Growing Cherry (Prunus)

Our fruit trees are shipped dormant and bareroot. The most important thing you can do on receiving them is to keep their roots from drying out. Remove the plants from the shipping box and check the packing material around the roots. It should feel damp, but not soggy. If it's dry, moisten it, then pour off any excess water.

Bareroot plants should be planted as soon after you receive them as possible, certainly within a week. If you must wait a couple of days, store your plants in a cool, dark place such as a garage or basement. Keep them in their original packing material, and be sure it remains damp until you're ready to plant.

If you're not going to be able to get your bareroot fruit plants into their permanent homes within a week, you should find them temporary homes. Dig a shallow trench and set the plants in place, their roots fanned out and well covered with soil. Water the plants thoroughly, and mulch with straw, leaf mold, or similar material to keep the root zone cool and moist.

Siting and Spacing

Choose a site with fertile, well-drained, slightly acid soil (a pH in the range of 6.5-6.8 is ideal) that receives a full day of direct sunshine. We recommend that you have your soil tested before you plant. Contact your county USDA Cooperative Extension Service for information on soil testing. Our semidwarf trees should be planted about 15-20ft apart or even a bit more), depending on how open you'd like your orchard to feel. Mature canopy spreads will be 10-15ft.


When you're ready to plant, the first thing you should do is soak the roots of your fruit plants for an hour or so before they go in the ground. Use a 5-gallon bucket or equivalent and fill with water. Unwrap your plants, remove the packing material, and place their roots in the water. Don't let the roots dry out as you're planting.

If you're planting in loose, well-worked garden soil, dig holes wide enough to accommodate the roots without bending or twisting them. In unimproved soil, make the planting holes twice the diameter of the root span to provide plenty of soft, friable earth for the roots to expand into. Once you've dug your hole to size, scar the sides and bottom of the hole with a cultivator or garden fork to eliminate any glazing or compacting that may have resulted from digging the hole. Toss a bit of top soil back into the hole and form a gentle cone at its center. Remove your tree from the bucket in which it's been soaking and set it on this cone, spreading the roots out all around the hole and cutting off any broken or damaged roots. Have a helper hold the plant steady and upright if necessary, then begin to backfill. The trees should be planted so that the graft union (the swollen-looking bump in the trunk near the base of the tree) will be 2-3in above the surface of the soil after the hole has been backfilled, tamped, and watered. If the tree is being planted in a location where strong winds are likely to buffet it, plant the tree so it's tilted ever so slightly, just an inch or so beyond vertical, into the prevailing wind.

If your soil is either overly sandy (causing it to drain too quickly) or composed primarily of clay (causing it to hold moisture too effectively, possibly resulting in root rot), add a generous amount of compost or aged (never fresh!) manure when you backfill. This organic matter will not only feed your plant, but even more importantly in the short term, it will improve the tilth (or texture) of your soil. This will enhance its ability both to drain freely and to retain essential moisture without completely excluding oxygen, as is the case in very sodden soil. Even if you're planting in nice, sandy loam, a few shovels full of aged manure or compost will help your new fruit tree get off to a good, healthy start.

When the planting hole is halfway full or so, water thoroughly to help settle the soil around the plant's roots and eliminate any potentially root-drying air pockets. Once the water has drained away, finish backfilling the hole, then either tamp or gently step on the soil around the plant to help settle it. Build a small donutlike ring around the outside of the hole to catch and retain water, then water again. Making sure a young fruit plant gets enough water in its first season is critical to its survival. It doesn't want to be in standing water (in fact, that could kill it), but it does need to have moisture available at root level at all times. It's often necessary to water weekly or even more frequently at first. In general, if the soil around a plant is dry at a depth of 1in, you should provide a good, deep watering.

Finally, apply a generous layer of organic mulch around your plant to conserve soil moisture. Mulching is the best way to retain soil moisture, because not only does it reduce the frequency with which you have to water, but it also suppresses weed growth, which would compete with your young plant for both moisture and nutrients. Straw, salt hay, wood chips, and sawdust all make effective mulches. Spread the mulch so you have a layer 4in thick, but keep it a few inches back from the stems to prevent decay, disease, and the possibility of providing cover for mice or voles. Add supplementary nitrogen if using wood chips or sawdust as mulch.


Making sure your newly planted fruit trees get plenty of water (at least 1in, or 5-8 gallons, per week) is the single most important thing you can do to ensure their survival. Ultimately, drip irrigation is the best way to provide moisture, but in lieu of that you can simply make sure your trees receive a good soaking once a week whenever it's not provided by Mother Nature. In times of drought, don't hesitate to check the soil moisture level at 1in deep every now and again. If it's dry, water your plant. Also, keep trees mulched out to their drip line for the first few years of their lives to minimize competition for precious water and nutrients. Beyond these first few years, whether or not you mulch becomes a matter of preference and belief, with learned and experienced fruit growers diverging greatly in their recommendations. A little bit of reading will outline the arguments for all positions, from no mulch to gravel mulch and every option in between.


Feeding of young trees in subsequent years should take place in late winter or early spring, while the trees are still dormant. Use a complete fertilizer.

Training, pruning, and winter protection. With some basic care, these trees will last a couple of decades or longer. Taking the time to acquire the knowledge and skills to prune properly is time well spent and will result in healthier, potentially longer-lived, trees that are both easier to maintain and more productive. We highly recommend reading Stella Otto's The BackYard Orchardist to gain an in-depth understanding of how, when, and why to prune.