Cherries from your own cherry tree taste delicious and can add a fruity flavor to numerous recipes. But when should you prune the cherry tree so that it grows healthy and rewards the gardener with a rich harvest every year? As with all other fruit trees, pruning the cherry is particularly important. What is the best time for it and how to do it properly, we reveal below.
Table of contents
- Why prune cherry trees
- Pruning cherry trees: the most important facts at a glance
- When should you prune the cherry tree?
- How to prune a cherry tree in summer – instructions
- How to properly prune a young cherry tree
Cherry trees are a beautiful addition to any garden, but you need to know how to prune a cherry tree to keep it healthy and in good shape. With their colorful foliage in the fall, pretty blossoms in the spring and delicious fruit in the summer, cherries are both ornamental and useful plants in the garden. A distinction can be made between sweet cherries, which produce delicious, sweet fruit, and sour cherries, whose fruit is more suitable for cooking, baking or preserving. There are still compact columnar cherry trees and dwarf cherries, which are also suitable for tubs. And, of course, the method of pruning will depend on the variety.
Why prune cherry trees
The main reason why you should prune a cherry tree is to provide light to the crown of the tree. If the crown is not thinned out by pruning at the appropriate time, it will become bare, which can lead to a lack of fruit production.
The goal in pruning cherry trees is to open up the center of the tree to allow sunlight and air to penetrate through the branches. The more sunlight the inner branches of the tree receive, the more it flowers and the more fruit is formed.
Annual pruning helps old cherry trees maintain a healthy balance between older fruiting wood and younger branches. It further ensures that the trees remain more compact, making it easier to pick the fruit.
Maintaining a clear airflow through the cherry tree also helps protect the tree from disease. To reduce the risk of infection, disinfect all tools before pruning.
Pruning cherry trees: the essentials at a glance.
Pruning of old, established cherry trees should be done once a year to maintain their shape and promote healthy growth. The best time to do this is right after the harvest to slow down growth. It is not possible to specify an exact period, as it depends on the climate and variety, but as a rule, the months of July and August are good. Pruning cherry trees also results in a better harvest, as removing some branches exposes the remaining shoots to more sunlight. In general, when pruning, try to cut as little as possible and remove only a few complete branches to give the tree crown an open structure.
When should you prune the cherry tree?
Sweet cherries and sour cherries can benefit most from pruning in the summer. This promotes slow growth, increases the tree’s fertility and prevents disease. The optimal time is immediately after harvest. Pruning wounds also close more quickly in summer, which keeps fungal pathogens and pests away.
Early and medium-early varieties have another advantage – timely pruning allows a second year shoots. In principle, small branches and twigs that can be removed with pruning shears, cut after harvest or late winter. Thick branches cut with pruning shears or pruning saw only in the summer.
You will need these tools:
- pruning shears for trimming medium-sized branches
- pruning saw for thicker branches
- Hand shears or pruning shears for trimming very small branches
Pruning cherry tree in summer – instructions
How to go about pruning cherry trees depends on their variety and age. Below are a few tips for summer pruning of sweet cherry, sour cherry and columnar cherry trees.
How to prune a sweet cherry
Generally, sweet cherry trees need only light pruning once they are established. Here’s how to do it properly:
- Shorten any strong, vertically growing shoots that crowd the center to allow air to flow freely.
- Remove any crossing, weak, dead, damaged or diseased branches.
- Shorten the tip of any remaining branches by about one-third of the new growth to encourage fruit bud development.
- Also remove back any offshoots at the base of the tree. These will never produce good fruit.
Prune sour cherry properly
If you have an established sour cherry, however, it will need to be pruned back much more than a sweet cherry because the fruit will come mainly from the previous year’s growth.
- As with a sweet cherry, remove all dead, damaged and diseased branches.
- Also remove about a quarter of the remaining older wood and prune back to a main branch or younger side shoot.
- Shorten any young shoots longer than 30 inches to encourage branching.
Prune columnar cherry tree in two stages.
Columnar cherries are space-saving and feel at home in small gardens as well as on balconies and patios. Pruning is not always necessary with this variety. If necessary, prune back long side branches to 10 to 15 inches long. Side shoots that grow vertically compete with the trunk and should be removed to avoid consuming valuable nutrients.
Pruning from the top of columnar cherries is best done in the summer, immediately after harvest, between June and July. The weak branches on the lower half of the tree are ideally pruned in late winter.
Note: Do not prune the cherry tree in wet weather or rain to avoid disease.
Pruning a young cherry tree properly
To control the shape of young cherry trees, educational pruning is necessary in winter. When doing this, cut back the central trunk in the first year to encourage the growth of side shoots. In the second year, select about four well-distributed, wider side shoots at least 50 cm from the ground and cut them back by two-thirds. These will then be the main branches.
Remove any underlying side shoots and cut the main stem to just above the uppermost lateral line.
In the third year, when these main shoots have formed their own side shoots, cut the strongest of these side shoots back by half.
From this point on, you can control the size of the tree by pruning it annually.