Nothing beats cherries fresh from the tree–except maybe the sight of their beautiful blossoms in the spring. Cherries thrive in warm, dry climates, but they need to go through a cold weather in order to bear fruit. Sour cherries do better in cooler climates, and so are more commonplace here in eastern Ontario, although some varieties of sweet cherries also do well. For best results, purchase trees from a reputable local nursery.
Cherries are a good source of vitamins C, A, and B2, as well as fibre, iron, and calcium.
Ideal growing conditions
Plant cherry trees in the late fall or early spring. They need a lot of water, so select or build a site with soil that retains water, yet drains well, and is rich in nutrients. Space plants 20-40 feet apart, depending on the variety, and well away from structures or other sources of shade. The method of planting depends on the type of plants you procured–refer to the instructions provided by the nursery.
Cherry trees take four years to produce fruit (most dwarf varieties produce fruit a year earlier). If you can, ensure that your cherry trees receive consistent moisture in the weeks leading up to harvest. If they don’t get enough water, the fruits may shrivel; too much water may cause the fruits to split. And, most importantly–cover the trees or use bird scaring devices, as birds know exactly when the berries are ready for picking.
In the spring, weed and mulch around the base of the tree. In the spring or fall, prune dead, diseased, or excess branches. Ensure that there is enough space between the main branches to encourage the growth of the small branches that will bear fruit. Generally, the less branches on the tree (within reason), the bigger the fruit and the smaller the yield.
- Sweet cherries are eaten fresh. They are not self-fertile, which means you need two varieties in order to produce fruit.
- Sour cherries are smaller than sweet cherries, but they are self-fertile. They are not usually eaten raw, but rather sweetened and cooked.
Cherry trees may be full-sized or dwarf, and their berries may ripen to a variety of colours, such as red or yellow.
Harvesting, using, and preserving
When the berries have reached their expected colour, they are ready to be picked. Pluck the stalks off the branches. Eat or use them right away, as they spoil quickly.
Cherries are commonly used in baking and a variety of preserves. They can also be dried or frozen. If you wish to freeze them, pick them when they are firm.
Planting garlic, garlic chives, dill, nasturtiums, marigolds, or strawberries near the base of the tree may deter harmful insects.
Fun and frightening facts
- Cherry seeds, leaves, and branches are poisonous–don’t eat them or let your pets chew on them!
- It is believed that cherries were discovered by the Romans around 70 BC.
- Cherries are related to peaches, pears, and almonds.