Many years ago, when I was growing up, I remember my parents battling away, trying to cover their the cherry trees with nets to stop the birds eating all the cherries. This was not very successful and in the end, they let the birds have most of these delicious fruits. We all love cherries, and likewise our feathered friends, who have a brilliant talent at getting their beaks into the fruit just as it reaches perfection on the tree. People who grow cherries are caught up in a constant struggle with the birds.
Because of birds, 20 years ago, it was a dodgy proposition to grow your own cherries. Then came along a new dwarfing rootstock called Colt and a self-fertile variety called Stella and it became easier to grow your own cherries.
Today there are two dwarfing rootstocks available, Colt and Gisela 5. The choice depends on your soil and the type of cherry you would like to grow, whether a sweet cherry or a sour cherry. The ultimate height of trees on these rootstocks will be not much more than 8-10 feet, depending on depth of soil and soil quality. To cover this type of tree with a bird-proof net is very feasible.
However, there is one other point not to be overlooked; apply the nets when the cherries are still green. If you try to cover the trees when the cherries are nearly ready and the birds have had already a taste of the fruits, then the birds will make holes in the nets and the battle is lost.
Another important point is that cherry trees can suffer badly from early attacks of greenfly, black cherry aphids. This usually happens as soon there is new leaf emerging, right at the beginning of the season, well before blossom time (late April). Visit your garden centre and choose the most nature-friendly option to overcome this potential problem.
A good selection of varieties is available to cover the cherry season. Many of those varieties are self-fertile and therefore pollination should not be an issue. The trees will need to be staked, and they should not be planted in a frost pocket. However, make sure that you cover up your cherry tree with a double layer of garden fleece, BEFORE THE FIRST BLOSSOM OPENS! This is essential to avoid early spring frosts making your blossom sterile and making your crop prospects a disappointment. Leave some small gaps on the side for the bees to move in and out, as many varieties do better when pollination is performed with the help of bumble bees.
Top ten tips on growing cherries
There are some ground rules which you have to adhere to, in order for you to get the cherries in the first place and not the birds.
- To make netting a success. it is far simpler to train your cherry tree along a wall or a fence, rather than a free standing tree.
- Cover your cherry tree with green shade netting from early April, before blossoming starts and leave it in position until you have picked your crop in June/July.
- Don’t let aphids ruin your young shoots. Cut out any curled up shoots and put them in the non-recycling bin. Encourage ladybirds, lacewings and earwigs, which are effective predators of the aphids. As a last resort, spray with an approved anti-aphids mixture, obtainable from your garden centre.
- To stop the fruit from splitting, water the trees weekly with 5 to 10 litres of water each week from May until you have harvested your crop.
- To avoid fungal diseases always prune your cherry trees as soon as you have picked your crop. Never prune during the winter months!
- Depending on the rootstock used, give your trees sufficient space. Not too close.
- Only plant self-fertile varieties. Watch a video about Summer Sun, a compact, self-fertile cherry
- Pick the crop when ready to eat. Cherries do not ripen off the trees.
- Handle the fruit gently; pick the fruit with the stalk and the cherries will keep for 10 days in good condition at the bottom of the fridge, if you don’t want to eat them all in one go.
- If you go on holiday ask your best friend to pick the cherries for you. Do not let them rot on the tree. Feed your tree with organic manure each year.
How to grow morello cherries
The morello cherry is the only fruit tree that does very well on the north side of a building. The morello sets best on one-year-old wood. So the important thing to ensure good cropping is to cut it back in November, reducing the one-year-old wood to shorter lengths, from which in the following spring new branches grow, on which the fruit will set. As for other cherry varieties, the morello can be trained as a fan with great success.