(Genus: Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus - Family: Rosaceae)
The cherry tree and its origins
Originating in Asia Minor, the cherry tree has grown in both Asia and Europe since ancient times. In Europe, it was believed to have been cultivated by the Greeks and then the Romans, which helped to spread the plant throughout Europe.
Loved for both its beautiful fruits and extremely showy bloom, the tree is considered capable of curing diseases by some cultures. It symbolises education and courtesy in some European countries, while in Japan, it is the symbol of grace, humility and integrity and in China, fragility and feminine beauty.
It can be classified into two different species: sweet cherries which are cultivars of the wild cherry Prunus. avium and sour tasting cherry fruit (Prunus cerasus) which is mostly used in cooking.
How to Plant cherry trees
Cherries flourish in temperate climates, it is a hardy tree and relatively easy to cultivate, even for a novice gardener. Early flowering, it should be exposed to full sunlight but it can tolerate temperature fluctuations, coping with droughts, cold spells and even heavy rain while flowering.
Cherry trees enjoy a deep, loose and fertile soil that has good drainage, as water-logged soil will affect the quality of the fruit production. Where possible, avoid clay-based soils.
Prepare the soil in advance with plenty of organic matter and then mulch. Before planting, apply a 50g dose of XXXX to the planting hole and mix thoroughly. Fertilise the tree at the beginning and end of the spring using a dose of xxxxxxx xx g / m², apply another of xx g / m² in early summer and xx g / m² at the end of winter.
The cherry is sensitive to nitrogen deficiency; it is advisable to apply manure every 2 years.
Plant the trees from autumn to March, using year-old grafts. Allow plenty of space, at least 7.5m from other plants, for future growth and also to accommodate a lifespan of up to 100 years.
Although not a thirsty tree, cherries need irrigation. During dry spells, especially in the period before and after fruit collection, they should be moderately watered.
Avoid pruning during the dormant period, particularly the autumn and winter months. Gentle, formative pruning can take place from spring onwards but the key period for pruning is in the growing season, immediately after the first harvest. Many cherries fruit on year-old wood (or older), so it is important to maintain a balance between new shoots and older branches. Reduce suckers to keep nutrients flowing to the growing cherry fruits.
When to harvest cherries
Cherry trees bloom between March and April. Their large blossoms are generally white and feature 5 overlapping petals on each flower with 6-10 flowers in a set.
The fruits begin to appear in early summer and ready for harvest from June- July. The first variety to produce fruit is the “Early Lory” and the final yield comes from the “Late Lory”.
Sweet cherries are divided into two groups: hard-fleshed fruits with firm flesh and those with soft and juicy pulp. Hard-fleshed cherry trees can exceed 8m in both height and diameter, while the soft-flesh varieties tend to be fruit bushes and have slower growth.
The fruits are small and globular with a long stalk. A cherry can range in colour from bright red to almost black, depending on the variety. While some varieties are self-fertile, others require a cross-pollinator to bear fruit.
Propagation of cherry trees
Traditionally, cherry trees are propagated by grafting. These trees are difficult to grow from seeds or cuttings and will take many years to bear fruit.
Different rootstocks can be chosen depending on the conditions of the soil. The most widely used rootstock is the franc, and its selection megaleppo "SL64". It thrives in a deep, loose soil with good drainage and has a remarkable vigour. Prunus. Mahaleb variety is not as vigorous but productivity is higher and it effortlessly adapts to calcareous soils and shingles, frequently found on hills.
Did you know?
A cherry matures quickly; it is difficult to keep fresh and should be consumed immediately for best taste. It is used in a variety of jams, preserves and sauces but can also be candied or preserved in alcohol.
Cherries are refreshing and packed full of nutrients. They are rich in flavonoids (useful to fight free radicals), fibre, vitamins A and C, calcium and phosphorus. The stems have diuretic properties; cleansing, draining and refreshing. A cherry can be used for teas, herbal teas and syrups.
The cherry tree is a hardwood, it can be yellow-red or red-brown with various streaks and is used to make cabinets and furniture.The tree is closely linked with the USA thanks to a story about its first president, George Washington, who was said to have cut down his father’s prized cherry tree as a very young boy. Admitting to his error, he stated that “he could not tell a lie” to which his father replied that “the truth is worth more than a thousand cherry trees”.