Although there are many trees that have the word "cherry" in their common names, only plants within the Prunus genus, cerasus subgenus, are true cherries. Related to plums and peaches, cherries are classified as stone fruits. In nature, the stone, or seed, drops to the soil and lies dormant until conditions are perfect for germination. One of these conditions is a chilling period, which the gardener needs to mimic to break the seed's dormancy. Although your cherry seed, with proper care, will grow a cherry tree, the fruit may not taste like the parent's.
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How long the cherry seed takes to germinate depends a great deal upon its care during germination. With proper seed and soil preparation, under ideal conditions, cherry seeds started in fall germinate the following spring. A rule of thumb is that it generally takes 90 to 150 days after planting. It will be another seven to 10 years before the tree bears fruit. In the meantime, however, you will have an ornamental landscape tree.
Preparing the Seed
One of the most important steps in preparing the cherry seed for planting is to ensure that it is clean. After removal from the cherry, scrub it under running water to remove all remnants of fruit pulp. If any clings to the seed it may rot when it's planted and the seed won't germinate. Cherry seeds require a chilling period before they come out of dormancy. You can mimic this period with a process known as cold-moist stratification, which tricks the seed into breaking dormancy. The process involves wrapping the cherry seed in moist peat moss, placing it in a plastic sandwich bag and leaving it in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks.
Sowing the Seed
Plant the cherry seed immediately upon removal from the refrigerator. It's a good idea to prepare the soil by digging it up to a depth of at least 10 inches. The looser soil makes it easier for the young roots to penetrate the soil as they grow. Incorporate 4 inches of peat moss into the soil to help drainage. Plant the cherry seed 2 inches deep. When planting more than one, space them at least 12 inches apart. Give the bed a deep watering after planting, until the top 10 inches of soil is moist. Keep the soil moist -- not soggy -- while the cherry seed germinates.
The cherry seedling's biggest enemies are weeds. They compete with the young plant for moisture and soil nutrients. Keep a weed-free area within a 3-foot radius of the cherry seedling. It is safer to hand-pull the weeds to avoid disturbing the seedling's roots. When the seedling reaches 6 inches in height, top-dress the soil around it with a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch. Mulch helps keep the weeds at bay and retains soil moisture. It also increases organic matter and beneficial microbes in the soil, according to a study published by Michigan State University.
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- New Mexico State University; Growing Cherry Pits; Curtis W. Smith; July 2001
- Iowa State University Extension; Germination of Tree Seed; Richard Jauron; August 2000
- Michigan State University; Cherry Orchard Floor Management; Charles Edson, et al.; April 2003
- "Physiology of Temperate Zone Fruit Trees"; Miklos Faust; 1989