Cherry trees are one of the most delicious food forest fruits homesteaders can grow in North America. Cherry trees have other benefits, too. They deliver beautiful, fragrant flowers pollinators adore. Growing cherry trees from the seed is also surprisingly easy. We can show you how. We’ll also share some common cherry tree pitfalls new gardeners encounter.
Here’s how to begin.
How To Easily Grow Cherries From Seed To Harvest
Cherry trees grow best in chilly climates near USDA hardiness zones 4 through 7. You can germinate the seeds indoors or directly outside in your garden. Regardless of where you plant your cherry tree, it needs at least 6 to 8 hours of daily sunlight and well-draining, neutral-pH soil. So, no matter what you do – stop throwing away your cherry seeds! We’re about to show you how to germinate them for your garden.
Choosing The Best Cherry Seeds
Before we reveal our 7-step process for growing cherry seeds, we should talk about sweet vs. sour cherries. Cherry trees come in two categories – sweet and sour.
- Sour cherry trees are self-pollinating and are true to type.
- Sweet cherry trees are usually not self-pollinating and are not true to type.
In other words – you can grow either sweet or sour cherry trees. We love them both. But sweet cherry seeds might produce fruit slightly different than their parent trees. The trees might also differ in growing nature and size.
Regardless of the cherry tree variety you choose – we always urge sourcing a local cherry tree seed from a nearby farm or orchard. (We want cherry trees with reputations for thriving in your local region!)
We love sweet and sour cherry trees. And while sweet cherry seeds might produce fruit wildly different from their parents – we don’t mind the surprise. Almost any cherry tree will be a beautiful, showstopping specimen for any food forest or garden. And your local songbird and native pollinators will appreciate your efforts!
How To Easily Grow A Cherry Tree From Seed
Cherry seeds are relatively easy to start from seed, but there are a few little-known steps you cannot skip. First, let’s gather our supplies.
- A bowl of fresh, locally sourced cherries
- A glass Mason jar
- A fridge around 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit
- A 12-inch terracotta pot or grow tray
- Some well-draining potting soil
Germinating Cherry Seeds In 7 Easy Steps
With your supplies in hand, you’re ready to germinate cherry seeds. Follow our 7-step process that almost always works – regardless of which cherry tree cultivar you grow.
1. Clean The Cherry Pits
Removing the delicious fruit flesh is the best part. You get to eat a bunch of cherries! Removing the cherry fruit flesh helps make way for the taproot and ensures better germination. A quick rinse and scrub under running water should do the trick to rid any excess fruit on the seeds.
2. Prepare Your Cherry Pits
Gently dry your cherry pits with a paper towel. Then, let the cherry pits sit at room temperature for 72 hours. After 72 hours or so, wrap the cherry seeds in a damp paper towel. Then, gently place the towel holding your cherry seeds in a Mason jar.
3. Cold Treatment
Here’s the tricky part. Nature has its way of telling cherry seeds when it’s time to grow – which occurs after winter. We can mimic winter by sticking our glass jar with seeds in the fridge for about three months between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. (This process is called seed stratification.)
During the three-month chilling, check the seeds periodically. You may find that your cherry seeds germinate in the fridge! If you notice any sprouts, remove them from the refrigerator and proceed to the next step.
Also, some cherry cultivars may require longer than three months to stratify, and some sour cultivars may need to stratify for up to five months! So, double-check your cultivar to figure out how long they need to chill before germination.
4. Sow The Seeds In A Small Pot
Your cherry seeds are ready for action after their winter simulation. Fill a seed tray or pot with moist but well-draining potting mix, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Plant the seeds about an inch deep, giving them room to grow.
5. Wait For Cherry Seed Germination
Your cherry seeds should germinate within a few weeks to a month. Cherry seeds are like Goldilocks. Conditions have to be just right. Keep the well-drained soil warm, around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), and moist. Keep the tray (or growing pots) in a warm, sunny window. If the soil dries, offer a tiny splash of warm water.
Once your cherry seedlings are a few inches tall and have sprouted their second set of leaves, they’re ready for the big leagues. Transplant them into individual pots to let them develop further before transplanting outdoors. You can also transplant them directly into the ground. You can transplant them outdoors if the overnight temperatures are above freezing. Ensure they’re safe from harsh weather and have plenty of water and sunlight.
Water your baby cherry tree after transplanting. Water your cherry tree again weekly for the first year. Also, monitor the soil. If it ever feels dry, it’s time to water. But remember, cherries don’t like waterlogging.
Sowing Cherry Seeds Outdoors
There’s another method to germinate cherry seeds. You can plant your cherry seeds directly outdoors in the fall. Doing so allows you to skip placing the cherry seeds in the fridge. Instead of simulated stratification, the cold winter weather delivers the real thing!
Then, when spring comes, your cherry seeds will germinate. But – not all of the cherry pits will sprout! So – plant a handful, depending on how many trees you want.
Direct sowing outdoors is less fussy and requires fewer supplies – and fewer steps. You only need a couple of cherry pits and a warm, sunny spot in your yard.
Pick a sunny, well-draining spot. Cherry trees love the sun, and good drainage keeps their roots happy. (Aim for at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily!)
2. Soil Prep
Get rid of any weeds or debris that could compete with your cherries. If your soil isn’t up to snuff, amend it with some organic matter.
Dig 1-inch holes and drop in the seeds. Space them at least 1 foot apart to give them room to grow. As your cherry trees develop further – you’ll need to space them out. We advise at least 20 feet per adult cherry tree. (Read our guide about how to space fruit trees for more insights.)
4. Seed Protection And Baby Tree Protection
Critters, birds, and rodents love cherry seeds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Use wire screens or mesh to keep them at bay.
Your cherry trees are also in danger – even after they germinate. Protect your baby cherry trees from garden creatures with wire screens or barriers.
(We protect EVERY germinating plant we grow in our garden as squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, and rabbits attack nearly everything!)
Cherry Tree Growing Requirements
Cherries are one of our favorite crops for chilly US states. Michigan, New York, Washington, Oregon, and California are arguably the most famous American regions for growing cherries. You can also cultivate cherries in many other US states. No matter where you live – cherry trees require the following conditions.
A sunny location with full sun is non-negotiable! Cherries need at least six to eight hours of sunlight to thrive. They might grow with fewer sunlight hours, but they’ll have superior blooms and fruit sets with ample direct sunlight. (A south-facing, sunny windowsill is fine while germinating.)
Cherry trees can be grown in various climates. But they thrive in areas with mild winters, cool summers, and plenty of moisture. Sweet cherries prefer hardiness zones 5 to 7, while sour cherries thrive in zones 4 to 6. Plant them in a sunny site with good air circulation and avoid planting them near taller trees, native shrubs, buildings, or blockages that will potentially shade the cherries.
During the first growing season, cherry trees require irrigation to allow for the root system to develop. Feed them an inch or two of weekly water during their first year. After their first year, they usually don’t need extra watering unless during dry spells. (However, many gardeners supplement their adult cherry trees with water near the harvest.)
Cherries aren’t massive feeders like pear, apple, or citrus trees. If your cherry tree grows in moderately nutrient-rich soil, it may never need fertilizer. You can dress your cherry trees with nutrient-rich compost for a yearly (or semi-yearly) boost.
You can add fertilizer if your cherry tree doesn’t grow a few inches yearly. But if you add fertilizer, test your soil first and add a fertilizer that fixes soil deficiencies. Usually, a slow-release granulated fertilizer applied in early spring will suit your cherry tree perfectly.
Pick your cherries when they are fully ripe and firm. Sour cherries readily come off the stem when mature. But you should taste sweet cherries to test ripeness.
Hand-picking and tugging may cause damage to the tree, so many gardeners cut the stems with scissors.
Cherries can last up to a week or ten days at 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Since your cherry tree can produce anywhere from 30 to 100 pounds yearly, it’s a good idea to preserve or freeze them. Here’s an excellent guide that teaches how to freeze and can cherries for long-term storage.
Types Of Cherry Trees: Sweet vs. Sour
Not all cherry trees are the same! Sweet and sour cherry trees have different needs and uses. The most vital distinction between sweet and sour cherries is that only sour cherries are self-pollinating. Sweet cherries (usually) require multiple specimens to fruit.
Sweet cherries have tons of natural sugars. They range from deep reds to nearly black to light yellow-pink. They are usually tall, reaching up to 25 feet high. Sweet cherries are the best to eat in fruit salads or as a raw, fruity snack. Some popular sweet cherry varieties include Bing, Rainier, and Lambert.
- Origin: Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia
- Hardiness Zones: 5 to 7
- Tree Height: Up to 25 feet tall.
- True to Seed: Generally not. Sweet cherry trees require cross-pollination for fruit production. So, the resulting seeds might surprise you.
- Primary Use: Fresh eating
- Pollination: Sweet cherry trees are usually not self-pollinating. They need a buddy! Plant a second compatible cultivar.
Sour cherries are famous for being self-fertile. And they are smaller than their sweeter cousins. They can also handle the cold weather slightly more than sweet cherries. Sour cherries are usually too tart to eat raw but make excellent pies, jellies, ice creams, cookies, muffins, and bread. The Early Richmond variety is often the first available in late spring and is bright red, with the Montmorency soon following. The dark red Morello variety is another excellent sour cherry cultivar.
- Origin: Hybrid of sweet cherry and European dwarf cherry
- Hardiness Zones: 4 to 6
- Tree Height: Up to 20 feet tall.
- True to Seed: Generally, yes. Sour cherry seeds are self-pollinating. So, their seeds often produce trees that bear similar fruits.
- Primary Use: Cooking, jams, jellies, and baking
- Pollination: Lone wolf. Self-pollinating.
Cherry Tree Planting And Growing Schedule
Here are the critical dates all cherry growers should know.
Early spring is an excellent time to move your baby cherry tree from indoors to outdoors. If your baby cherry tree is a few inches tall and has its second pair of leaves, and if the risk of overnight frost is gone, then May is perfect.
Your mature cherry trees might begin ripening with lovely, delicious fruit in June. The weeks leading up to their harvest date are the most critical time! It’s during these weeks that cherries develop 25% of their weight. Most of the weight is water. So – don’t let them get too dry!
Many cherry trees will continue or begin fruiting in early July. Ensure they don’t get too dry during the summer heat, especially if you have baby cherry tree transplants.
Most cherry trees are already fruiting. But some late-season cherry cultivars like Morello and Cupid might start maturing in early to mid-August.
Fall is the best time to sow your cherry seeds outdoors. Aim for a time in your region where the soil is still easy enough to work – but the temperatures are cool enough so the cherry seeds stratify. Late September to early October might be perfect for your growing zone.
Many cherry trees vary slightly in their maturity dates and growing preferences. Study your preferred cherry cultivar so you know what to expect!
Choosing The Best Cherry Tree Varieties And Cultivars
There are over 1,000 cherry cultivars in the USA alone! And – we could never list all of our favorite varieties. Some of the most delicious cultivars include Bing, Black Gold, Kristin, and Northstar. We’re also sharing our top three favorites below.
Juliet cherries are a dwarf cherry tree that grows about five to ten feet tall. They are self-pollinating and produce large, dark red fruit. The fruit is flavorful and juicy, perfect for pies, juicing, baking, preserving, freezing, and cooking. Juliet cherry trees are ludicrously cold-hardy to negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit!
- Tree Size: 5 to 10 feet
- Cherry Type: Sour
- Maturity Date: Late July
- USDA Zone: 2 to 7
- Self-Pollinating: Yes
- Tree Appearance: A striking dwarf variety with beautiful, showy flowers and stout growing habits.
Lapins cherries are one of our favorite cultivars because they’re among the handful of self-fertile sweet cherry trees. The tree produces many large, dark red to deep purple fruits. The heavy fruit can ripen in July and will continue into August. The only notable downside is that Lapin cherry trees aren’t as cold-hardy as other cultivars.
- Tree Size: 15 to 20 feet
- Cherry Type: Sweet
- Maturity Date: Late July
- USDA Zone: 5 through 9
- Self-Pollinating: Yes
- Tree Appearance: The tree is vigorous and has a compact yet upright form with thick, lovely white-pink flowers and forest green foliage.
Sweetheart cherries are another self-pollinating sweet cherry tree cultivar. The trees produce bright red fruit that tastes delicious. The trees also bear elegant pink flowers. The pinkish flowers contrast magnificently against the dark green leafy canopy.
- Tree Size: 5 to 20 feet (Sweetheart trees can grow even taller. But many gardeners trim them yearly to maintain a short, compact tree. Yearly pruning makes harvesting Sweetheart cherries ten times easier.)
- Cherry Type: Sweet
- Maturity Date: July
- USDA Zone: 3 to 8
- Self-Pollinating: Yes
- Tree Appearance: Sweetheart cherry trees are breathtaking food forest additions with beautiful pinkish-red to white flowers and dark green foliage.
The list above is only a tiny sample of our favorite cherry trees. There are countless other varieties. And once you begin cross-pollinating cherry trees, you can invent a unique cultivar of your own making. 🙂
Common Problems With Cherry Trees
Cherry trees are relatively forgiving if they get their preferred temperature, sunlight, and soil drainage requirements. But – there are still a handful of cherry-growing roadblocks you might encounter. They are as follows.
Remember that many sweet cherry tree cultivars require a compatible companion to pollinate and produce edible fruit.
Sour cherry trees are more independent and don’t need a pollination partner.
The solution is easy. Grow more cherry trees! Even if you grow a self-pollinating cherry tree, you often get better fruit with additional cherry trees.
If you grow cherry trees, we can guarantee you’ll have plenty of wildlife guests. Visitors of the avian variety, including robins, orioles, blue jays, cardinals, grosbeaks, finches, woodpeckers, and sparrows, can never get their fill!
We don’t mind when a few birds stop by our food forest for a snack. We’re happy to contribute to Mother Nature’s food web. But we also don’t want to lose our entire harvest!
So – one solution is to cover your cherry tree with wildlife-safe netting. Another option is to grow multiple cherry trees! Try to cultivate more cherries than your local garden birds can consume. (Or, bribe your birds with fresh seeds and suet. Hopefully, those yummy treats will keep the birds busy enough for you to harvest some of your fruit.)
Cherry Tree Pests
Birds aren’t the only pests that will harass your cherry trees. The fragrant cherries attract a litany of eager visitors, including the following.
- Aphids: Use ladybugs or blast them with the hose.
- Cherry Fruit Flies: Use sticky traps or fine mesh netting.
- Spider Mites: Clip away infected foliage. Spray with hose. Or wait for predatory mites!
- Whitetail Deer and Rabbits: Whitetail deer cannot resist sweet cherry trees. Rabbits also find young cherry trees too good to pass. A reliable garden fence can save you a lot of anguish.
Try to remain vigilant when growing cherry trees. Many other bugs love eating the cherries and foliage. Monitor your leaves daily for infestations. If detected early, a spray with the hose will usually dislodge most insect invaders.
(Please avoid using pesticides if possible. Pesticides can damage friendly pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, and native bees!)
Growing a cherry tree from its seeds is a fulfilling journey that lets you create your cherry haven right at home.
Whether you’re into sweet or sour cherries, our cherry-growing guide can help.
But remember, patience is paramount, and the reward is a tree you’ve nurtured from a tiny seed into a fruit-bearing beauty.
What about you?
- Do you grow cherries? If so – do you grow tart pie cherries or sweet cherries?
- Do you let your cherry tree grow wildly? Or do you engage in aggressive pruning?
- Do you find that sour cherries have better plant hardiness?
- Have you ever seen a black cherry?
- Would you consider a cherry blossom tree as an ornamental plant?
We love brainstorming with fellow cherry and food forest growers. And we hope to hear about your experience!
Thanks for reading.
Have a great day!
- How To Grow Pineberries For An Abundant And Tasty Fruit Harvest
- Creating Perfect Fruit Tree Guild Layouts For Permaculture
- 20 Lovely Fruit Trees For Growing In Shade – They Will Surprise You!
- 13 Trees That Grow In Rocky Soil – Including Fruit Trees!
- Top 9 Ultimate Fruit Trees For Zone 4 Gardens
How To Grow Cherry Trees From Seed | Resources, References, And Works Cited:
- Propagating Fruits And Nuts By Seed | Oklahoma State University Extension | Ferguson College Of Agriculture
- Let’s Preserve Cherries | PennState University Extension
- Growing Quality Cherries | Oregon State University | OSU Extension Service
- Growing Cherries In Virginia | Virginia Coop Extension | Publications And Education Resources