Cherry trees are adaptable to a variety of environments, including the hot and dry coasts of Greece, the mild and wet summers of southern Germany, and the freezing winters of the northern United States.
What these places have in common, however, is that the healthiest trees receive full and direct sun, meaning around 13 hours per day.
Do cherry trees require full sun? At the bare minimum, cherry trees should receive 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Anything less than this and the trees will struggle to grow and bear fruit. Cherry trees perform best when planted in a location that receives 12 or more hours of full sun daily.
Finding the perfect location for a cherry tree requires some thought, and even gardens that receive a lot of shade might still be suitable for specific cherry trees.
We have created this guide to help you find the perfect location and cherry tree variety for your garden.
Cherry Tree Sun Requirements – The Facts
There is a lot of information available that states that 6 hours of full sun is the minimum requirement a cherry tree needs.
While this is technically true, a tree receiving 6 hours will never be as healthy or produce as much fruit as a tree that receives, say, 12 or 15 hours of full sun.
Other factors, such as correct pruning, watering, soil, and general tree care, will make all the difference between a surviving tree and a thriving tree!
Why Cherry Trees Require Full Sun
Don’t be scared when I say photosynthesis — it’s one of those terms almost everyone has learned and usually forgotten.
Simply put, photosynthesis is the process where plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to produce nutrients that feed the plant and oxygen is produced as a by-product.
If a cherry tree does not receive enough sunlight, it has no way of creating enough food to nourish itself, and as a result, it will lack the energy and nutrients required to grow and produce fruit.
Ideal Cherry Tree Planting Location
While cherry trees will tolerate many locations, in order to grow healthy, they will need four basic requirements — plenty of sun, good soil, the correct amount of water, and a regular trim to make room for fruit-bearing branches and to avoid stagnant air.
Good soil for cherry trees means well-drained ground consisting of substrates like sandy loams and compost-rich soils. Areas with high clay content should be avoided or amended as clay will lead to pooling water and an unhappy cherry tree.
Avoid planting trees in areas near buildings that will block out the sun or other immature trees that might block sunlight once fully grown. It is always a good idea to know how the sun travels and shines on your space and to be mindful of seasonal changes in this also.
Shading in winter is tolerated, but damp conditions are to be avoided. Cherry trees also need good circulation of air to prevent diseases and improve harvests, so avoid planting in corners of the garden that receive no or little airflow.
Keep in mind that to bear fruit, most cherry varieties will need at least one other cherry of a different variety nearby to cross-pollinate. Trees should be spaced about 30 feet apart, while dwarf cherry trees require less spacing, around 10 feet.
Pruning Cherry Trees for Optimum Light Penetration
Pruning cherry trees is essential to ensuring plentiful harvests and general tree health.
Correct pruning means that most parts of the tree receive sun in order to grow and for fruits to ripen, as well as having enough air to circulate and keep away humidity, which can cause disease.
Most growers prefer the “central leader” or conical shape for cherries, which is well recognized for giving cherry trees the benefits of both sun and circulation.
If pruning (training) a newly planted tree, leave the central most-vertical branch and one bottom branch on each side, so that you have something that resembles an upside-down peace symbol, with one branch shooting left, right, and up straight.
This should always be undertaken with clean shears, sanitized with alcohol or a 1:9 bleach-and-water solution and rinsed with hot water.
Newly planted cherries should be pruned at planting, while mature trees should be trimmed in late summer so that trees can heal before winter.
Will Cherry Tree Fruit Ripen in Partial Sun?
Yes, cherries will ripen in partial sun, but they will not be anywhere near as tasty as fruit from trees with full sun! It’s all chemistry, so back to photosynthesis.
A cherry tree needs plenty of sun to convert into sugar for nutrients, which it sends to growing fruit. So more sun means more sugar and sweeter fruit.
Note: Wondering why some fruits, including cherries, ripen even after harvesting and placed in the shade? This is a process where starch breaks down and produces sugars, making fruit sweeter than when picked. However, fruit left on the tree will ripen to its full potential sweetness and taste significantly better.
Ideal Placement for Dwarf Cherry Trees
Dwarf cherry trees are ideally suited to smaller gardens as they can be planted closer together and will not grow as tall, usually about 10 feet in diameter and height.
They are also great for container growing; just make sure to choose pots that are larger than the root ball, about 20-25 inches wide. Half wine barrels are a fantastic way to repurpose and add an inexpensive yet beautiful timber look to balconies, entryways, and courtyards.
How To Train Cherry Trees Against a Sunny Wall
Do you have limited space, limited sunlight, or both but would still like to incorporate cherry trees into your garden? Wall-trained or “espaliered” fruit trees might be your solution and are not only space saving but also functional and an architectural dream.
Training cherry trees to grow sideways against walls utilizes neglected space and looks elegant even when trained by a beginner.
Make sure to find a predominantly south-facing wall that receives plenty of sunlight (6 hours or more), and plant young trees about 10 – 15 inches from the wall.
Span wire horizontally in lines against the wall, and tie young and flexible branches to these to create a left-to-right spreading or a “fanned” look.
How To Prevent Sunburn on Young Cherry Tree Trunks
Protecting cherry tree trunks from temperature fluctuations, sunburn, and even some insects and diseases is as simple as painting the trunk white. Whitewashing is a method of tree protection that requires little effort and may produce many beneficial results.
We recommend using organic, natural, tree-specific whitewashes, such as this excellent option, for their antimicrobial and antibacterial properties as well as for protecting yourself and the environment from harmful and toxic substances found in regular paints.
Not only is whitewashing a great way to give trees more resilience, but it is also a super sleek and clean look, conjuring images of the Mediterranean or 1950s American landscaping.
Can Acid Cherry Trees Grow in Partial Shade?
Yes, acid (sour) cherry trees can be grown in part shade, provided there are still six hours of direct sunlight. However, these trees grown in partial shade will never be as healthy or produce as much fruit as trees grown in full sun.
Cold-Tolerant Cherry Tree Varieties
If you want to grow cherries in the coldest zones of the US (Zones 2 – 4), then dwarf or shrub cherries are your go-to cultivars. Cold-tolerant cherry trees include:
- Juliet (as well as Romeo varieties)
- English Morello
- Canada Red Select
Sun is a necessary element for cherry trees to grow, and the more of it, the better.
Finding a suitable planting site is easy and essential to ensuring maximum tree health and harvests. With the steps outlined above, you are on your way to enjoying a spring of attractive blossoms and a summer of wonderful glossy green foliage and delicious fruit.