Permaculture Plants: Cherry, Sweet

The Sweet Cherry is a more temperamental tree to grow, but the fruit is probably worth it

Common Name: Sweet Cherry, Wild Cherry
Scientific Name: Prunus avium

Family: Rosaceae

Prized by birds, we need to protect our harvest… if we want one!
There is a wide range of cherry colors from which to choose.
All have their own unique flavor

Sweet Cherries (a.k.a. Wild Cherry or Bird Cherry) are the cherries commonly sold in grocery stores. These prized fruits are significantly more picky about their growing enviroment and are more susceptible to pests and disease than their cousins the Sour Cherry. However, if you have the space, and some luck (or a lot of time for babying it), you will have one of the best tasting fruits in the natural world. I plan on growing a few of these trees on my land for all their other attributes like attracting beneficial insects, wildlife food, and wood production. If I get a small to medium harvest, I will be thrilled.

Prunus avium

Sweet Cherries have been consumed by humans for thousands of years. Native to the Mediterranean region, likely eastern Europe/western Turkey, it has spread through accidental and intentional plantings. Sweet Cherries were cultivated in Turkey by 800 BC. Since then,they have been grown on all continents but Antartica.
  • Sweet Cherries can be dark purple (almost black) to bright red to bright yellow to almost white… and any color along this spectrum (birds prefer red fruits)
  • An older used division of Sweet Cherries split them into the Heart (a.k.a. English Gean – cherries with a softer flesh) and Bigarreau (cherries with a firmer flesh – these are the kind typically in grocery stores)
  • Sweet Cherries were once known as Gean and Mazzard
  • Sweet Cherries are also known as Wild Cherries, because in Europe, these trees do indeed grow wild in many places
  • An Early Bonze Age human settlement in Italy had Sweet Cherry pits dating to 2077 BC


Sweet Cherry attracts beneficial insects.


Primary Uses:
  • Fresh Eating!
  • Baking – pies, tarts, turnovers, etc.
  • Cooking – used in savory dishes commonly with meats
  • Preserves, jams, jellies, etc.
  • Juice – often combined with other sweeter fruit juices or sweeteners (sugar, honey, etc.)
  • Dried
  • Fruit Leather
  • Flavoring component to beers, wines, and liquers
Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife food source, especially birds (Summer)
  • Specimen plant (i.e. decorative) – some varieties have been developed for profuse flower production, but these are often sterile and will not produce fruit
  • Living Fence/Hedge plant
  • Larger varieties may be coppiced for wood used in woodworking, fuel, etc. (will delay fruit production for a few years after each coppicing)
  • Wood – high quality lumber
  • Gum – sap that has dried over bark wounds can be chewed as a natural gum
Yield: 1-2 bushels/35-70 liters/50-100 lbs (22.5-45 kg) per tree, large standard trees have been known to produce up to 300 lbs of fruit!
Harvesting: Summer (July-September). Pick when the fruit is ripe… when the fruit is in full color and the fruit stalk (stem connecting the fruit to the tree) separates easily from the tree
Storage: Fresh Sweet Cherries should be used within a few days, maybe up to two weeks if kept very cool and moist. Sweet Cherries typically freeze well.
Sweet Cherry in Spring bloom… breathtaking.
Sweet Cherry trees can grow to be one of the largest fruit trees.

Chill Requirement: 500-1,500 hours/units depending on the variety
Plant Type: Very Small to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Tree Layer, Sub-Canopy (Understory) Layer, Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.
Pollination: A few are self-fertile, but most require cross-pollination from another compatible variety/cultivar. See the following links for compatibility charts:
Raintree Nursery Cherry Compatibility Chart
NY State Ag Extension Cherry Compatibility Chart (go to page 3)
Flowering: Spring. April-May depending on the variety and USDA Zone where it is planted. May be susceptible to late frosts.
Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 4-5 years, earlier for dwarf varieties, later for non-grafted trees
Years to Maximum Bearing: 10-20 years
Years of Useful Life: 15-25

Typical lateral banding of Sweet Cherry.
Young trees have more. Older trees become more gnarled.

Size: Standard (full-sized trees): 25-35 feet (7.5-10.5 meters) tall and 35-40 feet (10.5-12 meters) wide depending on the variety/cultivar, and many do not reach max height. 
Wild varieties may grow double the size of Standard fruit varieties.
Semidwarf trees are about half sized and Dwarf trees are about one quarter size of Standard.
Roots: Fibrous, may sucker
Growth Rate: Medium
Cherries should be picked when perfectly ripe but do not store well.

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates a little shade
Moisture: Medium soil moisture
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (6.1 – 7.0)
Special Considerations for Growing:
  • Many edible cherries tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives). If not sure, then consider using other trees as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.
  • Consider netting to protect fruit crop from the birds.
  • Consider choosing varieties with fruits other than red – birds prefer red fruits
  • A site in full sun with well drained soil will help prevent pests and disease
Usually grafted. Seeds need at least 13-16 weeks cold stratification for germination and can take up to 18 months to germinate. Cuttings can be taken from Early Spring through Summer. Suckers can be divided in dormancy, but only consider this if the tree is not grafted.
Minimal. Prune out live wood for training as desired and dead or diseased wood in late Summer and Autumn – not when dormant.
Poisonous – Leaves and seeds contain a precursor to cyanide (large amounts need to be eaten for this to be toxic).
Napolean (a.k.a. Royal Anne) Sweet Cherries, perfectly ripe!

Muhammad Ramzan Rafique
Muhammad Ramzan Rafique

I am from a small town Chichawatni, Sahiwal, Punjab , Pakistan, studied from University of Agriculture Faisalabad, on my mission to explore world I am in Denmark these days..

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