Cherry trees are not particularly difficult to grow, but they do suffer from a variety of pests, diseases and conditions important for a backyard gardener to recognise. In some years you may get cherries to your table without complications, but often you will have to take measures to protect your tree. Avoid many problems by appropriate site selection, assuring the trees full sunlight, well-drained soil and frost protection. It is also important to select fruit cultivars adapted to your region.
Cherry trees are susceptible to two similar-sounding fungal diseases, brown rot and brown knot. Monilinia fructicola is the fungus responsible for brown rot, a disease that causes ripening fruit to rot rapidly. Apply fungicide sprays--benomyl or captan--applied as directed. Black knot is also easy to diagnose. Look for hard, black, elongated swellings on smaller branches. Prune out the knots as soon as you notice them and use fungicide spray.
The peach tree borer may sound irrelevant to cherry trees, but it is not. This pest can cause serious damage and even lead to tree death. Before peach tree borers develop into moths, they are caterpillars and bore into stone-fruit trunks near soil level. Watch for piles of sawdust around the tree base. To control peach tree borers, apply horticultural oil in the autumn and encourage parasitic wasps by planting in the appropriate habitat.
Winter can be hard on cherry trees. A spring cold spell can kill buds or cause the trunk to split. Minimise this problem by planting your cherry trees in a protected location. Winter sunscald can also damage the tree. It occurs when the sun warms the trunk sufficiently that the inner living bark becomes physiologically active. A subsequent temperature drop will kill the inner bark, which can infect easily. Protect your trees by wrapping the trunks with trunk wrappers, or painting them with a white interior water-based latex paint.
Birds like to eat cherries. Your cherry loss will be especially noticeable in early spring before other food sources for the birds come available. Try tying white strips of cloth and CDs in the trees to frighten the birds and draping nylon mesh netting over the tree crown to keep them out. Fine Gardening suggests planting an early-ripening mulberry tree near to your cherry tree since birds prefer the smaller fruit.