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SELECTING YOUR CHERRY TREE


Cherry trees produce fruit for about two weeks in July, they keep in the fridge for about a week and freeze easily. They produce masses of blossom in April time, far more attractive compared to other fruit trees. This article will help you choose the correct cherry tree variety for you, choose the best rootstock (which will control the size of your tree) and finally help you ensure it can be pollinated and therefore produce fruit.

Use the checklist below to decide if a Cherry tree is suited to your garden conditions.

  • There are two key types of cherry tree, those for cooking (acidic) and those for eating (sweet or desert).
     
  • Fruit is produced in July for about two weeks and will keep in the fridge for a week.
     
  • They produce masses of blossom in April time, far more attractive compared to other fruit trees.
     
  • Depending on the rootstock, they grow to a mature height between 3m / 10ft to 8m / 25ft so read the "rootstock" section below carefully to choose the correct sized tree for your garden.
     
  • Sweet cheery trees prefer a full sun position, acidic ones will be fine in partial shade.
     
  • Both types prefer a well drained, roughly neutral soil. Planting in frost pockets should be avoided, the blossom is produced relatively early in the season and can be damaged by cold conditions.
     
  • All acidic cherry trees can pollinate themselves (i.e. are self-fertile), some sweet cherry trees can also pollinate themselves but others need a nearby suitable cherry tree to produce fruit. See the list in the main article below.
     
  • Cherry trees are low maintenance although they can suffer from aphids in particular. Birds can eat the fruits but in almost all cases enough is left undamaged for a large crop.

  • Sweet cherry trees do not grow well in cooler northern parts of the UK.
     
  • Cheery trees can be grown in large containers if they are on the correct rootstock (see below)

 



If you are already growing a cherry tree and only want to know how best to care for it, click here.

When choosing a cheery tree for your garden, consider the following before buying one:

  • What height do you want the tree to grow to, rootstocks determine the height of a fruit tree?
     
  • Do you want a cooker (acidic) or an eater (sweet)?

  • If you choose a self-sterile variety (see our list below) then remember it will need a suitable nearby pollination partner.

CHERRY TREE ROOTSTOCKS


If you grow a cherry tree on its own roots you will end up with a massive tree which can easily reach 8m / 26ft high. The fruit will be well out of the reach for picking unless a ladder is used, it will cast a large amount of shadow and will suck up moisture and nutrients from a wide area. Another, often ignored, problem with large cherry trees is that they are difficult and sometimes impossible to spray with pesticides. These combined disadvantages are not the ideal for almost all UK gardeners!

The picture below shows the rootstock at the bottom of the tree where the roots are growing into the ground. The scion is the desired cherry tree variety which has been grafted onto the rootstock at the point shown by the join.

Picture showing position of a tree rootstock

There are only three commonly available rootstocks for cherry trees which are sold to the public in the UK and by far the most popular is the Colt rootstock. In fact the majority of suppliers only sell cherry trees on Colt rootstock. The pros and cons of each of the three rootstocks are listed below. It is important to remember though that a cherry tree on Colt rootstock, pruned once a year, can easily be restricted to 3m / 10ft high.

COLT ROOTSTOCK


This is by far the most common rootstock for cherry trees sold to UK gardeners. It has the following characteristics:
  • Developed by the East Malling Research Station in the 1970s, this has been the most popular rootstock in the UK for over 30 years.
     
  • Trees on this rootstock grow naturally to a height of about 6m / 19ft. With an annual prune they can easily be kept to a height of 2.5m / 8ft.
     
  • Tolerates poor soil conditions better than Gisela 5 and 6, but does not tolerate drought conditions well.
     
  • This rootstock is the most likely to be damaged by a very hard winter. Avoid planting it in colder parts of the UK but it is fine in most areas.

  • Blossom of trees grown on this rootstock suffer less frost damage compared to Giselle 5 and 6.
     
  • New trees will require a stake support for the first two years, but after that they can support themselves in all but the most windy conditions.




GISELA 5 ROOTSTOCK


Gisela 5 rootstock is the second most common in the UK but is often not offered by many suppliers of cherry trees.  It has the following characteristics:
  • Developed in West Germany and some of its qualities reflect the very widespread cold and often wet weather found in that area of Europe.
     
  • Trees on this rootstock grow naturally to a height of about 3m / 10ft where soil and weather conditions are favourable, slightly less in average conditions.
     
  • Gisela 5 rootstock does not tolerate poor soil conditions well. They need a free-draining open soil which has good nutrient levels. Grass should be kept away from the base of the tree. If you have any concerns about the soil nutrient levels in your garden we suggest you steer clear of Gisela 5. In ideal conditions, and if well looked after, it grows well. In average or poor soil it can be a weak growing tree.
     
  • They do not suffer drought well and benefit greatly from a mulch around the base of the tree to retain good levels of moisture in the soil.
     
  • The trees will need to be staked throughout their life.
     
  • This rootstock withstands cold better than Colt but this is not normally relevant in the UK climate.
     
  • Under good conditions, the number of near perfect fruits produced will be higher than the same tree on a Colt rootstock.

GISELA 6 ROOTSTOCK


Gisela 6 rootstock is the least common in the UK and it is often not available. It has the following characteristics:
  • Developed in West Germany and some of its qualities reflect the very widespread cold and often wet weather found in that area of Europe.
     
  • Trees grown on this rootstock are variable in size depending on soil conditions and climate but normally grow about 4m / 13ft high of their own accord. With an annual prune they can easily be kept to a height of 2.8m / 9ft.
     
  • Gisela 6 rootstock tolerates poor soil conditions slightly better than Gisela 5. They need a free-draining open soil which has good nutrient levels.
     
  • They do not suffer drought well and benefit greatly from a mulch around the base of the tree to retain good levels of moisture in the soil.
     
  • The trees will need to be staked for the first two years of their life. In windy conditions it is recommended that they are staked for life.
     
  • This rootstock withstands cold better than Colt.
     
  • Under normal conditions the number of good condition fruits produced will be higher than the same tree on a Colt and a Gisela 5 rootstock.

CHERRY TREE ROOTSTOCKS - OUR RECOMMENDATION


Our recommendation for most gardeners in the UK would be to buy cherry trees on Colt rootstock but Gisela 6 rates a very near second. Colt is well adapted to the UK climate and you have a far larger choice of cherry tree varieties available to choose from. Colt is also less choosy about soil conditions and general nutrient levels. If you are growing in containers then Gisela 5 is the best option.

CHERRY TREE POLLINATION


Cherry trees are like other fruit trees, their blossom needs to be pollinated by bees and other insects if they are to produce fruit. Cherry trees which can pollinate themselves and do not need another cherry to do this are called self-fertile . Some cheery tree however do need another cherry tree for pollination and these are not self-fertile, these are called self-sterile (i.e. they need a pollination partner) .

Where a pollination partner is needed it must meet three requirements:

  • it must be an acid or sweet cherry tree; ornamental flowering cherries and other fruit trees are not suitable
     
  • both trees must produce pollen at roughly the same time
     
  • the trees must be near each other, near enough for bees to go from one tree to the other. Distances vary considerably depending on local circumstances but up to 200 yards will be fine and often they can be considerably further apart.

Our cherry tree pollination page lists all the common UK cherry trees along with their fertility and, where required, suitable pollination partners.