Cherry trees are a wonderful choice for home fruit growers. But can you grow a cherry tree from the pits of cherries? Absolutely! Though many backyard fruit growers purchase young trees at nurseries, learning how to grow cherry trees from seed—or pits—can give you showy, fragrant blossoms in spring and delicious fruits in late spring and early summer. This is a much less expensive option, and it's even surprisingly easy. Follow these tips for getting some healthy cherry tree seedlings that, with proper planting and maintenance, will one day bear fruit.
Selecting a Cherry Seed
First, you'll want to determine what kind of cherry tree you want to plant. Sour cherries or sweet? Red cherries or black cherries? Cross-pollinating or self-pollinating? Here are important tips to help you select an appropriate cherry seed.
- Consider your growing climate. Cherry trees need eight hours of sun every day to produce fruit. They do best in well-drained soil with a neutral pH. Cherry trees are part of the Prunus genus like peaches, nectarines, and plums. As such, they can be grown in soil without having to test for toxic residue, as any residue will not make its way into the fruit.
- Zones for sour cherries: Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus), also known as tart or pie cherries, will grow in USDA zones 4 through 6, so these are best for colder climates. These trees grow up to 20 feet tall.
- Zones for sweet cherries: Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) grow up to 35 feet or taller in USDA zones 5 through 7, or in USDA zones 8 and 9 in the Pacific Northwest.
- Self-pollinating cherry tree: If you do not have room for two cherry trees to cross-pollinate for fruit, consider a dwarf cherry tree, such as the semi-dwarf 'Stella' cherry tree, which is self-pollinating.
- Talk to an orchardist: Check with your orchardist at the farmers' market to confirm what kind of tree the cherries came from and if they've had any issues growing them in the area.
- Only use fresh local cherries for pits. Don't get supermarket cherries as they may have been refrigerated after harvesting, and the viability of the seeds may be affected. Select fresh local cherries to harvest seeds from, so you know the trees they produce will survive in your agricultural growing zone, also known as the USDA plant hardiness zone.
Preparing, Planting, and Germinating a Cherry Seed
Once you've eaten your fill of cherries (the fun part!), save some seeds so you can grow more cherries at home. There are two ways to propagate cherry trees with seeds. One way is to prepare and plant them in the spring. The second way is to plant them in the fall.
Preparing and planting cherry seeds in the spring:
- Put seeds in a bowl of warm water. Let them soak for a few minutes and then gently clean them to remove any bits of fruit pulp clinging to them.
- Spread the seeds out on a paper towel and let them dry for five days. Keep them in a relatively warm area, like a sunny windowsill.
- After five days, put the dry pits in a glass jar or plastic food container with a tight-fitting lid. Then they'll go into the refrigerator for ten weeks. This is known as stratification and is necessary for the seeds to germinate; it mimics the cold period of winter when the seeds are dormant before spring. Mark the date on your calendar so you won't forget them in the back of the fridge.
- After ten weeks, remove the cherry pits from the fridge and let them come to room temperature (this will take about three hours).
- You can then plant them in a small container with potting soil.
- Plant two or three pits in each container.
- Place in a sunny spot and keep them watered so the soil stays moist but not wet.
- Once seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them so the tallest plant remains. Keep in a sunny spot; if it's gotten colder out at night, keep them inside in a sunny window. There they will stay until spring, after the danger of frost has passed, when you can plant them outside. The seedlings should be a few inches tall by then.
- Plant them 20 feet apart, and keep the site protected by marking with poles or sticks so they don't get trampled on or mowed down.
Preparing and planting cherry seeds in the fall:
You can also skip the stratification indoors and plant cherry seeds directly outside in the fall, allowing them to go through a natural cold period in winter. You may not get as many seeds to sprout, so plant a few more than you want in a garden spot where the seedlings will be safe from harsh winds or foot traffic (you will be transplanting these trees later when they get a few inches tall). Keep an eye out for them to appear in the spring. You'll want to put a light layer of mulch around them to hold moisture in the soil. Transplant to their permanent spot when they're 10 to 12 inches tall.
Protect Your Cherry Trees From Wildlife
If you have issues with deer or other wildlife that eat plants, such as rabbits or woodchucks, protect your young fruit trees in the winter. Wrapping them loosely in burlap in mid to late autumn is a good way (deer hate chewing through burlap), and it lets nourishing sun and rain through. Remove the burlap before blossoming in early April. You may want to do this every year for the first two or three years to protect the bark, as many critters find young fruit tree bark tasty, especially in a lean winter before spring foliage appears. Your chances of having these young trees reach maturity will be much better if you can keep wildlife from eating them.
How Fast Do Cherry Trees Grow?
You may wonder how long it takes to grow a cherry tree from a seed. Expect cherry trees to start bearing fruit within seven to 10 years. You can shorten the time to fruiting if you graft a cherry tree seedling onto existing cherry tree stock. Meanwhile, read up on how to prune and care for them, and how to troubleshoot any problems, such as why the tree isn't bearing fruit.