Many home gardeners will find, after due consideration, that they do not wish to grow cherries, for 2 reasons. Birds can, and frequently do, eat a major part of the crop. Also, cherries have a tendency to split if periods of heavy rains coincide with ripening. It’s practically impossible for the gardener to control either one of these hazards. Birds like blueberries, but these can be covered with netting. However, covering entire trees with netting just is not practical.
Cherries are of 3 general types—sour cherries(varieties of Prunus. cerasus) which are mostly self-fertile; Sweet Cherries (varieties of P. avium) which are not self-fertile, but need other varieties for cross-pollination; and the Duke cherries, supposed to be crosses between the sour and the sweet, which also need other cherries for cross-pollination. Since the home gardener frequently considers planting the Sweet Cherry, he must also surmount the hurdle of needing several trees of different varieties to insure having a crop. Often this is a greater undertaking than the cherries are worth.
The main sweet cherry-growing areas of the U.S. are the Pacific Coast states, chiefly Calif., Ore. and Wash., western N.Y. and western Mich. The chief sour cherry-growing areas are northern Ohio, western N.Y. and the Hudson Valley, western Mich., Wise. and Colo.
All cherries bloom early in the spring, before the leaves appear, and hence the flowers are susceptible to killing by late frosts. The Sweet Cherry is about as hardy as the Peach; the Sour Cherry is slightly more hardy. All cherries are susceptible to various virus diseases, and one should be certain that, in purchasing trees, virus-free plants are purchased, the under stock as well as the tops.
Propagation is by budding on either P. avium, the Mazzard Cherry, or P. mahaleb, the Mahaleb Cherry. The latter is cheap and easy to work, but the Mazzard Cherry is the superior under stock, and trees on this stock should be obtained if possible, for they make much better trees.
Sweet cherries should be planted 30 ft. apart, sour cherries about 25 ft. apart and ‘Morello’ cherries about 18 ft. apart.
As for pruning, sweet cherries are pruned the least. These trees usually grow taller than those of the sour cherries and they just do not seem to demand the careful pruning required by many other kinds of fruit trees. Little pruning is necessary on sour cherries, especially if crossed branches and weak branches are removed as they appear.
One should be as careful with cherries as with plums in the cross-pollination requirements. All sweet cherries require cross-pollination and the chances are that it is these which would be selected for the home garden. Varieties which have proved good pollinizers for other sweet cherry varieties are ‘Black Tatarian’, ‘Grant’, ‘Seneca’ and ‘Lyons’. It should be remembered, too, that varieties like ‘Bing’, ‘Lambert’, ‘Napoleon’ and ‘Emperor Francis’ are all inter-sterile, one with the other.
The Duke cherries. ‘Reine Hortense’ and ‘Royal Duke’, are self-sterile and either sour or sweet cherries can be used as pollinizers for these. The sour cherries are mostly self-fertile.
Fertilizers might be applied in the early spring at about the time the buds burst. A 3-4-year-old tree in a cultivated orchard might be given. If it is over two years old it might be given 5 lbs. Trees growing in sod, which receive more and sweeter cherries because they grow into larger trees, would also receive heavier applications, might be used. Tent caterpillars infest cherry in the spring, and other caterpillars are occasionally troublesome.
Brown rot causes lesion on twigs and rot on ripening fruit. Bacterial leaf spot in which the spots often drop out, causing a shot-hole effect. Attacks both sweet and sour cherries and defoliates the trees. Spraying with fungicide when petals fall and after harvest is helpful. A fungus leaf spot or yellow leaf is controlled by fungicide in early and late applications. Black knot develops on sour cherries. Virus diseases discourage the growing of cherries in some areas. Destroying infected trees and controlling insects are the only remedies.