Growing Cherries On Walls

There are two groups of cherries – add and sweet. Both grow best on a wall when they are fan-trained. Acid cherries are the more commonly planted, because they are easier to manage, are self-fertile, and come into bearing earlier, usually when they are five or six years old. They are also happy on a north wall.

Sweet cherries, on the other hand, take longer to start fruiting, and used to be too vigorous for the small garden or wall; they also needed a pollinator, so the gardener had to plant two varieties at least to get fruit. That has been changed by the breeding of a self-fertile variety of sweet cherry called ‘Stella’, and by the use of a semi-dwarfing rootstock for the other varieties of sweet cherries, which means that the trees are smaller, easier to manage, and come into bearing earlier in their lives. Unless you plant ‘Stella’, you still have to plant two varieties, and make sure they pollinate each other, but there are dozens of excellent sorts to choose from. A good pair of cross-pollinators that give you one Growing Cherries On Wallswhite cherry and one black are ‘Merton Glory’ and ‘Early Rivers’. ‘Merton Glory’, one of the new breeds of cherry, produces enormous fruit, yellow streaked with red, from mid-June onwards. ‘Early Rivers’, one of the old favourites, produces masses of black cherries of excellent flavour in late June.

There are half-a-dozen varieties of acid cherry grown commercially, some not so reliably self-fertile as the true Morello. They indude ‘Late Duke’, ‘Kentish Red’ and ‘Wye Morello’. The problem is that the Morello has become so popular that these are being sold as Morello. Go to a reliable nursery to ensure that you get the true Morello, which has dark red-to-black fruit of excellent flavour, in August and September.

General care: Plant three- or four-year-old fan-trained trees any time in the winter, the earlier the better, 4.6m (15 ft) apart if on semi-dwarfing stock. Acid cherries do well on a north or east wall, but sweet cherries prefer a west aspect. Prune the young trees to maintain the fan shape.

Once the trees have started to fruit, acid and sweet cherries need to be treated differently, because acid cherries fruit on young wood and sweet cherries on old. Acid cherries should be grown with bare soil round the roots, and fed with mulches of compost to encourage young wood. Sweet cherries can be gassed down once they start bearing, to reduce the risk of silver leaf disease. Acid cherries must be pruned every year, cutting back the old wood to encourage new shoots. In each case, prune to a shoot bud, which is a single bud (the flower buds are double). Sweet cherries do not need any pruning once the fan framework is established, apart from the removal of any shoots growing into the wall or away from it.

Propagation: Cherries will grow from seed, but budding or grafting is the usual way of propagating.

Pests and diseases: Birds are the chief pests. They eat the leaf and flower buds in winter, and the fruit in summer – although some leave the acid cherries alone. Netting is the only answer. Bacterial canker, causing lesions to ooze gum, can be controlled by spraying with Bordeaux mixture. Silver leaf, in which a fungus causes the leaves to have a silvery appearance, is best dealt with by removing the affected shoots well below the infection and burning them, and by trying to improve the tree’s general health and hygiene.

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