The northern and central regions of California provide ideal growing conditions for cherries, with full sunshine, temperate weather, low rainfall during spring and summer, rare frost, and low humidity. Bing and Rainier cherries are grown commercially from Sacramento in the north to Bakersfield in the south. Home gardeners can choose these well-known trees or other cherry cultivars to plant in the spring. Cherries ripen from mid-May through the end of June in California.
Select a site that offers your cherry tree full sun, protection from wind and in soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. Test the soil at the site using a home pH kit.
Amend the soil to adjust the pH, adding sulfur to lower pH or lime to raise it. Apply the amendments as recommended by the soil test.
Dig a hole for the cherry tree that is twice the size of the tree's rootball. Jab a shovel at the bottom of the hole to loosen it and help the young roots take hold.
Remove the cherry tree from its hole. Break apart the rootball to separate the roots, untangling any roots before planting.
Set the tree in the prepared hole so that it sits at the same depth in the soil as it did in its container. Hold the tree straight with one hand and backfill the hole with soil.
Water the newly planted tree until the soil compresses around the tree and becomes saturated. Continue to saturate the tree every two weeks. Don't water if the tree receives 1 inch of rainfall between waterings.
Prune back 1/4- to 1/2-inch branches that grow 24 inches above the ground just after planting, which will leave a tiny bud. Cut off branches growing closer to the ground at their base; if the cherry tree has only one branch, cut it off at the base.
Scatter 1/2 lb. of 10-10-10 fertilizer around the base of the planted cherry tree two weeks after planting. Water the soil to work the fertilizer into the ground. Repeat this process six weeks after planting.
Fertilize the tree annually in the spring in subsequent years by applying 0.05 to 0.10 lbs. of nitrogen (ammonium sulfate) per inch of tree trunk diameter.
Prune the cherry tree the spring after planting. Remove suckers or old pruning sites. Select three to four limbs growing outward and upward to serve as fruit-bearing limbs. Remove the other limbs. Trim suckers and remove limbs that compete with fruit-bearing limbs in subsequent years. Prune offshoots from the fruiting limbs that grow upward, as these cast shade. Prune off branches that crisscross other branches, plus any dead or damaged growth.