Cherry treesCherry trees are an excellent choice for the garden because cherries are at their best when eaten straight from the tree.
How to choose Cherry trees
Cherries are perhaps the most diverse member of the genus Prunus, which includes other popular stone fruits such as plums, peaches, and apricots. There are two main types, the sweet cherry Prunus avium (best for eating fresh) and the acid or sour cherry Prunus cerasus (best for culinary use).
Cherry trees are generally easy to grow, but sweet cherries like sun, so choose a sunny aspect when planting. All cherries prefer well-drained soil, so avoid areas that are prone to water-logging. The most serious disease affecting cherry trees is bacterial canker, and this tends to be more aggressive in wet soils.
The other main horticultural challenge is bird protection. It's a foregone conclusion that birds will get your cherry crop before you do, because they are prepared to eat slightly un-ripe cherries whereas humans are not. However the simple precaution of netting the trees just before the harvest will solve this problem - on very large and inaccessible trees drape a net over some of the lower branches, allowing the birds to take their share from the higher branches.
Cherry trees do not need much attention as they grow, a simple mulch to keep the area free of weeds is sufficient. Once fruiting begins the mulch remains important, and should be extended to match the spread of the branches, because it acts as a sponge and therefore helps prevent fruit-splitting after heavy downpours. You should also apply compost and/or manure during the winter to supply the tree with the nutrients it needs for growth and fruiting.
Provided you can keep the birds off, cherry trees make a good choice for the garden because cherries are a fruit that is best eaten straight from the tree - sweet cherries do not keep more than a day or so and the flavour fades very rapidly. Shop-bought cherries are often quite expensive, and can never be as fresh as those you pick from your own tree.
Sweet cherry varieties can be crudely classified into two groups: traditional English, and modern. The traditional English varieties are in fact mostly of central European origin (and have very un-English names) but were the mainstay of cherry orchards in Kent for the first half of the 20th century or earlier. These varieties are typified by good traditional cherry flavours, but are not particularly easy to grow and often have complicated pollination requirements.
Some other terms that often arise with cherries:
- White cherries. This refers to the flesh rather than skin colour. Whilst most cherries have a dark flesh, white cherries have a white or pale yellow flesh, usually with an excellent flavour. Most white cherries are old traditional varieties.
- Black cherries. Whereas "white" refers to the flesh colour, "black", in cherry terminology, refers to the skin colour, which may vary from very dark red to true black. Black cherries are sought after for their very attractive appearance.
- Bigarreau. This means a firm-fleshed variety (as opposed to a soft flesh).
- Heart. Whilst most cherries are spherical, many have a distinct heart-like shape
Modern cherry development is now an international affair but is still dominated by the Summerland research station in British Columbia, Canada, which kicked off the development of self-fertile cherry varieties in the 1940s. The most famous of these new varieties is Stella but there are many others (often starting with an "S"-sound, such as Sweetheart, Sunburst, and Celeste). Whilst they lack the tradition and romance associated with the older English varieties, the flavours are still excellent and their self-fertility and easier horticultural characteristics make them a much better choice for the gardener with space for only one or two cherry trees.