This easy guide will help you grow cherries from seeds started indoors or outside.
After enjoying some cherry fruits, you may have wondered if you can grow a cherry tree from the pit, or seed. Although it's more common to purchase and plant cherry trees as grafted seedlings, you can grow cherries from seeds too. Referred to as "stone fruits" like their cousins plums, peaches, and apricots, cherries are relatively easy to grow in a home garden. In good years, a single mature cherry tree can yield buckets full of delicious fruit following its spring flowers. Here's what you need to know about the different types of cherry trees, how to grow them from seed, and how to care for your seedlings.
Types of Cherry Trees
Favored for their sweet, tart, and tangy flavors, cherries are a natural fit for baked goods or just eating them fresh. There are two distinct types of edible cherry trees: sweet cherries and sour cherries. Each has their own uses in the kitchen, providing very different flavor profiles.
Sweet cherries (Prunus avium), also known as wild cherries, are native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. They're also found growing across much of North America and parts of Australia. Sweet cherries are hardy in USDA Zones 5-7 and grow to about 40 feet tall at maturity. They are usually grown for eating fresh, with 'Bing' being one of the most popular varieties.
Most sweet cherries, aside from the common rootstock cultivar, 'Mazzard', require a second, compatible cultivar for pollination to happen. This also means that most sweet cherry seeds will not breed true to type (i.e. the resulting tree won't be a copy of the parents). However, unlike many other types of fruit that require cross-pollination, offspring from such crosses tend to be just as tasty as their parents, albeit the resulting trees will likely have a different habit, form, and flavor profile.
Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus), also known as dwarf cherries or tart cherries, are actually a hybrid of the sweet cherry and European dwarf cherry (Prunus fruticosa) that has become a species in its own right. They're hardy in Zones 4-6, making sour cherries slightly hardier than sweet cherries. Owing to their European dwarf cherry parentage, sour cherries are generally smaller than sweet cherries when planted on their own rootstocks. You can expect them to reach about 20 feet tall. Sour cherries are mostly used for cooking and baking rather than eating fresh. This type of cherry tree is self-pollinating and generally breeds true from seed.
Can Cherries Be Grown from Seeds?
Cherries can be grown from seed relatively easily, especially in colder regions of the U.S. By following the steps below, you can harvest your own cherries within about 10 years. Just remember that not all cherries will come true from seed. In other words, the cherry seed you plant might not bear fruit that tastes the same as the fruit from which it came. If you want to grow cherries from seed, use sour cherry seeds for best results.
How to Start Cherry Seeds Indoors
Starting with fresh cherries, remove the "pits" (seeds), and clean off as much of the fruit as possible.
Once clean, allow seeds to dry in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight for a few days.
Wrap dried seeds in a slightly damp paper towel or sphagnum moss, then place in a plastic bag or glass jar.
Place prepared seeds in a refrigerator or cold cellar for approximately three months. Check the seeds periodically for new growth and remove any that have begun to grow.
After three months, remove seeds and plant in a seed tray or seed-starting pot filled with moist, sand-based potting mix. Give each seed a few inches of space to avoid overcrowding.
Place planted seeds in a south-facing window or greenhouse. Keep them warm and do not allow soil to dry out.
Seedlings should begin to emerge from the soil surface within about two weeks. After seedlings have grown their second set of leaves, they can be planted in individual pots.
"Harden off" seedlings in spring by taking them outdoors and placing them in a morning sun or dappled shade location for about a week. After they have adjusted to being outdoors, seedlings should be placed in full sun.
How to Grow Cherry Seeds Outdoors
For an alternative to starting seeds indoors, sow cherry seeds outdoors in the fall in areas where they are hardy. Place cleaned and dried seeds in a sand-based mix and protect from squirrels and other digging animals. Leave planted seeds outdoors in a full sun location and fully exposed the elements, as they would be in nature. Fallen leaves and snow cover will help keep the seeds moist during drier periods. In spring as temperatures warm up, seedlings will begin to sprout. They can be transplanted after a second set of leaves has emerged.
How to Care for a Cherry Tree
Growing fruit trees can be a fun activity for children and adults alike. Cherry trees are relatively fast-growing trees and require very little care compared to other fruit trees such as apples. Plant your cherry seeds where they can grow in full sun. Protect seedlings and immature trees from browsing wildlife by wrapping the trunk and lower branches in burlap or tree wrap in the winter. Avoid pruning trees during winter dormancy and instead wait until early spring, just before new buds begin to open.