Cherry trees are known for their ornamental appeal and the delicious fruits they grow. The trees are a sight to behold year-round with their pretty blossoms in spring, stunning fruits in summer, and colorful foliage in fall. Better yet, cherry trees grow well in pots!
Sweet cherries grow in zones 5 to 7, while sour cherries grow in zones 4 to 6. But growing them in pots allows you to bring them inside when the temperatures become too cold or too hot. Before planting a cherry tree, learn all about growing them in pots.
You need the following things to grow a cherry tree in a pot successfully:
- Scrubbing sponge
- Storage container
- Potting soil
- Cherry tree or seeds
Step 1 – Choosing the Cherry
There are two primary cherry species to choose from to grow at home: sweet cherries (Prunus avium) and sour cherries (Prunus cerasus).
With their thick, rich texture and sweet flavor, sweet cherries are excellent for munching raw. Sour cherries are best for cooking, baking, and in preserves.
Self-Sterile or Self-Pollinating Species
The other factor to consider when selecting cherries is whether they are self-sterile or self-pollinating. Self-sterile variety requires the same species to pollinate, so you must grow two trees simultaneously. However, if you want to grow the tree in a pot, you may have limited space, which makes self-pollinating varieties more suitable.
While all sour cherries are self-pollinating, sweet cherries are not. The popular self-pollinating cultivar of sweet cherries that is ideal as a container plant is ‘Stella.’
You can grow cherries from seedlings you purchase or from seed. If you buy a tree, opt for one grafted on a smaller rootstock, as it takes up less room and is ideal for container growing. Tart cherries, such as ‘Colt,’ are great for pots because they grow smaller than sweet cherries. If you’d like to grow sweet cherries, ‘Gisela 5,’ and ‘Tabel,’ for example, are semi-dwarf or dwarf rootstocks that do not get more than 10 to 13 feet tall.
Step 2 – Choosing a Pot
When growing cherries in pots, choosing the ideal pots that can support the tree and accommodate its roots is imperative. Look for a container at least 18 to 20 inches wide. Terracotta pots or half-barrels are heavy and stable enough to withstand the weight of the plant without toppling.
Step 3 – Growing the Cherry Tree
Growing From Seeds
While purchasing a small tree from your garden center is easier. Alternatively, you can grow cherries from seeds. To do so, collect pits from ripe cherries using a knife to cut open the fruits and extract them or save them after eating the flesh. You can use store-bought cherries to collect seeds. Wash the seeds under cool, running water using a scrubbing sponge to remove clinging flesh. Next, place them on a paper towel and allow them to dry.
Cherry seeds require pretreatment in a cold place before germination, so bury them in a storage container filled with moist vermiculite, poke holes in the lid, and store them in the fridge for four to five months.
Come spring, fill a nursery pot with drainage holes with a moist medium. You can either use one part each of potting soil and sand or one part each of perlite and coir. Allow the seeds to come to room temperature and sow them at a depth of ½ inch. Place the pot outdoors in a bright, sheltered spot or indoors on a sunny windowsill with six hours of sunlight.
Keep the soil moist, watering it whenever it feels dry below the surface. The seedlings are ready for transplanting when they are about 10 inches tall.
Transfer the seedling or potted cherry trees purchased from nurseries to a bigger pot with holes to let the excess water out. Use well-draining potting soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Use a lightweight container, so you can move it outside if necessary.
Water the soil thoroughly until it is moist and position the pot according to the variety you are growing. Grow sweet cherries near a south-facing window that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight, while sour cherries require partial shade.
When growing outdoors in a pot, the light requirements remain similar to indoors; place sweet cherries in a sunny spot against a southern or south-western facing wall and sour cherries in slight shade against a northern wall.
Step 4 – Caring for Your Tree
Caring for your newly planted cherry tree is fun and rewarding!
Water the plant freely during the growing period (late spring to summer). Young cherry trees need consistent moisture while establishing themselves; check the soil often to ensure it is moist.
To determine the moistness, dig a hole to a depth of 6 to 8 inches 24 hours after watering. If the soil is dry, you need to increase the water quantity.
Feed the plant with a low-nitrogen fertilizer with a ratio such as 5-10-10. While nitrogen encourages vegetative growth, an excess can lead to weak growth. Phosphorus stimulates root growth, and potassium helps form flower buds. You can also use a fertilizer formulated for fruit trees.
Start feeding the plant early in the spring and stop before harvesting, around mid-summer. You do not need to fertilize the plant in fall and winter, as it slows down for the winter.
The best time to prune your cherry tree is in late winter to stimulate the growth of new fruit-bearing branches. Remove any diseased or dead branches using sterilized shears.
Step 5 – Chill Time
The cherry tree is a deciduous fruit tree that goes into dormancy in the fall. The tree needs several cold nights to break this dormancy and maximize yield. The number of chilling hours depends on the cherry tree you are planting, so select the cultivar accordingly.
Some cultivars, such as ‘Royal Lee,’ require 300 or fewer chilling hours, while the self-fruitful ‘Stella’ does best after 400 chilling hours. Other cultivars have moderate to high chilling requirements and yield fruits only when exposed to 700 to 900 hours.
To fulfill the chilling requirement of your cherry tree, move your potted cherry tree outdoors, to a balcony or patio, when the temperatures outside are between 32 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 6 – Harvesting
You can expect your potted tree to bear fruit in about three to five years. Harvest your cherries when they are fully ripe and firm to the touch. Cherries are ripe when there is no visible green on their skin, and the flesh yields a little when you apply slight pressure.
Use a proper picking tool or sharp scissors to cut the stems from the branches, as handpicking might injure the shoot leading to infection. Keep the fruits from staying on the branches for a long and harvest within a week.
Once picked, store your cherries in the fridge unwashed. Depending on the type of cherry, they’ll last between three days to two weeks. You can also keep pitted cherries in the freezer for up to eight months.
While the road to fruition might be long, it yields juicy, plump cherries that taste divine. Depending on the variety, they make fantastic snacks and yummy toppings for your desserts. They are perfect for baking cherry cakes and pies. The best part is the versatile plant that changes with the season yet maintains its allure.
As always, drop below any questions, comments, or suggestions relevant to growing cherries at home!