Cherries are my favorite fruit, and I have big plans for cherry trees on my homestead. But I’ve heard that some cherry trees don’t bear fruit. So, why is this, and how can it be avoided? I did some research to find out.
Cherry trees won’t produce fruit if they are stressed or if their needs aren’t met. The most important one is to have sufficient pollination. However, for a cherry tree to fruit in the first place, it will need to be a mature age and have the proper care, such as having enough water and fertilizer.
So, what if you have a mature cherry tree, and you’ve provided well for it? What are some reasons why it still might not fruit?
Why Your Cherry Tree Isn’t Producing Fruit
Several factors can help identify why your cherry tree isn’t fruiting. Some are easier to solve than others, but to give your cherry tree the best chance to fruit, it’s best if you’re familiar with most or all of these factors. So, why isn’t your cherry tree producing fruit?
Cherry trees will start producing fruit when they mature at 3-5 years old. This timeframe can be accelerated by grafting. Otherwise, cherry trees that don’t produce fruit are lacking either water, sunlight, balanced soil pH, fertilizer, weather, pollination, or a combination of the above.
If cherry trees go too long with any of the above deficiencies, it can become permanently stunted and not bear any fruit. It can also drop leaves or fruit in an attempt to conserve resources and survive. So, to increase the chances that your cherry tree fruits, let’s take a closer look at some common issues and make sure your cherry tree is getting what it needs.
How to Fix a Fruitless Cherry Tree
Some cherry trees can bear fruit biennially (every two years), although this is usually temporary until the tree matures a bit more and then they’ll start to produce annually. Other trees are stunted from poor health or genetics and might not fruit. This is where our focus will be for the rest of this post. So, what are some ways could you help fix your fruitless cherry tree?
Once you know if your cherry tree is mature or not, the next step to fix its fruit production is to check its soil, watering, sunlight, fertilizer, pruning, and temperature. In a small number of cases, pests or disease can also be the cause of poor fruit production.
While each of these topics can be their own post, let’s take a look at simplifying them and providing solutions to help fix them.
Lack of Pollination
One of the biggest reasons why your cherry tree might not be producing fruit is due to a lack of pollination. This is even more likely if your cherry tree has no problem developing flowers, but has a hard time developing fruit. If this is the case, then you can be pretty certain that poor pollination is the issue.
Do You Need 2 Cherry Trees to Get Fruit?
A common question for cherry trees, along with most other fruit trees, is if you need two of them. To answer this, first try to find out if your cherry tree was grown from a seed or a graft.
If your cherry tree was grown from seed, it will likely need to be cross-pollinated, and having multiple cherry trees near each other is a good idea. On the other hand, if your tree was grown from a graft, then it’s likely self-pollinating and might not need other trees nearby.
However, even for self-pollinating cherry trees, increased pollination can help. So, aim to grow at least a few fruit-bearing trees along with other flowering plants to create a good environment and invite pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. If you don’t have many pollinators visiting, consider using a toothbrush or paintbrush to manually pollinate flowers.
Under or Over-Watering
Under and over-watering your cherry tree can lead to leaf and fruit loss, root rot, and more. So, when should you water and what’s the right amount?
If your cherry tree is newly planted, water it deeply every other day for the first week. On the second week, water deeply for two days. After the second week, you can water once a week. For its second growing season and beyond, consider mulching the tree and spreading out the frequency of watering as much as possible.
By spreading out the tree’s watering schedule, the tree will learn to hold water more efficiently, and hopefully, with good mulching and soil composition, will largely rely on rainwater for irrigation.
You can tell if your cherry tree needs to be watered if the top 2-3 inches of soil is dry or not. If it’s bone dry, consider increasing your watering schedule. If it’s still wet from the watering from days ago, you may want to water it less often.
Watering your cherry tree is one of the most important considerations to properly take care of it. Sufficient watering helps the tree not only maintain good health but also provide juicy fruits and cools the tree in warmer weather.
Lack of Sunlight
Like most fruiting trees, cherry trees benefit from full sun. While cherry trees can benefit by growing in the partial shade of other trees, they’re best suited to receive strong sunlight the majority of the day. So, how much sun do cherry trees need exactly, and what does proper sunlight help with?
Cherry trees need full sun (at least 6-8 hours of sunlight), which is important for fruit production and providing nutrients to the tree. Sunlight also helps ripen the fruit and keep fungus and mold from taking over and damaging the tree. While some cherry trees can thrive off of less sunlight, it‘s less common.
Providing your cherry tree with sufficient sunlight will help keep the tree healthy and ripen the fruit by helping it develop more sugar.
On the other hand, if you have strong and hot sunlight, keep an eye on the temperature of your tree and how quickly the sun dries its soil. If it’s getting too dry too fast, consider mulching the tree to help with water retention and moving to drip irrigation to prevent excess evaporation from watering.
Soil Content and pH
Having proper soil content and pH levels are important for almost all of the cherry tree’s functions. With proper nutrients and pH, not only will the cherry tree have good overall health, but its leaves, fruit, water retention, pollination, and disease resistance will also improve.
Cherry trees prefer slightly sandy soil with a pH between 6.0-6.5, which is slightly acidic. For this reason, avoid adding wood ash or biochar as these can make the soil too alkaline. Fertilizing with coffee grounds, or other acidic materials can help keep the soil in the right pH range.
If your cherry tree’s soil is mostly comprised of clay, you may want to add sand or compost to it to make the pH slightly more acidic. Without the proper pH level, cherry trees will have a hard time absorbing and using nutrients from the soil.
Also, to help your cherry tree’s soil retain nutrients, try to reduce the competition from nearby weeds. Avoid herbicides and weed killers, and instead, use a thick layer of mulch or compost. 3-4 inches high will be sufficient to block weeds and grass from growing and competing with the tree.
When applying compost or mulching, try to add it around the tree, without it touching the tree directly. While it usually won’t cause harm, the tree can develop mold or become burned (if the nitrogen content is too high).
Proper fertilizing is important to provide the cherry tree with the nutrients it needs to have a bountiful harvest. While most fruit fertilizer can work with cherry trees, it’s helpful to understand some ideas to provide the tree with the ideal amount and quality of nutrients.
A cherry tree might not provide fruit if it’s under or over-fertilized. The best nutrients to help a cherry tree fruit is an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) ratio of 1:2:2, such as a 5-10-10 fertilizer. Avoid high amounts of nitrogen as this signals the tree to focus on foliage and not fruit production.
When your cherry tree is young and still growing, it can benefit from a fertilizer with more nitrogen (10-5-5 or similar ratios work well) as this will help boost its foliage growth. But for mature cherry trees or ones that have fully grown, it’s best to switch to a fertilizer that’s lower in nitrogen to maximize its fruit production.
A safer way to fertilize is with compost. Unlike fertilizer, the nutrients in compost will slowly break down and provide a steady supply of food for the tree.
The best time to fertilize a cherry tree is at the beginning of spring or fall. It’s helpful for the tree to have a good supply of nutrients as it grows through the warmer seasons. Avoid fertilizing in the late fall or winter as the tree will become dormant and lose its leaves, often not needing many nutrients. Fertilizing a dormant cherry tree can be damaging as a fertilizer higher in nitrogen will remain unused and can chemically burn the roots.
Pruning is a good practice to take when you have just about any fruit tree. By pruning your cherry tree, you can help to train the tree to focus less on foliage and more on fruit quantity and quality.
Most times, you’ll want to prune cherry trees at the end of summer. If you prune in the winter, when the tree is dormant, it won’t have much strength to fight off bacteria, fungus, or infection from spreading through the cuts.
However, sour cherry trees are more hardy and resistant than sweet cherries, so if you need to prune sour cherry trees in the winter, you can. As always, make sure you disinfect your pruning shears with an organic cleaner before pruning.
For more information about how to prune cherry trees, check out this video by SweetCherryGrower.
Oddly enough, cold weather can help cherry trees fruit better. This is because the dormant phase they enter in the winter conserves energy and results in a surge of growth in the spring. Some fruit trees that don’t go dormant in the winter use a lot of energy trying to survive and grow during the cold season, which isn’t the most efficient.
However, if the weather is too cold, it can damage or kill the cherry blossoms and even the tree. Frost generally occurs at freezing temperatures (below 32ºF, not including wind chill) and cherry trees can survive just below this at 29ºF.
As mentioned in the previous section, sour cherry trees are better able to handle cold weather and light frost compared to sweet cherry trees. So, if you’re living in a colder climate, consider sour over sweet.
You can tell when a cherry tree is damaged by frost when the center of the blossoms turn dark.
To avoid frost damage, it’s a good idea to plant your cherry tree on an elevated area to maximize sun exposure. Additionally, you can plant them close to a south-facing wall of your property. This wall will receive a lot of sunlight during the day and will both absorb and reflect some light while providing warmth. If you don’t have either of these options on your homestead, you can always cover your cherry trees with bedsheets or other large cloths to keep them warmer.
Pests and Disease
Identifying pests and disease is a bit simpler than soil, fertilizer, and water content, so we won’t cover these topics too much.
To tell if your cherry tree has pests, you can check by inspecting the top and bottom of the leaves for bugs or search around the roots for any holes or damage. For disease, the most common symptoms can be seen in the leaves in the form of spots and discoloration.
If you see spots, discoloration, or leaf and fruit loss (and it’s not due to the annual autumn leaf loss), then your tree might likely be succumbing to a disease, which should prompt further investigation.
A good way to help limit pests and disease is to plant companion plants around your cherry trees. For a list of these plants, check out my recent post on 10 companion plants for cherry trees.
How Long Does It Take for a Cherry Tree to Produce Fruit?
Cherry trees mature in about 3-5 years, but some could take 4-7 years to mature. Normally, cherry trees that are grown from seed take longer than those grown from a graft. This is because the graft is from an already mature tree, and seeds are genetically newer, taking more time to grow.
Providing proper nutrients, water, and sunlight are some of the most important factors to allow a cherry tree to mature properly and begin developing fruit.
Both sour and sweet cherry trees need the proper watering, sunlight, nutrients, protection, and pollination. Even if only one of these factors is insufficient, there’s a good chance your cherry tree might not be as productive. Generally, you can expect sour cherry trees to be more resistant to frost, while sweet cherry trees can be more sensitive.
By making sure your cherry trees have everything they need, you can help them remain healthy and produce fruit consistently. If their needs aren’t met, the trees can become stunted and might not ever bear fruit. Keep in mind that some cherry trees are purely ornamental and won’t successfully bear fruit.