertilize a fruit-producing cherry tree only in the years when its average amount of new spring growth is fewer than 8 inches.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Granular, high-nitrogen fertilizer such as 21-0-0 (optional)

Step 1

Examine the fruit-producing cherry tree's branches after its new growth emerges in early spring. Locate bud scale scars that indicate where the previous year's growth stopped. The old and new growth have differently colored and textured bark.

Step 2

Measure several branches from the bud scale scars to the tips of the new growth, and write down your findings.

Step 3

Find the tree's average growth by adding the measurements and dividing that total by the number of branches you measured. If the tree's average growth is 8 or more inches, then the tree doesn't need fertilizer.

When Fertilizing Is Necessary

Measure the cherry tree's trunk diameter 1 foot above the soil, and give the tree enough granular, high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 21-0-0, to provide no more than 1/8 pound of nitrogen per 1 inch of diameter.

To calculate the amount of nitrogen, look at the first of the N-P-K numbers on the fertilizer's label. A 21-0-0 fertilizer, for example, contains 21 percent nitrogen, with no phosphorus or potassium, which are represented by the "P" and "K' numbers.

If your tree has a 4-inch trunk diameter, then it needs no more than 1/2 pound of nitrogen. To use a 21-0-0 fertilizer, divide 0.5 -- for the 1/2 pound -- by 0.21; the result is about 2.38 pounds -- roughly 2 pounds, 6 ounces. That amount is enough to feed the tree for one year.

Sprinkle the granular fertilizer evenly from the drip line -- the ground below the outermost branches' tips -- to 2 or 3 inches from the trunk, but don't get it on the tree. Rake it lightly into the soil, and water the soil well.

Watering Schedule

An established cherry tree needs just 3 inches of rain or supplemental water each month. Any more than that could lead to saturated, oxygen-deprived roots.

One inch of water amounts to about 6 gallons of water for each 10 square feet of soil. When watering is necessary, turn the hose to emit water at a trickle, set it on the ground beneath the tree and leave it until the root zone is soaked.


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