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By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Sonata cherry trees, which originated in Canada, produce anabundance of plump, sweet cherries every summer. The attractive cherries aredeep mahogany red, and the juicy flesh is also red. The rich, flavorfulcherries are great cooked, frozen dried or eaten fresh. According to Sonatacherry information, this hardy cherrytree is suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through7. Interested in growing a Sonata cherry tree? Let’s learn more about caringfor Sonata cherries in the landscape.
How to Grow Sonata Cherries
Sonata cherry trees are self-fruiting, so it isn’t necessaryto plant a pollinating variety nearby. However, another variety of sweet cherrywithin 50 feet (15 m.) can result in larger harvests.
Sonata cherry trees thrive in rich soil, but they areadaptable to nearly any type of well-drained soil, with the exception of heavyclay or rocky soil. Dig in a generous amount of organic material such ascompost, manure, dry grass clippings or chopped leaves before planting. This isespecially important if your soil is nutrient poor, or if it contains substantialamounts of clay or sand.
Established Sonata cherry trees require very littlesupplemental irrigation unless the weather is dry. In this case, water deeply,using a drip irrigation system or soaker hose, every seven days to two weeks.Trees planted in sandy soil may need more frequent irrigation.
Fertilizeyour cherry trees year, beginning when the trees start to producefruit, usually three to five years after planting. Apply a general-purpose,balanced fertilizer in early spring or later, but never after July, ormidsummer. Cherry trees are light feeders, so be careful not to over fertilize.Too much fertilizer may produce lush, leafy foliage at the expense of fruit.
Prunecherry trees every year in late winter or early spring. ThinningSonata cherries is beneficial when there are more than 10 tiny cherries perspur. This may seem counterproductive, but thinning reduces branch breakagecaused by a too-heavy load and improves fruit quality and size.
Cherrytree harvest is generally in early summer, depending on climate andweather conditions.
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Read more about Cherry Trees
A cherry tree will bear abundant crops of mouthwatering cherries, and serve as a beautiful standout in any landscape during spring’s cherry blossom season. Plant a cherry tree and grow a wonderful fruit that people have been enjoying for generations. Within our selection of cherry trees you will find:
- Sour Cherry Trees, which produce tangy pie cherries that are ideal for cooking and baking. These tart cherries are perfect for any number of recipes, including pies, cobblers and juices.
- Sweet Cherry Trees produce the familiar sweet cherries and are exceptionally delicious when picked fresh and popped in your mouth like candy. These cherries make great fresh or dried snacks.
- Within our cherry tree selection, you will also find Heirloom Cherry Trees — antique cherry varieties that have withstood the tests of time.
To ensure your growing success and satisfaction, there are a few things to consider when you buy a cherry tree.
Your climate plays an important role in whether a cherry tree will be successful. Make sure the hardiness zone range of the tree you choose includes your area.
Most of the cherries we grow are self-pollinating cherry trees, but we still recommend planting another cherry variety in your yard for optimum fruit production.
For cherry trees that do require pollination by a different variety, be sure to check the description of your tree to see which pollinators our experts recommend. Often, the absence of proper pollination is why trees produce poorly or don’t bear fruit.
Mature Tree Size
Pick the right size tree for your available space. When our cherry trees mature, they will be one of these sizes:
- Dwarf Cherry Trees — mature to be about 8-14' tall and wide. Even though they are smaller, they produce an abundance of full-size fruit.
- Semi-Dwarf Cherry Trees — mature to be about 12-18' tall and wide. They offer maximum fruit yield per square foot.
- Standard Cherry Trees mature to be about 18-25' tall and wide. They are perfect if you have a large space or want a multi-purpose cherry & shade tree.
Cherry Trees do not develop in the same way as other fruit trees, and they do not look like them early on. When you receive one of our young, bare-root cherry trees, it may not have any branches, causing it to resemble a whip. These “whips” have less growth for the roots to support, creating a better balance for the tree and allowing its roots to become more established during the first year. This successful early transplanting will encourage strong, healthy development for future growing seasons.
If you select a sweet cherry tree, make sure your cherry tree’s root system will have adequate drainage. If your soil is heavy and holds water, it could cause complications. Be sure to choose your planting site wisely. Learn how to Plan Ahead for Rainy Weather.
Types of Cherries
There are two types of cherries: sweet cherries and sour cherries (also called tart or pie cherries). The difference is simple: sweet cherries taste sweeter and are eaten fresh. Pie cherries are very tart and most people prefer to use them in pies, jams, preserves, jellies and butters, adding sugar to sweeten them. See further down this page for a list of common cherry varieties and their uses. Washington State, California and Oregon are the primary sweet cherry growing states they produce almost 90 percent the U.S.'s cherry crop. Michigan produces about 74 percent of tart cherry production
Organic cherries are doable
Organic cherry growers are challenged by pest and horticultural issues.
Orchardists interested in joining the growing organic-cherry movement need commitment, patience, and intimate knowledge of their block, a panel of organic cherry producers and marketers advised during the annual Cherry Institute meeting in Yakima, Washington.
Organic cherry acreage has grown significantly in recent years in the Pacific Northwest, and shows little sign of slowing down. According to Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington State University data, there were fewer than 200 acres of certified organic cherries in 2000, but by 2007, there were more than 1,000. It’s estimated that there are now more acres in transition than those already certified, which will bring the total certified organic acreage to about 2,300 acres in the near future.
Cherry grower Dain Craver of Royal City, Washington, credits GF-120, an organic compound used to control Western cherry fruit fly, as one of the reasons organic acreage has increased. In the past, shippers didn’t want to take the chance of having fruit fly in the packed boxes, he said. "GF-120 is an awesome product."
While fruit fly can be kept at bay with the spinosad GF-120 product, black cherry aphid has become a "game-breaker" pest, he said. It has taken some organic blocks out of the program because control is so difficult. "We don’t have anything you can spray with unless you have drip irrigation and can put Azadirect (azadirachtin) in the system," Craver said. In his orchards that are under sprinkler, he releases ladybugs to help control the aphid.
Powdery mildew can also be a hassle with late varieties, Craver said. Products used to control mildew include sulfur, Sonata (Bacillus pumilus), and Kaligreen (potassium bicarbonate). He added that organic growers must do the same things that conventional growers do to manage the disease—get air movement into the canopy and time sprays to be most effective.
Harold Austin, who oversees organic cherry production for Zirkle Fruit Company in Zillah, Washington, warned growers that they should expect to see as many failures as successes. "You need to step into the transition to organic with commitment," he said. "It’s tough. It’s a lot tougher than apples."
Black cherry aphid makes it difficult to grow young trees and develop a tree structure, Austin said. For cherry trees under sprinkler irrigation where Azadirect is not an option, physically clipping off aphid infestations is about the only control method for black cherry aphid. "Growers know that for every cut you make on a tree, you’ll get something happening on that tree structure. If you have to go in eight to ten times to clip for cherry aphid, you have branching taking place that you really don’t want."
Conventional growers don’t know how good they have it until they try growing cherries organically, he added, especially when it comes to tree structure. Conventional growers have a variety of chemical tools to help them solve problems quickly. Organic growers must be patient because there are no quick fixes for pest management or horticultural issues.
"With organics, you’ve got to be thinking ahead of the problem before the problem hits you," Austin said. For example, when using compost as a fertilizer, organic growers must think in terms of tons per acre and apply months before response is needed.
Craver and Austin both recommend that growers establish their orchards conventionally before transitioning to organic. As the trees become established and develop the desired tree structure, orchardists can prepare for organic conversion by doing things like releasing beneficial predators.
Craver also encourages growers to produce big cherries on small trees. Workers won’t "run" to your orchards because you are organic, he said. "Pickers come to your orchard because they can make money."
West Mathison, President of Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, suggests that only growers at the top half of the packing house pool go into organic farming. "If you’re not a really good conventional grower, then organics is not for you. Do a little soul searching—if you’re not an excellent grower, then stay away from organics."
Growers must be true horticulturists when going into organic farming, Austin said. They must know their blocks, have the right variety at the right site, and be willing to take their skills to a higher level.
"Your patience and tolerance has got to be there. It’s hard, but organic is definitely doable," Austin said. •
Organic cherry production is not the niche market it once was. Certified organic cherry acreage in the Pacific Northwest is poised to more than double in the next couple of years when nearly 1,300 transitional acres become certified in Washington. In the Northern Hemisphere, an estimated 5,000 acres are transitioning to organic.
Consumer demand for organic foods continues to grow, David Granatstein reported during the Cherry Institute’s annual meeting in Yakima, Washington. In the United States, organic foods increased from 1 percent of all food sales in 2000 to 3 percent in 2007, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
"That’s a huge increase over that period of time," said Granatstein, coordinator of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. Food-industry analysts predict organic foods will represent 4 percent in 2010, he added.
"The line is not flattening out," he said, referring to a chart depicting growth of organic food sales from the Nutrition Business Journal (see "Organic food sales" chart). "This is great news for organic producers," he said, noting that demand doesn’t seem to be dampening off. "If anything, it’s accelerating. "
In Europe, he estimated that 5 to 10 percent of all food sales are organic. "Is that where we’re headed?" he asked. "It certainly is feasible because Europe is a pretty good indicator."
Though statistics on organic acreage can be difficult to obtain, he estimated that Washington State has 1,026 certified cherry acres, with 1,284 in transition to become certified. It takes three years to transition from conventional to organic.
California has 302 acres certified organic, and Oregon has 184. For a global perspective, he estimated that Italy has 3,964 cherry acres organically certified, with 3,243 in transition Turkey has an estimated 924 cherry acres certified organic and another 493 in transition.
About 6,200 acres are certified organic in the Northern Hemisphere, with another 5,000 in transition, he said, adding that producers in the Southern Hemisphere are also beginning to grow organic cherries.
Organic cherry acreage in Washington increased by 30 percent increase from 2006 to 2007, Granatstein said. Projected acreage of organic tree fruit in Washington (apples, pears, and cherries) is still trending upward.
"We’ve got more cherry acres in transition than are certified," Granatstein said.
Pollinating Sweet Cherries
Sweet cherry trees must grow near other sweet or sour cherry trees that bloom at the same time. Cultivars Index, Lapins, Skeena, Sweetheart, WhiteGold, Sonata, Stella, Symphony, Sunburst, and BlackGold are sweet cherry trees that can produce their own fruits from their blossoms and act as pollinators for other unfruitful sweet cherry varieties. Growing them in multiples also increases their own set of fruits. Sometimes these ten cultivars are called universal pollinators. Bing, Lambert, Royal Ann/Napoleon sweet cherry trees must grow near any universal pollinator tree for fruits to develop.