Cherry blossoms signify the start of spring with their delicate white or pink flowers. Cherry trees are admired for their beauty, but also cultivated for their tart, sweet fruit. Typically, they are planted in orchards or as landscape specimens given their 20-50 foot spread at maturity. But what if you have limited space? You can successfully grow cherry trees in pots, with some care and correct variety selection.
Choosing Cherry Tree Varieties for Containers
To produce the iconic spring flowers and summer fruit harvest in a pot, it’s essential to select compact, dwarf cherry tree varieties suited to container life.
Full size cherry trees can grow quite large, but dwarf cherry trees are ideal for patio containers and reach mature heights of just 6-8 feet tall. Their roots are also smaller and more suitable for restrictive pot environments.
Here are top compact cherry tree varieties to consider:
|Self-fertile. White spring blooms, dark red sour cherries.
|Self-fertile. Pale pink spring blooms, large dark red sweet cherries.
|Needs pollinizer. Spring blooms, large yellow sweet cherries.
When choosing a dwarf potted cherry, select self-fertile varieties whenever possible. This allows the tree to set fruit without a pollination partner. Cold-hardy cultivars suited to your climate with lower chill hours (under 800) for fruit production are ideal for containers. You can move them into shelter as needed.
Getting the Right Pot for Cherry Trees
The container you select is important to support healthy cherry tree growth.
Focus on providing adequate depth and volume, not just width across the top opening. Cherry tree roots grow deeply and prefer free space to spread out.
Plan for a 10-15 gallon pot at minimum. This gives dwarf rootstocks room to anchor and supply the nutrients needed for lush flowering and fruiting. Anything shallower risks the tree becoming root-bound too quickly.
Make sure the pot has several drainage holes in the bottom and is made of plastic, ceramic, wood, or another durable material that won’t degrade over years of outdoor exposure. The pot must also be sturdy enough when filled with soil, water, and the tree to prevent toppling.
Soil Preparation & Planting Your Cherry Tree
To get your potted cherry tree off on the right foot, start with high quality container gardening soil:
- A lightweight potting mix provides drainage
- Mix in slow-release fertilizer like osmocote
- Peat moss retains moisture
- Perlite improves aeration
When planting, carefully remove the young cherry tree from its nursery pot. Before placing in your container, gently loosen any major root clusters growing in circles at the sides or bottom.
Position your tree, backfill soil to cover the root ball, and water thoroughly after planting. Top off with mulch, leaving a gap next to the trunk.
Sunlight, Water and Fertilizing Needs
- Cherry trees need full sun for abundant spring blooms and summer fruit, at least 6 hours per day
- Establish deep water 1-2 times per week in summer for moisture in the top 12 inches of soil
- Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly in spring and summer
- Increase water and fertilizer during fruit production stage
The following table outlines nutrient recommendations for container cherry trees by life stage:
|Time of Year
|Balanced 10-10-10 mix
|After fruit harvest
|Balanced fertilizer with more nitrogen
|Balanced fertilizer with more phosphorus
Pollination Requirements for Fruit
Like apple and pear trees, cherries cannot pollinate themselves. Pollen must be transferred from one genetically distinct plant to the pistils of flowers on another plant to produce cherry fruits.
The pollinator variety must bloom at a similar time and be within 100 feet of your main tree.
Consider planting a pair of any dwarf cherry variety combinations in separate containers – North Star with Rainier or Sweetheart, for example. Or opt for a listed self-fertile cultivar that only needs its own flowers for pollination.
Pruning & Controlling Size
Left unpruned, even dwarf cherry trees can overgrow their pots and the 1 foot of annual height growth leads to heavy branching.
Annual pruning improves the shape for ornamental value and controls the compact size well suited to containers.
Use sharp bypass hand pruners for smaller branches, loppers for thicker wood, aiming to:
- Remove any branches growing towards the center
- Thin overcrowded areas to allow light penetration
- Reduce top heights without leaving stubs
Prune cherry trees in late winter before spring growth starts. Disinfect tools between trees to prevent disease spread.
Caring for Trees Over Winter
Cherry trees require a minimum number of chill hours below 45?F during winter dormancy for flower and fruit production:
- 500-800 hours for dwarf patio cherries
- Midwinter indoor conditions cannot fulfill this
Ideally, overwinter containers outdoors in a sheltered spot like an unheated garage once they defoliate. Check moisture monthly and water if soil is very dry.
If keeping trees outside, wrap pots with insulation and place in protected areas away from harsh winds. Prevent soil and roots from freezing.
Cherries can survive brief spells down to -10?F but extended freezing causes tissue damage. Move indoors only as a last resort during extreme cold. Provide bright, indirect light.
Potential Problems & Solutions
Container cherry trees face some seasonal issues common to fruit trees:
Spring frost can damage emerging blossoms. Cover plants overnight if frost threatens.
Aphids, fruit flies, fungus and other pests may appear during summer. Identify the issue and apply appropriate organic treatments.
Insufficient water causes sparse, yellow leaves. Check soil moisture and water thoroughly. Fertilize if drainage is adequate.
White powder on leaves signals powdery mildew fungus. Prune affected areas and apply horticultural oil spray.
If trees decline despite your care, remove and replace with another variety better suited to your climate and growing conditions.
With proper variety selection, planting, and care potted cherry trees typically thrive for 4-8 years or more. Their lifespan depends on initial quality, climate stress factors, and preventing root constraints with consistent pruning and occasional container upgrades.
Use these tricks to maximize enjoyment:
- Start with young bare-root or potted saplings under 4 feet tall
- Shift to larger containers every 2 years
- Prune to control size and shape
- Move into shelter before extreme cold winter weather
Enjoying Your Dwarf Cherry Tree
Once established, dwarf cherry trees in pots commence flowering within 1-3 years from planting. Tiny green fruit follows, maturing into shiny, plump cherries ready for picking in early summer.
Harvest fruit when fully colored and slightly soft to the touch. Sweet cherries ripen earlier; tart cherries can hang longer on the tree. Eat fresh, freeze, can, or incorporate into baked desserts.
Besides the fruit bounty, container cherry trees offer year-round appeal. Admire their snowy silhouettes in winter, cheerful spring blooms, summer shade, and fall leaf color. They’ll be prized focal points during every season!
Conclusion – Can I Grow Cherry Trees in Pots?
With some planning, it’s very achievable to grow small cherry trees in pots. Select compact varieties that naturally stay under 8 feet tall and pick the right size container. Aim for 10-15 gallons minimum filled with nutrient-rich potting mix.
Meeting sun, water, fertilizer and winter chill requirements enables success. Enjoy ornamental flowers in spring and juicy, tree-ripened cherries through summer!
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