People grow cherry trees for the delicious fruit used in pies, jams, and other items. But cherry trees are also valued for their aesthetic appeal and the shade they provide in a garden or orchard. They are beautiful when they bloom in the spring.
If you live outside USDA planting zones 4 to 7, growing a cherry tree to maturity will be difficult. Most cherry trees planted today are seedlings purchased from nurseries because it takes 7 to 10 years to produce a cherry tree from seed.
Whether cultivated from seed or transplanted from a nursery, most varieties follow a similar life cycle.
The seed of a cherry tree is called a pit, and it must go through stratification by placing them in the refrigerator for 10 weeks. Stratification can naturally occur by planting the seeds directly in the garden in the fall.
Under proper conditions, cherry seeds planted directly in the garden will germinate in 90 to 150 days. After germination, the cotyledons, or seed leaves and roots, will emerge from the soil. For the next two to three weeks, the seedling will keep growing and develop a stem and true leaves.
The cherry plant continues to expand during the next few weeks, increasing in height and diameter and developing more leaves on its stem. At this time, the root system of the cherry seedling is also growing exponentially.
When a tree seedling grows to 4.5 feet in height and has a diameter of 4 inches, it is considered a sapling.
In its first year, the tree grows to a height of 4 to 6 feet on average. Because of the vast number of cherry varieties, the cherry plant can vary in appearance, with heights ranging from 10 to 12 feet or less.
A young tree typically does not produce fruit for many years, allowing for the tree to put all of its energy into growth.
A few spring flowers may appear in the first few years. A healthy plant’s annual growth at the terminal ends of branches should be between 6 and 18 inches.
The buds’ expansion and tips’ greening indicate growth has begun. The tips start to detach and split when the bud is nearly entirely green. A brown tint is visible at the bud’s base where it attaches to the branch.
At this point, the green buds’ tips start to turn white, revealing traces of white petals. The white flowers emerge from their sheaths later and become visible.
Flowering and Fruiting
Blooming begins when the first flower fully opens, waiting for bees and other pollinators to visit. The petals will start to fall after the flowers have been open for a while. If a flower has been pollinated, there will be some swelling beneath the calyx, which becomes visible after the petals drop.
The swelling continues as the fruit develops and eventually turns into a cherry. The cherries continue to increase in size while remaining green for most of their life. The fruits change color as they ripen.
While most cherry varieties change from green to yellow to different shades of red, some cultivars remain yellow. Cherries are ready for harvesting when they reach their mature color, which is typically a red shade. Color, taste, and texture are the best indicators of fruit maturity.
Cherry trees go through cyclical periods of growth and rest or dormancy when they reach maturity.
Like other deciduous trees, cherry tree leaves change color and shed in the fall. At this time, buds for the following year’s flowers start forming. Ripe cherries that have not been plucked or eaten by animals will fall from the tree.