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. Nutrients, water, sunlight, and pollination are all necessary for cherry trees to fruit. However, cherry trees first need to be a mature age, which is 3-5 years for grafted trees and up to 10 years for those grown from seed.
So, what if we have a mature cherry tree, and it’s still not fruiting? How can we identify the issue, and figure out what’s causing it? Let’s take a closer look.
Ornamental Cherry Trees
Before jumping into the details of why cherry trees won’t fruit, let’s take a look at if your cherry tree is even capable of fruiting in the first place.
Many gardeners love growing ornamental cherry trees for their flowers, but they’re sometimes surprised to learn these trees often don’t fruit.
To make things easier, here’s a table I put together to help you determine if your cherry tree is capable of fruiting. All you need is to know your variety of cherry tree.
|Cherry Trees That Don’t Fruit||Cherry Trees That Fruit|
|Autumn-Flowering||Black Cherry (Ornamental)|
|Sargent/North Japanese Hill||Stella Sweet|
|Kiku Shidare Sakura||Nanking|
Now, let’s explore more about fruiting cherry trees (and which issues cause them not to fruit).
How Long Do Cherry Trees Take to Fruit?
Cherry trees start producing fruit when they mature at 3-10 years old. This timeline can be accelerated by buying grafted cherry trees (normally fruiting within 3-5 years). Typically, cherry trees that are purchased from gardening stores or nurseries are grafted.
The reason why grafted cherry trees grow faster is that the graft is a clone from an already mature tree, and seeds are genetically newer (like a child), taking more time to grow.
Some cherry trees also 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. Sometimes, this can occur when cherry trees are stunted from poor health or genetics, leading to reduced fruiting cycles.
Mature cherry trees that don’t produce fruit typically have improper pollination, watering, climate, nutrients, soil pH, or a combination of the above.
If cherry trees go too long with any of the above deficiencies, they 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.
1. 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 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 planting 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 lead to larger and more fruit yields. 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.
If you have multiple varieties of fruit trees, and you’re wondering if they can cross-pollinate with each other, make sure to check out my recent post: Can an Apple Tree Pollinate a Pear, Cherry, or Plum Tree?
2. 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?
The best way to water cherry trees is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. This avoids both under and over-watering. A good way to check this is by pushing a finger into the soil. Also, apply 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch to improve soil richness and reduce evaporation.
You can tell if your cherry tree needs to be watered if the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. If it’s bone dry, increase your watering schedule. If it’s still wet from the watering from days ago, water it less often.
Watering your cherry tree is one of the most important factors 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!
3. Improper Climate
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 daily 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 sunlight that’s too strong or hot, 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, mulch the base of the tree to help with water retention and provide drip irrigation to prevent excess evaporation from watering.
Some good mulches for cherry trees are leaves, bark, pine needles, and straw. Keep the mulch at least 3 inches from the tree’s trunk.
Oddly enough, cold weather helps cherry trees fruit. This is because cherry trees need about 700-800 chill hours (below 45ºF) to enter dormancy in the winter (similar to a bear hibernating).
The dormancy ends with the tree “waking” and getting a surge of growth in the springtime. Some fruit trees that don’t go dormant in the winter use a lot of energy trying to survive during the cold season, which isn’t the most efficient and can lead to the tree’s death.
If a cherry tree is woken from dormancy (above 45ºF) during the winter, it might think that spring has arrived and will start growing blossoms. This is a problem if there’s a later frost as it will kill all of the new blossoms and growth. As a result, the cherry tree likely won’t fruit until the next season.
You can tell when a cherry tree is damaged by frost when the center of the blossoms turns dark.
To avoid frost damage, it’s a good idea to plant your cherry tree in 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, you can always cover your cherry trees with bedsheets or tarps to keep them warmer during the winter.
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.
4. Insufficient Nutrients or Soil pH
Proper fertilizing is important to provide the cherry tree with the nutrients it needs to have a bountiful harvest. While most fruit tree fertilizers 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 drop 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.
If you’re interested in using everyday kitchen and yard scraps as a fertilizer for your cherry trees, you’re in luck! Check out my posts on using coffee grounds on cherry trees and making homemade fertilizer for fruit trees.
Having proper soil pH is 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, add it around the tree, without it touching the tree directly. While it usually won’t cause harm, the tree can develop mold if it’s wet enough.
5. Over Pruning
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 when its leaves yellow and drop. 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 open 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.
6. Pests and Disease
Identifying pests and diseases 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 searching 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 the top 10 companion plants for cherry trees.
Both sweet and sour 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.
If you think your cherry tree is also declining in health, make sure to check out my recent post: 3 Quick Steps To Revive a Dying Cherry Tree.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. Check out this list to see your local services.
- Permaculture Consultation: Need help with a bigger project? Send us a message.
For more information about planting and caring for fruit trees, check out this recent video I made: