Every year, cherry trees announce the arrival of spring by producing abundant pale pink blossoms. In early summer, these blossoms become pendulous red cherry fruits, favourites of people and wildlife alike and valued for their uses in preserves, baked goods or eaten fresh. Myriad species and cultivars of cherry trees mean trees that grow and mature at different rates.
Growth rate demystified
Descriptions of trees provided by nurseries and extension offices often refer to fast, medium and slow growth rates. Slow-growing trees add only 30 cm (a foot) or less of new growth to their heights each year. Medium-growing trees add between 30 and 60 cm (1 and 2 feet) of vertical growth per year. Finally, fast-growing trees can grow more than 60 cm (2 feet) taller in just one year. The growth rates of cherry trees, their final size and the age at which they begin producing fruit varies among species and cultivar.
Sweet and tart cherries
The sweet cherry (Prunus avium) and tart cherry (P. cerasus) are the varieties commonly planted for fruit. Both trees grow rapidly, producing up to 75 cm (30 inches) of new growth per year until the tree begins producing fruit, at which point, growth slows to about 30 cm (1 foot) of new growth per year. Sweet cherry trees tend to be larger, growing 9 to 12.2 m (30 to 40 feet) in height, while tart cherries grow to only about 4.6 to 6.1 m (15 to 20 feet). Traditionally, cherries begin producing considerable amounts of fruit by 5 to 8 years of age, meaning that it takes the sweet cherry about 25 years to reach its mature size and the tart cherry about 15 years. Cherry cultivars are available that speed up fruit production so that trees begin producing at younger ages.
Ornamental cherry trees include primarily Asian varieties, such as the Japanese flowering cherry (P. serrulata), Higan cherry (P. subhirtella) and Yoshino cherry (P. x yedoensis). These trees tend to grow quickly, remain small and only live for 15 to 20 years. The Japanese flowering and Yoshino cherry trees reach their mature height at about 15 years but die shortly after. These trees only grow to about 4.6 to 6.1 m (15 to 20 feet). The Higan cherry grows quickly and, while slightly longer-lived than the Japanese flowering and Yoshino cherries, still remains relatively short-lived. Its mature height ranges between 6.1 to 12.2 m (20 and 40 feet).
Native cherry trees also grow wild throughout much of the northern hemisphere. Like their cultivated cousins, wild cherries grow relatively quickly. The black cherry (P. serotina) grows larger and lives longer than the cultivated varieties. Growing 18.3 to 27.4 m (60 to 90 feet) tall, it can reach its mature size in 30 years and can live to 100 years.