When to prune cherry trees – exact time to do it to avoid ‘prevalent’ diseases

Countryfile: Adam Henson BREAKS branch while picking cherries

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Cherry trees are at their best in summer when juicy red fruits begin to ripen. As with most fruit trees, pruning is crucial to keep the plant productive each year, and even more so for disease-prone cherry trees. Here’s a quick guide on when and how to do it for a healthy, fruitful crop.

When to prune cherry trees

Cherry trees are one of the most rewarding plants to grow in the garden and are especially easy to care for.

While young trees can take around three years to begin bearing fruit, the end result is worth the wait when the cherries start to appear.

Pruning this productive yet pretty plant is one of the most important tasks to keep it healthy, and timing is crucial if you want the best results.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), pruning should always be done towards the harvest’s end, in the summer’s final months.

The RHS said: “Pruning of cherries is usually carried out in late July or August when silver leaf and bacterial canker are less prevalent.”

These diseases are known to affect single branches of fruiting trees, but will quickly spread throughout the plant while pruning with the same tools.

Timing the annual pruning right is important to keep the tree neat and compact while making the fruit easier to pick throughout the harvest season.

Doing a timely annual prune in summer also means the tree takes up less space and will leave your garden looking neat and tidy through the warm season.

According to the RHS, “light formative pruning” can be done in spring too, around the time that the leaves start to develop.

It said: “Pruning ensures there is a good balance of older fruiting wood and younger replacement branches.”

This is essential to secure a strong, high-yield crop each year.

While pruning in spring and late summer should be done every year, it should be noted that different types of cherry trees require a slightly different technique when it comes to cutting the plant back.

How to prune a cherry tree

Sweet and acid are the two main types of cherry grown in the UK.

Sweet cherries produce flavoursome, ready-to-eat fruits which are usually grown as small trees or trained as fans against a sunny wall, while acid cherries are used for cooking and grow well in partial shade.

Established cherry tree

Established plants will already bear fruit and require a simple prune to stimulate new growth.

In late July or August, cut back your mature acid cherry tree by removing one in four of the older fruited shoots.

Cut each one back to a younger side-shoot that will replace the removed growth.

The RHS recommended shortening “over-vigorous” upright shoots crowding the centre, by cutting them back to a “suitably placed” side-shoot.

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Established fans of cherries

Fans are a little harder to prune and require training to keep the plant healthy.

The RHS said: “In late July, thin new shoots formed along the main branches to 5 to 10cm apart and tie the retained shoots to their supports.

“Also prune back shoots growing outwards from the wall to two leaves, to keep the tree flat.”

A few weeks later, at the end of August, you should go back and tie in the current season’s growth that will flower and fruit next year.

Finish by cutting back fruited shoots to a suitable side branch that can replace the removed growth.

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