I recently bought a bing cherry tree, and I was doing some research on common issues they can get. One of the most common was curling leaves. I wanted to know more, so I did some digging to find out why cherry trees get curled leaves and how to fix them. Here’s what I found.
Cherry trees get usually curled leaves from over or under-watering, a lack of nutrients, and aphids. To help fix curled leaves, check that the top 2-4 inches of soil are moist, provide fertilizer 1-2 times per year or compost every 1-2 months, and check under the leaves for signs of aphids.
So, while several issues can cause curled leaves on cherry trees, how can you tell which issue is affecting your cherry tree, and what can we do to resolve it? Let’s take a closer look.
Over and Under-Watering
When cherry trees are under-watered, their leaves begin to dry and curl to conserve moisture. If left for too long, the leaves will turn brown and fall off. To prevent this, make sure the top 2-4 inches of soil stays moist. While under-watering is more likely, over-watering can also cause cherry tree leaves to curl.
Like most plants, cherry trees need sufficient moisture in their soil to properly grow, develop fruit, and cool themselves in times of heat. When they don’t have enough water, they’ll shed their less vital parts first, which usually includes the fruit, blossoms, and leaves.
Generally, cherry trees will get curled leaves from under-watering as this is a normal response from the leaves to retain moisture. However, the stress from over-watering can still be seen as curled leaves, along with yellow and dropping leaves.
So, what’s the best method to water cherry trees?
The best way to water cherry trees is to only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. The goal should be moist, but not sopping wet soil. Applying 2 inches of compost and mulch will help protect the soil and retain water. Depending on the weather, adjust the amount of water to keep the soil moist.
I cannot stress just how useful compost and mulch are for plants!
Compost helps the soil retain water and adds valuable nutrients (more on this later). This is due to the increased richness of soil having a higher water capacity. For example, each 1% increase in a soil’s organic matter can help hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre. You can apply 2 inches of compost on top of the cherry tree’s soil every 1-2 months.
Mulch protects the soil and its beneficial microbes from the elements. The sun and wind can easily act as a blowdryer and dry the soil out, while the rain comes in and erodes the now dry and exposed topsoil. You can apply 2 inches of mulch, such as leaves, bark, grass clippings, or pine needles every 3-6 months.
When applying either compost or mulch, keep them at least 3 inches away from the cherry tree’s trunk to avoid any chance of mold from spreading.
Lack of Nutrients
When cherry trees aren’t fed enough nutrients, they can’t maintain their health well. This typically means shedding less essential parts of the tree such as the leaves. Occasionally, before the leaves are shed, they’ll start to curl. For best results, feed cherry trees a low nitrogen fertilizer such as a 5-10-10.
Cherry trees are typically light feeders and don’t need a lot of nitrogen compared to other fruiting trees, such as citrus.
If you do use fertilizers high in nitrogen, it probably won’t hurt the cherry tree, but it can lead to an increased chance of disease or root burn.
Since most diseases are either bacterial or fungal infections, the nitrogen can actually feed the bacteria or fungus, causing it to grow rapidly.
On the other hand, when excess nitrogen from chemical fertilizers sits in the soil, it can chemically burn the cherry tree’s roots. It can also short-circuit the relationship between the tree and its beneficial soil bacteria, affecting the long-term health of the tree.
So, if you do use a chemical fertilizer, make sure to use low nitrogen fertilizer, such as one with an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) of 5-10-10. If you’d like a recommendation for cherry tree fertilizers, feel free to check out my recommended fruit tree fertilizer page.
Alternatively, you can use compost instead of fertilizers. While compost won’t have the potency of nutrients that chemical fertilizers have, compost is much more bioavailable—which is better absorbed by the plant and its beneficial soil.
Giving your cherry tree sufficient nutrients will help make sure it doesn’t get any curled, yellow, brown, or dropping leaves. Feed it with an organic chemical fertilizer 1-2 times per year or with compost every 1-2 months. Avoid feeding it in the winter when the tree is dormant and doesn’t need many nutrients.
If you’d like to learn more about creating your own cherry tree fertilizer at home, you can check out my recent post: Create an Amazing Homemade Fertilizer for Your Fruit Trees.
Keep in mind that nutrients aren’t all your cherry tree needs—it also needs a balanced soil pH.
Imbalanced Soil pH
When a cherry tree’s soil is too acidic or alkaline, the tree will have a hard time absorbing nutrients from the soil. Typically, sandy soils are more acidic, while clay soils are alkaline. An imbalanced soil pH can lead to several issues such as curled, yellow, brown, and dropping leaves.
For best results, keep the cherry tree’s soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. To measure soil pH, you can use pH strips or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they are easy and affordable to use. You can see which soil pH meter I use here.
Aphids are small bugs that suck the sap from underneath the cherry tree’s leaves, causing the leaves to curl and fall off. You can get rid of aphids by spraying them with water, spraying them with neem oil, or by releasing ladybugs (a natural predator to aphids). Typically, a jet of water is enough to get rid of them.
While aphids are a pain to deal with, they’re generally not too difficult to remove. I once had a lot of aphids on my Kaffir lime tree and found that a jet of water was all that was needed to knock them off of the leaves and prevent them from coming back.
If you do use the water method, make sure the jet isn’t too strong as it can damage the leaves. For me, I simply fit my thumb over the nozzle and found it was enough pressure to dislodge the aphids without damaging the leaves.
If that doesn’t work, you can try spraying them with neem oil to render them immobile (and die off), or use ladybugs in your garden. You can find both neem oil and ladybugs in most gardening stores or nurseries.
Additionally, some companion plants such as nasturtiums can help keep aphids away from your plants. I recently wrote a post on the best companion plants for cherry trees, so check it out if you’d like.
More Tips to Care for Cherry Trees
- Cherry tree’s soil should be well-draining but stay moist for at least a couple of days. If your cherry tree’s soil has poor drainage (common with clay soils), then consider elevating it on a mound or raised bed to let gravity assist with the drainage. Additionally, amend the soil with sand and compost to help break up the larger clumps.
- Cherry trees grow in USDA hardiness zones 5-7. Generally, sour cherry tree varieties are hardier than sweet varieties. You can help cool cherry trees by keeping their soil mulched and moist, and by providing shade during the hot afternoon sun. To help keep cherry trees warm, plant in a southern-facing direction to maximum sunlight. You can also plant it along a south-facing wall to have some heat and sunlight reflected onto the plant.
- Plant cherry trees at least 25 feet away from other trees and structures. Any closer and their roots will compete for water and nutrients. Additionally, keeping them at least 25 feet away from structures such as house foundations, walls, fences, pipes, and fire hydrants will help prevent costly damage. You can check out my recent post on the invasiveness of cherry tree roots for more information.