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Plant Profile: Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium)

Sweet cherry, the main ancestor of the cultivated cherry, is a deciduous tree native to Europe, northern Africa, and southwestern Asia but is widely cultivated elsewhere and has naturalized in parts of the US. It is a deciduous tree usually grown as an ornamental and is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, that also includes peaches, plums, and apricots, and almonds. The trees have an upright branching habit and mottled light-brown bark that is smooth and shiny. Young bark has prominent horizontal grey-brown lenticels that become thick, dark blackish-brown with maturity. The simple oblong leaves are sharp-toothed, 2.5 to 6 inches long, and are shiny bright green until turning orange to red in the fall. They are carried on reddish green petioles bearing small red glands. The fragrant white flowers are l.5 inches across and appear singly or in clusters of three to five in spring when the leaves emerge. They are followed in mid-summer by bright red to dark purple, fleshy, one seeded round fruits ½ to 1 inch across that are edible and attractive to wildlife. Sweet cherries are temperamental trees. They do well in dry areas with warm but not hot summers and moderately cold winters. They do not tolerate foggy, humid coastal areas or extreme heat or cold. Compatible varieties must be planted together to ensure fruit production because sweet cherries are not self-pollinating. Dwarf varieties are available.  The genus name, Prunus, comes from the Greek word  προύνη meaning plum, a prominent member of this genus. The specific epithet, avium, comes from the Latin word meaning of the birds.

Type: Deciduous flowering tree

Outstanding Feature: Flowers, fruit

Form: Broadly rounded crown

Growth Rate: Moderate; trees bear fruit when four to six years old.

Bloom: Fragrant white flowers, l.5 inches across, singly or in clusters of three to five, in spring when the leaves emerge

Size: 25-40’ h x 15-30’ W

Light: Full sun

Soil: Average, medium moist, well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 5-9

Care: Young trees should be headed up twenty four inches above the with three major branches around the trunk to establish the framework. Additional pruning for two or three years encourages the growth of side branches.

Pests and Diseases: Aphids, cherry slug, fruit flies, saw flies, scale, leaf spot, bacterial canker, gummosis, brown rot, black knot, crown gall, leaf curl, leaf scorch, powdery mildew, root rot, scab fungus, shot-hole fungus

Propagation: Semi-hardwood cuttings in summer, hardwood cuttings in winter

Photo Credit Jean-Pol GRANDMONT Wikimedia Commons