If, like me you love cherries, you will no doubt have encountered more than enough cherry seeds or pits to last you a lifetime. You’ve probably even wondered if you can plant the cherry seeds and grow your own tree. Well, the good news is that you can. And, it’s easier than you think.
Learning how to plant cherry seeds is a fun, cheap and simple way to get your own great tasting cherries. Even if you don’t like cherries, a cherry tree is a great addition to the garden. In the spring, the trees produce masses of showy, fragrant flowers. As the flowers fade, colorful fruit emerges. Ideal for gardeners in USDA Zones 5 to 9, where the tree is considered hardy, growers outside this, particularly in colder zones, may struggle.
If you want to learn how to plant cherry seeds, this guide will take you through everything that you need to know.
A popular fruit, instead of discarding the pits why not sow them and grow your own fruit tree?
How to Select the Best Seeds
Before we discuss how to plant cherry seeds, we first need to acquire some pits. This is easy, simply source fresh cherries either from a nearby tree or a local farmers market. The fruit should be as fresh and as local as possible. Selecting cherries from local farmers markets means that the fruit is probably from locally grown trees, so you know the trees are suitable for growing in your area. You can also purchase prepared seeds from garden stores and fruit tree nurseries.
Gardeners in colder climates may have more success with sour cherries (Prunus cerasus). These are more cold hardy than sweet varieties, growing in USDA Zones 4 to 6. Also known as tart or pie cherries these specimens can reach up to 20 ft in height. Common sour varieties include English Morello, a popular pie and juice variety and Meteor, a dark late season fruit grown for its tart taste.
Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) can pass 35 ft in height. Usually growing in USDA zones 5 to 7, in the Pacific Northwest sweet varieties also grow in zones 8 and 9. One of the most popular sweet fruiting varieties is Coral. This is a reliable variety known for its large, firm, flavorsome fruit which is resistant to cracking.
Black Tartarian is an early season favorite. A prolific tree it produces masses of black-purple fruit that is juicy and sweet. Rainier is a mid season variety which produces yellow fruit with a red blush. Finally, Stella is a reliable late season variety which is known for its large, blood red sweet cherries.
Source fresh seeds and fruit from local farmers markets and stores. Seeds from locally grown trees are more likely to succeed in your growing conditions.
If space is at a premium, try growing smaller or dwarf varieties. Most small varieties are suitable for container gardens.
Don’t try planting pits sourced from cherries sold in grocery or food stores. This fruit has probably been refrigerated at some point. Refrigeration impairs the viability of the pits, making them an unreliable option.
How to Prepare the Cherry Seeds
Remove the pits from the cherries and place them in a bowl of warm water.
Allow the pits to soak for about 5 minutes before lightly cleaning away any debris that is still clinging to them. After washing, spread the pits out to dry on a flat surface. Allow the cherry seeds to air dry in a warm position for 3 to 5 days.
Once the cherry seeds are completely dry, place them in an airtight container. Label the container before placing it in the refrigerator for 10 weeks. This puts the pits through a process known as stratification. Chilling the pits in this way copies the exposure to cold temperatures that cherries would naturally experience outside, during the winter months.
Stratification is a necessary part of learning how to plant cherry seeds. Without it germination is unlikely to occur. If you have purchased seeds from a garden store or nursery they may have already been through this process.
After 10 weeks have passed, remove the pits and allow them to warm up to room temperature. This takes about 3 hours. Once the pits have warmed up, they are ready for planting.
How to Plant Cherry Seeds
Fill some celan, small pots with fresh potting soil. Sow 2 pits per container roughly one and a half to two inches deep. Cover the pits and water well. Place the pots in a light position such as on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse.
As you wait for the seeds to germinate, continue to keep the soil moist.
Sow the seeds in small pots and place in a light position.
If both pits germinate, allow them both to grow on until they reach about 2 inches in height. At this point you can pick out the weakest of the two seedlings, allowing the strongest to carry on growing.
Continue to grow the seedlings in a light, sunny position undercover, either indoors or in a greenhouse until the last frost date has passed. Harden the seedlings off before transplanting outside.
How to Plant Cherry Seeds Outside
In cooler climates you can sow your cherry seeds straight into the ground, skipping the artificial refrigeration or stratification process. In the fall simply sow the dried pits outside, setting them roughly 2 inches deep and 1 ft apart. Remember to mark where you sow each seed. This helps to prevent you from accidentally disturbing or damaging the seeds when weeding.
Pits sprout in the spring. When the seedlings are 8 to 12 inches tall, they can be transplanted into their permanent position.
How to Transplant Seedlings
Learning how to transplant these specimens is fairly straightforward. It is similar to planting other fruit trees. Specimens will be healthier and care far easier, if you plant the seedlings in the right position.
To bear fruit, cherry trees need about 8 hours of sun every day. They do best in well draining, neutral soil. Like nectarines, peaches and plums these trees are part of the Prunus genus. This means that you don’t have to test the soil for toxic residue before planting. Even if toxins are present in the soil they won’t make their way into the fruit.
Plant in a favorable position to encourage healthy growth and flowering.
In prepared, weeded ground dig a hole large enough to hold the pot currently holding the seedling. The lip of the pot should sit level or slightly above the soil level. If you have started the seedlings in biodegradable or peat pots, simply place the pot in the hole and cover with fresh soil. Otherwise, carefully remove the seedling from the pot. If the seedling is difficult to remove, squeeze the sides. This helps to loosen the soil, allowing you to slide the seedling out.
Center the seedling in the hole. When you are happy with the position of the plant, backfill the hole and water well. Apply a generous layer of mulch around the seedling. If you are planting more than one young specimen, try to space them at least 20 ft apart.
If you are growing dwarf varieties you can plant in large planters or pots filled with fresh, well draining potting soil. Plant as described above.
After planting water daily for the first week. Reduce this to watering two to three times during the second week. From the third week onwards continue to water once a week during the first growing season.
Specimens may also require some form of support. The Kradl Tree Staking Kit supports growing saplings, ensuring a healthy, straight trunk can develop. This is best installed when you transplant the seedlings.
How to Care for Growing Specimens
Once planted, learning how to care for cherry trees is pretty straightforward. Healthy specimens begin bearing fruit within 7 years.
Mulch around the saplings, or regularly weed the soil.
After the first few weeks, when saplings are established, you may only need to water during dry spells to prevent the soil from drying out. Fertilize once a year, each spring, until the plant starts to bear fruit. Use a balanced granular or liquid fertilizer. When applying the fertilizer try to cover as much of the root system, the area under the dripline of the tree canopy, as possible.
Deer, rabbits and woodchucks can all target young saplings. Wrapping the saplings loosely in a burlap cover in mid fall deters many pests while still allowing the trees to absorb lots of light and moisture.
Remember to remove the covers in early April, before the trees start to bloom. You may need to do this for the first 3 years as many creatures like the taste of young, fruit tree bark.
Squirrels and other creatures love these fruit trees.
Once your trees start bearing fruit you may also need to cover them with a net to prevent birds and other scavengers from taking the fruit. The CandyHome Anti Bird Protection Net easily covers large specimens, protecting your fruit as it forms and develops.
As well as scavengers and creatures, aphids, caterpillars and Japanese beetles may also target the foliage of your saplings. Luckily the cherry plant is pleasingly resilient. However, they can sometimes fall victim to bacterial canker, brown rot and black knot. Cut away and destroy diseased branches to prevent the issue from spreading to the rest of the plant. This is a great, detailed guide to identifying and resolving cherry tree diseases.
Finally, once established, prune the trees in late winter to encourage new growth to emerge.
The fruit is a popular target for birds and other creatures. You may need to protect your trees to save your harvest.
Learning how to plant cherry seeds is an enjoyable and accessible way to cultivate your own tree. A pleasingly rewarding process, this is a great way to use some excess cherry pits. Ornamental and attractive, whether you grow them for their fruit or just their foliage, the cherry tree is a fabulous addition to any garden.