Although there are many trees that have the word "cherry" in their common names, only plants within the Prunus genus, cerasus subgenus, are true cherries. The cherry seed germination time of the sweet cherry (Prunus avium) and sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) are essentially the same. In nature, the sweet or sour cherry seed, also called a stone, drops to the soil in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8 and 4 through 6, respectively, and lies dormant until conditions are perfect for germination. While your cherry seed, with proper care, will grow a cherry tree, the fruit may not taste like the parent's.
Cherry seeds germinate approximately 30 days after stratification in the refrigerator or 90 to 150 days after planting outside in the garden.
Cherry Seed Germination Time
How long the cherry seed takes to germinate depends a great deal upon its care during germination. With proper seed and soil preparation, under ideal conditions, cherry seeds started in fall germinate the following spring. A rule of thumb is that it generally takes 90 to 150 days after planting the seeds in the garden.
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Alternately, stratify the seeds in the refrigerator at 33 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 to 120 days in moist peat moss. Plant the seeds in 1-gallon pots in sterilize seed-starting mix or sterilized compost. The cherry seedlings should appear in approximately 30 days.
It will be another seven to 10 years before fruiting cherry varieties produce fruit. Because most cherry trees require a different variety for pollination, the fruits may not resemble the parent plant. In the meantime, however, you will have an ornamental landscape tree.
Preparing the Seed
One of the most important steps in preparing the cherry seed for planting is to ensure that it is clean. After removal from the cherry, scrub it under running water to remove all remnants of fruit pulp. If any flesh clings to the seed it may rot when it's planted and the seed won't germinate.
Cherry seeds require a chilling period before they come out of dormancy. You can mimic this period with a process known as cold-moist stratification, which tricks the seed into breaking dormancy. The process involves wrapping the cherry seed in moist peat moss, placing it in a plastic sandwich bag and leaving it in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks.
Sowing the Seed
Plant the cherry seed immediately upon removal from the refrigerator. It's a good idea to prepare the soil by digging it up to a depth of at least 10 inches. The looser soil makes it easier for the young roots to penetrate the soil as they grow. Incorporate 4 inches of peat moss into the soil to help drainage.
Plant the cherry seed 2 inches deep. When planting more than one, space them at least 12 inches apart. Give the bed a deep watering after planting, until the top 10 inches of soil is moist. Keep the soil moist -- not soggy -- while the cherry seed germinates.
Caring for the Seedling
The cherry seedling's biggest enemies are weeds. They compete with the young plant for moisture and soil nutrients. Keep a weed-free area within a 3-foot radius of the cherry seedling. It is safer to hand-pull the weeds to avoid disturbing the seedling's roots. When the seedling reaches 6 inches in height, top-dress the soil around it with a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch. Mulch helps keep the weeds at bay and retains soil moisture. It also increases organic matter and beneficial microbes in the soil.