Cherry trees are valued for their fruit, the beauty of their spring flowers, and the shade and aesthetic value they add to a landscape or backyard orchard. Every year Washington, D.C., holds the National Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate springtime in the capitol and the gift of cherry received from Japan in 1912. Whether raised from seed or transplanted from a nursery, the life cycle of most varieties is the same.
Most cherry trees planted today are started from saplings purchased from nurseries. They are grafted onto rootstock to enhance various properties, depending on the variety of cherry tree. However, cherry trees can be started from seeds, the pits found inside cherries. They must go through stratification, a cooling period equivalent to enduring a winter season before they will be able to germinate. Following the cooling period, the seeds can be planted outdoors or in starter pots.
Seeds that have been properly stratified will take one to three weeks to sprout, depending upon environmental conditions. Seedlings and nursery-bought saplings will continue to grow in the same way from here on out, with the only exception being the nursery tree will be slightly larger than the home-grown variety. On average, the cherry tree should attain a height of 4 to 6 feet the first year.
Cherry trees, depending on the species, can become quite large. Annual growth should range between 6 and 18 inches at the terminal ends of branches. A few springtime blossoms may be produced in the first few years, but typically the trees will not fruit for several years, allowing sufficient time for the tree to develop adequate structure to support a crop of cherries.
Once cherry trees have reached 3 to 5 years of age, they will begin to blossom in the spring. Sour-type cherries are self-fruiting and do not need cross pollinators while sweet cherries are not self-fruiting and must, in most cases, be cross-pollinated. Once pollination has occurred, the petals drop and fruit begins to set. Fruit matures in a matter of a few weeks.
Ripened cherries not harvested or eaten by wildlife will fall from the tree. The fruit will decay and the seed will be exposed. Left on the ground, it will pass through the seasons, including the necessary cooling period. In the spring, the seed may germinate and begin the cycle again while the parent tree begins to blossom and fruit again.