Picking the Perfect Cherry Tree: 4 Step Guide
A cherry tree is a must have for your edible garden, with varieties suitable for cooking, eating or both - and they’re small enough to fit happily in a border, front garden or even a patio pot. Whichever cherry tree you go for, you’ll enjoy it all year round, with scented white blossom in spring and lovely warm autumn colour as well as fruit. But with so many varieties to choose from, which one’s the best? It depends on what you’re looking for, says our tree grower Josh - what you want it for, when you want to pick your cherries and how many you have space for! Josh is very keen on more underrated types of cherry that you may not have considered - and his colleague John points out that cherry trees are not just a great choice for us, but also have huge benefits for wildlife too.
We asked them to recommend their favourites for each of the top four cherry considerations.
- 1. Eating or cooking?
- 2. Size
- 3. Harvest time
- 4. Pollination partners
- Getting the most from your cherry tree
1. How do you eat your cherries?
Cherry trees usually produce either cooking (sour or acid) cherries or dessert cherries (sweet) but the fruit of some trees can be used for both purposes.
The best cherries for eating
- Stella - A tangy black cherry, one of the most popular in the UK.
- Sunburst - Soft dark flesh with a subtle sweetness.
- Sweetheart - Sweet flavoured, heart-shaped fruit.
- Kordia - Huge black cherries with a rich and complex flavour.
- Summer Sun - Sweet and deep red, a good choice for colder areas.
The best cherries for cooking
- Morello - The classic Black Forest gateau cherry.
- Lapins - Versatile and delicious in preserves and baking.
The best dual purpose cherries
- Sasha - Red-black cherries bred in Norfolk.
- May Duke - Lighter coloured fruit with a good tangy flavour.
- Regina - Our growers reckon this has the best flavour of any dual purpose cherry.
- Burlat - Josh’s top pick and the earliest to ripen.
- Van - The perfect balance between sweet and sharp.
2. How big is your garden?
From a dwarf tree in a pot to a full size 4x4m tree, there’s a cherry suitable for every garden - John and Josh choose the best for your space.
The best full size cherry trees for gardens
Cherry trees on Colt rootstock grow to 4m x 4m and can be pruned to fit any space, making them perfect for small gardens. All of our trees are grown on Colt rootstocks.
The best cherry trees for pots
3. When do you want to pick your cherries?
Cherry trees crop at different times through the summer, so if you plan carefully, you can coordinate their harvest times to avoid any weeks when you’re usually on holiday or busy.
Early season cherries
Mid season cherries
Late season cherries
4. Let’s talk about pollination
Cherry trees can be self fertile, partially self fertile or need a pollination partner - make sure you choose the right one to get the best possible cherry harvests.
Self fertile cherry trees
These trees produce crops all on their own without needing another tree to pollinate them. They’re the ones to choose if you’ve only got room for one tree and you’re in a rural area where there’s unlikely to be another within a mile. They include Sweetheart, Merchant, Sunburst, Summer Sun, Stella, Lapins, Morello, Kordia, Sasha and Karina.
Partially self fertile cherry trees
Partially self-fertile means that the tree is able to produce fruit on its own but if you have another tree nearby to pollinate it, they’ll both have bigger crops. May Duke is a partially self fertile variety.
Cherry trees that need a partner
If you’re in a built up area where there’s likely to be another cherry tree within a mile, you don’t need to worry about this, but if you’re in a more remote place, you’ll need to plant two trees as pollination partners, as they can’t produce a crop by themselves. Cherry trees can pollinate another tree of the same group or either side of their own. For example, a Van tree (group 3) can pollinate a Burlat (2) or Regina (4) and vice versa. The following trees need partners:
They can also be pollinated by a self fertile tree in the right group.
How to get the best from your cherry tree
Plant your cherry tree in any fertile, well-drained soil, with compost or manure mixed into the planting hole. Your tree will flower and fruit best in a sheltered spot with full sun exposure, although sour cherry varieties can deal with partial shade. If you’re in a colder area, three of the best performing trees in lower temperatures are Summer Sun, Regina and Morello.
Cherries should be pruned once a year to keep them well shaped and productive - the right time to do this is in late July or August when the risk of silver leaf and bacterial canker is lower. Cherry trees can also be grown against a wall or fence as fans, but are too vigorous to train as espaliers or cordons.
Feed your cherry tree yearly in the winter, with a high potassium general fertiliser. It’s also a good idea to apply a mulch of well rotted manure or compost around the base of the tree, which will help to keep the weeds down and stop the soil drying out.
Water your cherry tree regularly for the first year after planting. After this you shouldn’t have to water unless there’s a long dry spell in the summer.
Potted trees dry out more quickly and will need regular watering throughout the growing season (spring and summer). Check them regularly and if the top few centimetres of soil are dry, give them a good soak.
Cherry tree blossom appears in late spring, so it’s a good idea to be vigilant about late frosts and windy weather, which could damage it. If a frost is forecast, wrap the tree gently with horticultural fleece (or bubble wrap) overnight, then remove it in the daytime so the bees can get to the flowers and pollinate them.
Cherries are ready to pick from early to late summer, depending on which variety you plant. It’s best to pick them on a dry day and pick by the stalk rather than the fruit, to avoid bruising it. Leave the stalks on if you can, as they will help the cherries last longer. They usually keep for around a week in the fridge so if you have a really good crop it might be a good idea to freeze some or make jam.