I’ve been learning more about cherry trees since I bought a bing cherry tree, and I found an issue they commonly have is drooping or wilting leaves. I wanted to learn more about this in case I ran into this in the future, so I did some more research. Here’s what I found.
Cherry tree leaves naturally have a slight droop, but more extreme drooping can be caused by under-watering, over-watering, heat stress, and transplant shock. For best results, only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil gets dry and provide 2 inches of compost and mulch. Recovery from transplanting can take one year.
So, while there are several reasons why cherry trees get drooping or wilting leaves, how can we tell which issue is causing it, and how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
Are Cherry Trees Naturally Droopy?
Cherry tree leaves are naturally droopy, so if you see a slight tilt downwards, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, if the leaves start to droop completely, or yellow, brown, and fall off, then corrective action should be taken. Improper watering, extreme heat, and shock are typical causes of drooping.
Compared to other fruiting trees, cherry trees can be some of the droopiest. This is normal behavior for cherry trees and won’t affect the flowering, fruiting, or health of the tree.
Still, keep in mind that if the leaves start to completely droop, yellow, brown, or fall off, then further investigation is a good idea. Let’s take a look at some of the common problems that cause these conditions for cherry trees.
Under-Watering or Heat Stress
Cherries can get drooping leaves from under-watering or a climate that is too hot and dry. To prevent drooping or wilting, only water the tree when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry and grow in the proper climates. Sweet cherry varieties do best in USDA hardiness zones 5-7 while sour cherry varieties prefer zones 4-6.
Under-watering is fairly easy to do and is a common issue in areas that have consistently dry weather. While proper watering is important to help the tree stay alive and fruit properly, it’s also the primary way trees stay cool.
For best results, only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. You can check for this by pushing a finger into the soil, under the canopy of the tree. Additionally, providing 2 inches of compost and mulch on top of the soil will greatly improve water retention and reduce evaporation.
By only watering when the soil is dry, you’re encouraging the cherry tree to grow deeper roots to access deeper water. This helps the tree become more self-sufficient and have better anchorage, which is especially helpful if you have the occasional strong wind.
On the other hand, composting and mulching is a recommended practice for just about any plant and climate. Compost improves the soil’s richness and therefore—water retention, while mulching protects the soil from the elements and dramatically reduces evaporation. Additionally, compost can even reduce and remove the need for chemical fertilizers.
Some good mulches to use for cherry trees are leaves, bark, straw, grass clippings, or pine needles.
When applying either compost or mulch, make sure it’s kept at least 3 inches away from the cherry tree’s trunk.
Generally, if you provide enough moisture for the cherry tree’s roots, the overall tree will remain cool. However, extreme dryness or heat (95ºF or more) can heat up the leaves too much, leading them to wilt and drop.
If you do live in a hotter or drier climate, it can be extremely helpful to provide your cherry tree with some shade, especially for a few hours during the hot afternoon sun. You can do this with a shade sail, umbrella, or with other trees.
While cherry trees don’t like to be under-watered, like most plants, they also don’t like wet feet.
Over-watering can often cause cherry tree leaves to droop and wilt. The stress caused by over-watering can also lead to conditions such as yellowing and shedding leaves. To avoid over-watering, make sure the cherry tree’s soil is well-draining. Drainage can be improved by elevating the tree or amending the soil.
Many times, it can be hard to tell when your plants need water. It’s even worse when your plant isn’t looking great, as watering is the go-to “solution”. Sometimes this can work, but other times this can quickly cause over-watering (something I’m guilty of as well).
This is why, as a general rule, only watering your cherry tree when the first 2-4 inches is dry is such a good practice. It allows you to get a quick and direct look at the state of the soil’s moisture.
Even if you don’t water your cherry tree that often, poor drainage can also cause the water to build up. However, this is more common with potted plants and those with poor soil drainage, such as clay soil.
This happened to me with my potted Kaffir lime tree. I was watering it normally, but it turns out there weren’t enough drainage holes. After noticing the soil started to smell like a swamp, I dug a little into the soil and saw the soil was sopping wet. Luckily, it wasn’t sitting for long, and simply repotting the tree was all that I needed to fix it.
A good way to check if your planted cherry tree’s soil is draining well is to dig a 1-foot by 1-foot hole nearby and fill it with water. If the hole drains slower than 2 inches per hour, it has poor drainage.
You can amend your cherry tree’s soil by providing compost and sand on top of the soil. Over time, these materials will get naturally worked into the soil, breaking up the larger clumps. As mentioned above, keep the compost at least 3 inches away from the trunk to prevent mold.
Potted cherry trees are a bit different since you can quickly repot them with fresh soil if needed. However, while repotting is a good solution for potted cherry trees that have poor drainage, it should still be used as a last resort solution since it can lead to transplant shock and cause further problems.
Transplant shock can occur when a plant is either relocated or repotted. This can cause extreme stress to the plant, especially if it was handled roughly. For best results, only transplant plants when needed and avoid damaging the rootball. Water generously after transplanting.
If you’ve recently planted or moved your cherry tree, and you noticed it starting to get drooping or wilting leaves, chances are it’s a bit stressed from being transplanted.
I’ve recently potted my new bing cherry tree, and fortunately, it didn’t seem to get too stressed. Generally, I follow a few quick tips to help make sure the plants don’t get too stressed:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the tree’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the tree’s trunk and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the tree in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the trunk as before
- Apply 2 inches of compost and mulch to the top of the soil (at least 3 inches away from the trunk)
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
After transplanting, one of the biggest energy focuses for the plant is to establish a new root system. Because of this, it can take most plants up to one year to completely recover from transplanting.
With proper care and conditions, your cherry tree should recover fairly quickly from transplant shock.
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. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.