Cherry trees are admired all around the world for their gorgeous blossoms and delicious fruit. While many varieties of cherry trees can thrive throughout the U.S., it is important to scout the proper location before you plant one in your yard or orchard.
All varieties of cherry trees do not grow well in the shade. They require full sun—at least six hours a day, most days—especially if you want them to produce fruit. Some ornamental varieties may be more shade-tolerant, but your success with cherry trees will still come down to ensuring adequate sunshine.
Ideal Locations for Cherry Trees
When choosing a location for your cherry tree, there are three main factors to consider: sunlight, soil composition and drainage, and spacing.
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All varieties of cherry trees are sun-lovers, but ironically, too much sun and heat can also be a problem, particularly in the late winter and early spring.
Cherry trees begin to bloom in the early spring, when weather fluctuations can affect growth potential. Too much sunlight and warmth in late winter can cause cherry trees to bloom too early, which in turn puts them at risk of dying in a late-spring freeze.
You can mitigate this problem by planting your cherry trees away from the western or southern sides of structures where heat may be trapped or reflected. (Source)
Note: Cherry trees are one of the best fruit trees to grow in Zone 7b. See our complete list.
Soil Composition and Drainage
Equally important for all cherry tree varieties is proper soil drainage.
Cherry trees do not adapt well to droughts, but they do thrive in well-drained, sandy, or loamy soil that is slightly acidic (Source). Be sure to choose a spot where water is unlikely to pool and drown the trees’ roots.
Like other fruit trees, cherry trees need plenty of space to grow, as well. Standard sweet cherry cultivars average 18-25 feet tall and wide, while tart cherry varieties grow to 8-15 feet tall and wide. Dwarf varieties usually reach 10-14 feet tall and wide.
The general rule of thumb is to plant cherry trees far enough away from other trees and structures to allow them to reach their full height and width without being obstructed.
Not only do cherry trees’ branches need plenty of room, but their root systems do as well. They are more likely to succeed if their roots aren’t competing with other trees’ roots. (Source)
Furthermore, not all cultivars are self-pollinating. “Self-fruitful” varieties, such as Montmorency, can produce fruit without the aid of another cherry tree. “Self-unfruitful” varieties, which include most sweet cherries, need more than one tree to produce a harvest.
If you only have space for one cherry tree, make sure to look for tart varieties, which generally do not require another tree for pollination. (Source)
How Shade Affects Cherry Trees
Cherry trees require ample sunlight in order to produce fruit. Too much shade, even two to four hours of full shade a day, can limit a tree’s harvest potential. Cherry trees shaded by buildings or other trees may not produce any blooms at all, which means they won’t produce any fruit, either.
The first step toward producing fruit is producing blooms. Even in the best of locations, early springtime weather can be unpredictable.
Cherry blooms are very susceptible to spring frosts and changes in temperature, so they need plenty of sunlight to sustain healthy growth. Healthy blooms produce healthy fruit, so limiting shade early on in the trees’ growth cycle is key to a good harvest.
Additionally, just as pockets of heat can be trapped by nearby structures and trees, so can pockets of cold, frosty air. (Source) When this happens, the blooms won’t develop properly or may be killed altogether.
All in all, it is best to avoid planting cherry trees in locations shaded by buildings or other trees.
Are There Any Shade-Tolerant Cherry Trees?
Shade-tolerant cherry cultivars are extremely hard to come by, especially if you are hoping to harvest fruit.
If you are more interested in planting cherry trees for blooms and not for a fruit harvest, there are ornamental varieties to consider. These will still bloom best in a place that gets six to eight hours of sunlight on most days; however, if you live in a warmer zone, you can still nurture a healthy ornamental cherry tree with partial shade.
Taiwan Cherry (Prunus campanulata)
Taiwan Cherry trees do well in USDA zones 7A-9A and are more shade-tolerant than most varieties. It is also one of the most heat-tolerant cherry tree cultivars, making it a good option for growers who enjoy mild winters and early springs. Like other cherry trees, the Taiwan Cherry needs well-drained, acidic soil to thrive.
They put on quite a show in the early spring, usually blooming before other flowering trees. Their blooms range from bright pink to red, making Taiwan Cherries attractive to birds and other wildlife. These trees can grow approximately 20 feet tall and wide and need some pruning to shape the crown.
The lifespan of the Taiwan Cherry is fairly short, only about 10 to 15 years, but that still gives growers plenty of time to enjoy their beautiful blooms.
Japanese Flowering Cherry (Prunus kwanzan)
Japanese Flowering Cherry trees, particularly the “Kwanzan” cultivar, are best known as one of the varieties celebrated during the Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival. They are famous for their showy pink blossoms in the spring. In the summer they provide excellent shade.
The Kwanzan cultivar is well-suited to zones 5A-9A and while these trees grow best in full sun, they can succeed on as little as two to six hours of direct sunlight per day.
Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees can reach heights of 36 feet and widths up to 30 feet, which is larger than many fruiting cultivars. Make sure you have sufficient space before you plant. Like other cherry varieties, plant Japanese Flowering Cherries in loamy or sandy soil that drains well.
Your best chance of success with cherry trees comes down to planting in a location that receives full sun. Soil acidity and drainage, sufficient room to grow, and cultivar choice (self-fruitful vs. self-unfruitful) are also important to consider before planting cherry trees in your yard or orchard.
Taiwan Cherry Trees or Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees may be well-suited for you if you don’t get quite enough sun to harvest fruit, but you still want to enjoy the bountiful springtime blooms that cherry trees offer.
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