Cherry trees are a deciduous flowering tree growing from 6 to 30 feet tall depending on the variety. Originally from Asia, they usually only live about 20 years and by the fourth year will begin bearing fruit. Mature trees can produce up to 50 quarts of cherries a year depending on the size of the tree. As a rule, trees producing sour cherries are self-pollinating while sweet cherries are not and require more than one tree to produce fruit. Cherry trees bloom in late spring to early summer and produce crops of cherries starting in July. Perhaps the hardest part of caring for a cherry tree is keeping the birds from getting to the cherries first.
Water your cherry tree regularly to keep the soil moist, especially during the warmer summer months. Use a soaker hose or a garden hose for a deep watering, letting the water run at a slow trickle for about two hours once a week. Check the soil in between watering to make sure it is not too dry; if it is dry 3 inches below the surface it is time to water.
Feed your cherry tree with a slow-release balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) when spring flowering begins. Cherry trees generally do not need much fertilizer and should not be fertilized once they are bearing fruit. If desired, you can add a nitrogen rich fertilizer (10-5-5) after harvesting is done in the late summer or early fall.
Add a 2-inch layer of mulch, such as shredded bark or straw, around the base of the tree from the trunk out to the drip line of the outer branches. Mulch is important in keeping weeds and grass down in the first few years when the tree is getting established. Add another thick layer of mulch, about 4 inches, around the tree in late fall to protect it from cold winter weather. Replace the mulch around your tree as needed.
Prune your cherry tree in late summer or early fall after the fruit has finished producing. Cut out all diseased, dead or damaged branches and open up the middle of the tree to allow good air circulation. Cut off any branches that are crossing or rubbing and cut off any bottom branches that are closer than 2 feet to the ground. When cutting branches, make the cut about 1/8 inch above a bud and cut on a downward slant away from the bud so water runs off the cut. Cover cuts with a non-asphalt-based pruning paste available at your local gardening store. This prevents any insects or diseases from entering the tree through the fresh cuts.
Harvest the cherries when they are fully red in color and continue harvesting for about one to two weeks. Keep the stems attached when pulling the cherries off the tree so the cherries last longer when stored. To keep birds from getting to the ripe cherries, place shiny strips of ribbon or tape from the branches to scare them away.