Cherry trees need regular pruning while they are young until they're trained in a central leader shape. This takes two to three years; each year, pruning can be performed in a half-hour or less, depending on your comfort level with pruning. Trees that aren't trained will grow bushy and develop weak wood and poor quality fruit. They are also more susceptible to disease. Pruning begins the day the tree is planted and continues for the lifetime of the tree.
Cut your young cherry tree just after planting to a height of 30 to 34 inches. Branches will begin growing 4 to 12 inches above this height.
Wait until the summer after planting the cherry tree to prune next. At this time the tree should exhibit growth after the initial pruning, bearing many branches that are 3 to 4 inches long. Select three to four evenly spaced upward growing branches to serve as fruiting wood. Remove all other branches by cutting them off at the base. If the tree has multiple offshoots at the top (or the leader), remove all but one. Leave the strongest, straightest shoot. Also prune off any suckers that develop on the trunk.
Leave the tree alone for the rest of the growing season. Prune again in the dormant season, when frost danger passes for your area and before the tree begins to grow again.
Prune suckers again. Remove shoots growing from the fruiting limbs, since these will cast shade. Clip off branches that compete with the fruiting limbs. Again remove shoots that compete with the leader, leaving only one leader. You will allow a second set of fruiting limbs to grow 18 to 24 inches above the first set.
Continue to prune your cherry tree each year in the dormant season. At this point, you've established the initial shape of the young cherry tree and need to maintain the shape to prevent the tree from getting overgrown and shady, since this negatively impacts the fruit quality.