Also called tart or pie cherries because of their acidic but sweet flavor, sour cherry trees (Prunus cerasus) are easier to successfully grow than sweet cherry trees (Prunus avium). The limiting factor to growing sour cherries in the American South is ample winter cold to ensure production of flowers by mid-spring. Thus, sour cherries fail to set good fruit crops in areas closest to the Gulf Coast. Consider this fruit tree if you are in USDA hardiness zones 6 though the coldest winter areas of Zone 8.
Plant your sour cherry tree where it will receive at least eight hours of direct sun daily. Plant in soil that is fertile, moist, well-draining and with a pH of less than 8.0. Add organic matter to clay soils to improve texture and drainage.
Water the tree as needed when natural rainfall is lacking to keep the soil moist. Strive for 1 inch of water per week during the growing season.
Apply a 3- to 4-inch mulch of compost or other organic matter over the root zone of the sour cherry tree to provide nutrients, deter weeds and retain soil moisture. Maintain the mulch layer across the calendar year. Keep the mulch at least 4 inches from the base of the trunk to prevent any rot.
Fertilize the sour cherry in early spring with a balanced granular fertilizer if the soil is not overly fertile or compost or other organic matter has not been applied over the tree's root zone. Follow product label directions for dosage recommendations.
Prune branch tips across the tree immediately after spring flowering to encourage more short branches to grow over the summer months. Do not prune back areas of branch tips that produced flowers or have young developing cherry fruits. Ideally, you want the tree to produce more short branches so flowering and fruiting will be more abundant next year.
Cover the tree with a bird net by mid-summer to deter hungry songbirds from plucking fruits. Birds will more readily see, poke and steal fruits once they begin to turn red.