Cultivated Cherries are probably native to Persia and may have been brought to Europe by the Romans. Most sweet cherries are derived from Punus Avium, while the sour cooking cherries are derived from Prunus cerasus, and neither will cross-pollinate each other.
Cherries are just as easy to grow as ornamental cherries, now that self-fertile varieties, suitable for Northern Areas are readily available. However, there seems to have been a few cold Springs recently, which have led to fewer pollinating insects flying when they are needed to do their stuff. As Cherry trees usually come into flower, immediately after the Plums, this can cause pollination problems and you must be prepared to supplement the efforts of Bumble Bees by hand pollinating the Cherry flowers with an artist’s brush.
A rich free-draining loam is the ideal soil for your cherries. Sweet cherries should be planted with a South or West facing aspect to prevent frost damage, as they flower very early. Text books suggest that Sour cherries can also do well on North-facing aspects, as they come into flower later than sweet cherries. However, in the North of the UK, I suspect that they would do better in a sunny position. You will need to decide whether to grow the cherries as trees, or fan-trained cherries. Smaller trees on the rootstock Gisella 5, can be used in either way.
Pruning and training of Cherry trees. Dead, damaged or crossing and rubbing growth should be cut out in the Spring. If the cherry is trained as a fan, then the new growth should be cut back to about 5 or 6 leaves to stop the cherry getting out of control. Most sweet cherries fruit on the spurs of the older wood and at the base of the one year old laterals.
Sour cherries fruit on year-old wood and where grown as fans, some of the older wood should be removed every year to encourage new growth. After all fruit has been picked, cut back shoots that have fruited to the first new growth.
Fertilisation of Cherries. It is so much easier to choose a self-fertile cherry and then you do not need to bother with other varieties. My suggested varieties are all self-fertile.
Traditional varieties of Cherries are self-sterile, not self-fertile and will therefor require to be pollinated with pollen from other particular varieties. You should check a textbook to find out which partner varieties pollinate the relevant varieties.
Cherries are very prone to cracking if the moisture levels are not kept constant, and the tree is subject to a sudden wet spell of weather, after a drought. While it is still not possible to control rainfall, at least it is feasible to supply some water during a drought, which frequently occurs during March to June in the West of the UK.
Harvesting of the cherries will take place over several weeks as cherries do not ripen all at once. It is best to pick the fruit early in the morning while it is easier to see, before the leaves droop in the full force of the midday sun. Try and pick the cherries with their stalks still attached, as this will improve the “keeping” quality of the fruit. It is easier to cut the stalks of sour cherries with scissors.
Sweet cherries are best eaten fresh, though they will keep for several days in the fridge. Second quality fruit should be washed, stoned and set aside in the freezer till you have enough for pies, jams or bottling. Jams are much improved by the addition of sour cherries, as sweet cherry jam can be very “sickly” on its own.
Sour cherries are best used for pies, jams or bottling.
Pests and diseases.
Birds, particularly larger ones like pigeons, will strip Cherry trees, even before they are ripe. However, plastic netting will keep them at bay. This is easier to erect if you grow the trees against a wall or fence. Wasps can be a problem, especially if the cherries have split following a wet spell. Remove any split cherries as soon as Wasps make a nuisance of themselves. Use wasp traps.
Squirrels have become a nightmare as they will tear open plastic netting to get at the ripening fruit. When I first planted my cherry trees, there were no squirrels in the vicinity. Since they arrived, it has been outright war to prevent them taking all the cherries. Treat them as vermin if you want to crop any fruit. Trapping is probably the only solution if you want to have any cherries to eat. I have not seen any evidence that electronic methods to deter them have any effect.
Black aphids. In the late Spring or early Summer, you may notice that the Cherry leaves are curling up, becoming distorted and discoloured. If you look under the leaves, you are likely to see a colony of black aphids sucking the sap. Either remove the affected growing tips of the cherry branches or spray with a pesticide.
Snails. I would not have believed it unless I had seen it with my own eyes, as snails munched on my Cherries! You can only inspect the trees frequently and pick them off by hand.
Self-fertile sweet cherry varieties.
Stella. This is good reliable, disease resistant, mid-red variety, suitable for all areas. Ready late July to August.
Summer sun. A modern Canadian reliable, dark red variety about two weeks later than Stella. Suitable for all areas.
Sunburst. Large mid-red fruits but as prone to splitting, best avoided in the West.
Self-fertile sour cherry varieties.
Morello. Medium sized, mid-red fruits suitable for all areas. Can apparently be even grown on North facing walls.
Rootstocks. Fruiting Cherry trees are usually grafted onto a rootstock, which controls the eventual size of the tree, thereby making it suitable for its proposed location in a garden or Allotment.
Gisela 5. This common rootstock leads to trees about 2 m high.
Colt. You may still find this semi-dwarfing rootstock being used, but it can eventually lead to trees up to 6 m high, much too big for the average garden or for training on walls or fences.