How to Grow Cherry Trees in Containers

Cherry trees can definitely be grown in containers too, use a toy tub or a larger container in depth and diameter. Dwarf cherry trees are quite tolerant to the restricted environment of a container as long as they get the right care. When you purchase your young tree, choose varieties that are suitable to your region and bred to withstand the climate of your area.

Unripe Cherries 2013My favourites are Bing, Stella, Van, Sunburst, and Rainier. Some cherry trees are self pollinating and some are not. If you choose a self-pollinating variety, it’s fine to have only one tree. If you choose one that is not, then you need to have more than one tree in close proximity to produce fruit.

The Bing cherry

The Bing cherry has to be my number one favourite so far. It’s easy to grow and produces big beautiful sweet, dark red almost black cherries. It’s not self-pollinating so it will need a second tree from the list below (or another pollinator) in order to produce fruit. I haven’t found a problem yet with having to buy more than one cherry tree!

Purchase a 1-2 foot tall live tree here.

The Rainier Cherry 

This type of cherry has to be a close second for taste and quality of fruit. The Rainier produces quite large yellowish-reddish fruit with a distinct flavour. It ripens around mid-season and needs a pollinator. It’s easiest to buy a well cared for tree that already has a good head start with root growth, rather than buying tree seeds. Tree seeds take a lot of care and patience to see them through to where they’ll produce fruit.

I recommend buying a young live tree like this 5 gallon Rainier cherry tree.

The Beauty of Stella 

Stella is a perfect “self-pollinating pollinator”. You only need one of these trees to produce fruit in addition to it being able to pollinate other non-self pollinating varieties. Then there is the added bonus of the Stella cherry being so delicious.

Self-pollinating varieties include:

Recommended Container

Use a large toy tub or large nursery container as previously described. The toy tub will need several holes drilled in the bottom of the tub and low down on the sides with a drill bit the size of a standard pencil, any bigger than that and the soil will leak out.

Add a drainage substance to the bottom of the tub, such as an inch of pea gravel.

If you are using a commercial nursery container and the holes are already quite large, then line the bottom of it with landscape fabric to cover the holes, then add your rocks or drainage substance. You’ll still get the drainage and not lose any soil.

Rocks are an easy drainage material but are of course very heavy. This is mostly ok because you won’t be moving your tree around very much once you have chosen it’s spot. Choose the sunniest and warmest location in your yard. They need the bright direct sun for the fruit to sweeten up in the summer.

The tree will need a lot of water in the growing season and must be consistently well watered in order to get plump juicy fruit. A mini drip system is a good way to cut down on the time consuming task of watering. If you set it up properly with a timer then you can likely save yourself a lot of time. Learn more about drip systems here.

Rainier Cherries 2013Tree Care

Treat your container cherry trees just like an in-ground tree for the most part. Fertilize them with a good quality (preferably organic) food and other nutrients as the season moves along.

This fertilizer product from TreeHelp is perfect, it’s specifically designed for cherry trees. Dr. Earth makes very good fertilizers for many plants too, this one is for cherry trees. I use organic fertilizers, iron supplement, finely ground egg shells, tea leaves and glacial rock dust.  There are also easy to use, convenient fertilizer sticks.

In the fall and early spring it’s important to help your tree fight the constant barrage of bugs that want to use it as a home. This is done with Dormant Oil and sulphur spray in the winter and Tanglefoot in the early spring and early fall.

Two applications per year of Dormant Oil spray, one in midwinter and one around mid to late winter before any sign of buds open. It’s imperative that there are no signs of any greens bud opening. The sulphur will burn and kill anything green. Be wary of over-spray too, the plants behind the one you are intending to spray need to be protected from excess sulphur spray as well.Two Pear Slugs on a Cherry Tree

The sulphur will kill insects and the dormant oil smothers out many of the bugs and larvae present that have been overwintering in the bark.

In addition to that, I recommend applying Tanglefoot to catch the critters walking up and down the trunk of your tree.

The image to the right is that of two pear slugs. Although it looks more like one pear slug floating and its’ shadow, it’s really not. The pear slug on the left is of translucent density but it is sitting on the same leaf as the darker one.

Read about Tanglefoot and how to use it.

Cherry Tree Pests

Pear slugs love your cherry tree too. These are not your regular ground dwelling, yucky, slimy slugs that hide in the shadows and damp areas of your yard.

They are Pear Slugs aka Sawfly Larvae. They will, despite their name happily eat cherry tree leaves too. They are barely 1/4″ long but capable of doing serious damage to your tree.

The only good thing about having pear slugs is how easy they are to get rid of.  All you need is a spray bottle with a mild solution of dish soap and water. Then saturate your tree ensuring that all leaves get covered completely on both sides. Use a backpack sprayer or hose end sprayer if you have a large tree.

When the soap solution touches the slugs they will dry up and eventually fall off. The detergent in the dish soap cuts through their protective outer coating and they dry up when exposed to air.

More information on pear slugs here.

61 thoughts on “How to Grow Cherry Trees in Containers”
  1. What container should I use for a rainier and bing cherry tree? Also how do you upgrade containers or move your cherry tree? And if you have clay soil can you plant the cherry tree in clay soil or will it die. I am also going to start by seed so should I put it in a small container and keep I making it bigger?

    1. Hi Sophia

      Starting a cherry tree from seed requires some commitment and dedication of time. Do specific research on the method for growing cherry trees from seed. Even with the best care, it can sometimes take a cherry seed a whole year just to germinate and more than three years to reach any sort of harvest, but it can be done. Use a 3 gallon container to start with and that will last a long time before seedling outgrows that. Clay soil is no good, the tree will probably die planted there. Yes, start with a smaller container and increase it as the seedling grows. Use good quality potting soil with nutrients all the way along as the plant grows.

  2. I have a miniature cherry tree planted in a container made of a copper type material. My tree was planted 10 years ago when I lost my Nan.

    Having spent the last couple of days by her bedside looking out onto a gorgeous cherry tree and bench, but never actually leaving her side to sit on the bench, when she passed away I returned to the ward to find out the type of cherry tree so I could buy one to plant with her ashes in. The nurse told me an amazing story that the nurse who had trained him passed away in the same room as my Nan and his wife wanted to plant something for future relatives to look at and place a bench for them to sit on. Hence my dilemma having searched the local garden centers for the perfect “mini prunus avium” tree we planted the tree on her birthday the following year. My children and I have loving looked after the tree taking pictures throughout the seasons to document the beautiful blossom and cherries is produces every year. Unfortunately the pot I planted it in has started to perish and I need to re-pot it, As you can appreciate I really really don’t want to kill the tree by re-potting at the wrong time and any help you can give me would be hugely appreciated.

    A very anxious novice garden – in love with a very special tree.

    1. Wow, what a story! That tree is definitely a special one with a lot of meaning.

      How badly is the container falling apart right now? If possible, let it stay where it is until the early spring. Repotting is usually best done while the tree is still in a dormant state in the early spring after the last frost but also before any buds begin to show. However, the tree should be ok if the job needs to be done now as long as you’re gentle with the root ball. I recommend leaving the container in the same location in the yard that it’s used to as well so the least amount of things change for the tree at this point in the year.

      If you choose to repot it now, then get some good quality bagged potting soil and a container that’s a few inches larger in diameter and a bit deeper than the current one. There is no need to worry about fertilizer at this time because you want the tree to continue going to sleep for the winter (not waking up with food to fuel new growth).

      If the tree is on the large or heavy side then get someone to help you lift and move it so it’s easier on you as well as the stress to the tree is kept to a minimum. Good luck! Let me know how it goes or if you need more help with it.

  3. Why has my Stella potted tree suddenly gone all limp in the leaves. It looks like a heavy overhang. Do I need to prune it. The minimum amount of cherries that did start to show have now disappeared.
    I am in the UK.

    1. Has the weather been excessively wet and rainy or has the tree been watered a lot? or have you repotted the tree recently? These things would cause sudden drooping of the tree. Otherwise if none of that applies I would do a soil check and see if it’s the correct pH.

  4. I bought a dwarf weeping pink blossom cherry tree sapling . We have harsh winters and hot summers. Its about a foot tall , i placed it in a large pot with top soil . Its seems to be doing well but what do i do from here?

    1. A tree of that size will need a good deal of TLC to make through the harsh seasons and temperature changes of your area. Your best bet is probably to move it to a protected location when the weather starts to turn cold. A place like a garage or greenhouse or even a sun room with good light should be ok.
      For the summer I’d recommend putting it in a shaded area out of the direct sun and keep it well watered. Since it’s still small, it would be good to plant it in some looser soil with a bit of peat moss mixed in (top soil tends to be quite heavy) so the roots can grow through it easily. Buy a bag of potting soil and let it get started in that. Also, adding some tree fertilizer to boost it’s growth will help it get established more quickly.

    2. I did as u intstructed and my tree has taken off . Its grown about a foot in two months , do i need to prune lower off shoots? When winter comes should i move it inside? When do i plant it out side ? Hiw big does it need to be?

      1. Excellent! I’m glad to hear your tree responded to the treatment. It doesn’t need much pruning at this point. The tree is still quite young and small, I would just leave it to grow for the most part, but cut off the branches that grow straight upwards and also the sprouts that grow off of the trunk.

        Move it inside when you see the weather turn cold at night, they are technically hardy down to zone 5 which is in the range of -20 F to -10 F. But the tree is small so it needs more protection. Bring it in sooner around 50 F or so but not less than 40 F. Do you know what zone you’re in? I think it’ll freeze easily.

        One thing it needs when it’s inside is air circulation. This will help it avoid developing any bacterial infections. This can be done just with a small fan put nearby, set it on low to simulate a breeze.

        You could probably plant it outside once it seems like it’s strong and stable and solidly establishing itself in the planter. If the winters get cold then you can protect the tree while it’s in the ground with mini 1 plant greenhouses and other methods.

        1. I have just noticed a couple of leaves that have turned yellow with black holes in them .do i have a ptoblem . The tree has bern growing well .

          1. It sounds to me like the tree is showing signs of “cherry leaf spot” aka “shot hole” disease. This problem is caused by a fungal infection. If untreated the tree will slowly lose vigor and production will suffer. Do you have cherries on the tree now?

            The first thing to do to fight it is to make sure all the old leaves and debris are always picked up from around the base of the tree. This is where the spores like to thrive over winter and infect your tree in the spring. Is the tree in a container? If so, move it to a spot that has a lot of direct sun that will shine on the soil.

            If you can get your hands on some straw, then make a layer of that around the base of your tree (after the old leaves are picked up). This helps to reduce infection rate as well.
            A multipurpose fungicide product like this one should help to kill the spores on the leaves.

            A fungicide might not even be necessary, usually keeping the old leaves cleaned up is enough to take care of the problem.

          2. The tree is still a sapling only about two foot tall. It is not a priducing cherry tree its an ornimental .weeping cherry tree dwarf. The leaves have holes that are briwn aroung the edges . Eventualy i remove them from the tree. But i see a new leaf in fected every day , it a sapling so can i use a fungiced with out killing the tree. I will put it in the hit sun . Should i stop watering it ? What do i need to do to save mu tree ?

          3. Yes you can safely use a fungicide like this one to combat the disease. Follow the instructions on the bottle. Keep the tree evenly moist but not saturated with water.

            The fungicide might not save the damaged leaves that you currently have but it’ll kill the spores so next years leaves will be healthy. I agree, putting the tree in the warmest, sunniest place you have around your home will help too.

          4. I am bringing the tree inside for winter. How will it reach dormancy inside a warm house? I,ve got copper fungicide, will that work. For the brown holes that are forming. I will get a fan to blow on it some each day . What can i expectfrom the tree in growth and fungus issues during fall and winter.

          5. The plants for the most part know when it’s time to go dormant even if they are inside. If you put the tree in the coolest, dimmest part of your house, such as a garage or basement then the plant will most likely do it’s thing naturally.

            Keep the soil very slightly moist and let it be. The plant may lose its leaves, which is normal but that could also solve the brown hole issue on the leaves. I don’t think you’ll need the fan all winter long but keep an eye on it so that no fungus issues start.

            With any amount of luck the tree should make new buds in the early spring, which is when you should bring it back up to a brighter warmer area of your home.

  5. Hello!
    I bought a 2-3 ft Rainier Cherry Dwarf tree and a 2-3 ft Bing Cherry Dwarf tree online, they should be arriving soon and I believe they will be bare roots. What size containers should I get? One nursery I went to said to use Whiskey Barrel planters but I didn’t want to use that size due to moving them later on if I didn’t have to. Thoughts?

    Thank you!

    1. I agree they’d be very heavy! I think the whiskey barrels would look great but they’re definitely overkill for the size tree that you have on the way.

      I’d plant the trees in good quality container soil (with some slow release fertilizer mixed in at the bottom) in a plastic pot that’s 16″ across the top and 12″ deep or so. That should be sufficient for quite a while as it grows. You’d probably need to upgrade the pot size after a few years though.

  6. I have 3 little cherry trees — Evans, Romeo, and Juilet. I’m in zone 2. The are about 5 inches and starting to bud out. I was thinking about putting them in pots (10 inch) maybe and keeping them inside in a sunny window for this summer, storing them in a cold garage over the winter, then year 2 keeping the pots outside for the summer and winter then in year three planting in the ground. As they are so small The location I want them eventually they may get damaged too easily. I figure by year three they will be a bit more established and I can protect them more easily. What do thou think? Thanks

    1. Those little trees must be so cute! Did you sprout them from the seeds? How old are they? They’ll definitely need a good deal of TLC and protected conditions in order to grow well.

      Acclimatizing them to the outdoors is good as they grow but Zone 2 is pretty extreme as far as temperatures go. I don’t think they’d survive the cold winter (even after growing to a good size). Sweet cherry trees grow best in zones 5-7. The varieties you mention are all self pollinating and would be suitable to grow indoors.

      The sunny window will work while they’re small but if you have a greenhouse or bright sunroom that could accommodate them as they grow bigger then you’d be able to keep them and have the trees eventually produce fruit inside.

      1. Romeo and Juliet cherries were created in Saskatchewan Canada which is zone 2, so they will grow well there. Evans comes from Edmonton Canada which is zone 3, but Evans will grow and fruit quite reliably in zone 2, so once established those trees will be fine outdoors in a reasonably protected area. Don’t know if links allowed, but:

    2. That sound like a great plan! I am ordering a bare root Romeo today. I live in zone 3 and I am going to follow your plan. Thanks

    3. I bought Carmine & Juliet dwarf cherry in 5 gal pots last year but were 2 to 3 foot. Was told they were jardy, already overwintered in pots, developed & grown in Canada so are fine for Chicago winters. They survived well but late frost damaged some of the blooms & sets so have not many cherries.

  7. Hello, I have a mighty midget cherry tree that I’m looking to transplant to a larger pot but I am unsure of what to use for an appropriate soil. I have peat moss but am concerned that it may be too acidic. Any information would be very appreciated thank you

    1. I would recommend getting some bagged potting soil that’s meant for use in containers. You could then mix in some of the peat moss (up to 1/3 of the total volume) to that soil and then plant the tree. It should do just fine with that. If you have some granular fertilizer you can mix that in at the very bottom of the pot before the tree is planted, that will help too. Just keep the fertilizer from directly touching the roots.

  8. Hello :
    I recently bought a dwarf Lapin cherry tree that was sent bare root and put it in a container already I used miricle grow garden soil should I have mixed anything in with the soil or is it fine the way it is now. I have seen some articles that suggest that maybe I Should of added compost and perlite to help the soil with drainage what should I do,will you let me know

    1. The Miracle Gro garden soil isn’t intended for use in a container, so yes adding some compost and perlite would have been good to help lighten up the soil. Since the tree is new and young you can pull it out of the container to amend the soil or change out the soil altogether and replant it again.

  9. Hi Stacy! Hope you are well. I just bought a Prunus Avium to my terrace. I should have done my homework but I just read that they reach 30 meters… Is it possible to still have it in a container? I’m from Portugal so I think that in terms of weather it will be just fine being native from here but I’m worried if it will succeed in a huge pot. By the way, what’s the depth I should have for my plant? Thank you so much Stacy for your help.

    1. Hi! Yes, you will still be able to put it in a container (if it’s currently a small tree). The tree won’t grow to it’s full mature height in a container, it only does that if it’s planted in the ground with space for it’s roots to spread and grow.
      Your tree will probably be ok for several years but might eventually suffer just from being restricted for a long time. If your container is really huge it should be fine with good fertilizing.
      Only plant the tree up to the trunk flare. This is the place where the tree trunk flares out and was most likely the depth it was planted at when you bought it. Anything deeper will cause the tree to suffocate and struggle.

  10. i have ordered a dwarf cherry tree that will be outside during spring summer and fall, then brought in during winter. What do you recommend as far as pest prevention while it’s outside?

    1. Using both insecticidal/fungicidal soap along with neem oil will take care of most issues. They are both natural pesticides. I also recommend using Tanglefoot, it’s a natural pesticide product. I have instructions on what it is and how to use it here.

      What area or zone do you live in? There may be certain pests specific to your area that need other treatments.

    1. The tree should be fine sitting outside without special care. Do you know what climate zone you are in?
      If you have a sheltered side of your house that’s a little bit away from the weather then put it there (if you can move the pot) and that will help it avoid the brunt of the winter cold.

  11. After I transplanted by 4-inch Barbados cherry tree All the leaves fell off every one of them. Is that normal

    1. Yes, that’s transplant shock. Small or young trees are very vulnerable to that, and cherry trees the most. Just keep taking care of it and hopefully it’s just the leaves that were lost, not the whole tree. Buy some “transplant fertilizer” and water it with a diluted solution of that for a boost.
      It’ll be evident by the spring or even sooner if it died or not.

  12. If my cherry is still in the pot do you think it will survive the winter temperature minus 30 from outside?

    1. If the variety of the tree you have is already suited to your climate zone then it should be ok. Some cherry trees can handle up to zone 2. But I’d plant it in a larger pot, the container it was purchased in is not large enough.

  13. I was looking at your stella cherry trees. Are they compact Stella’s or can you grow them in the container very well.

    1. The trees I bought were called “dwarf”, which is the smallest size category. From my understanding dwarf has a bit smaller mature size than a “compact” tree. A “compact” tree is considered a “semi-dwarf” which has a mature size just a bit bigger than a dwarf.

      But yes, the short answer is…yes they will grow in large containers just fine.

  14. Please can you help me? Is this a viable website Can you really get answers to your problems!

    1. I’m curious to know what makes you think this isn’t a viable website? I’ve been helping people and answering questions for over 4 years now.

      1. Sorry I guess I expected an answer faster. I put the Barbados cherry in an 8-inch pot. How often should I water it. Also in Yuma Arizona at 110 degrees and the Sun is quite piercing Should I leave it in the shade

        1. Hi Elizabeth

          I sent a reply back to you on July 26th. It’s possible that my reply went into the email junk folder.
          At that time, I recommended that you put the tree in an 8″ pot anyway, so you’re good to go with that part of it.

          In that heat, I would definitely keep it protected with a little shade. For the watering while it’s that hot, I would get a plant tray or plastic dish pan and set the tree container in it filled with fresh water (don’t let the water turn yellow). Then the roots can absorb the water as it needs. It’s low maintenance for you and there is no worry of the roots getting dry and stressed out.

  15. I just bought a 4-inch Barbados cherry tree In a 4-inch pot. When should I transplant it and what size pot should I transplant it in

    1. Since it’s a fast growing tree, I would move it to a 6″ or 8″ pot pretty soon to give it a little more breathing room. That pot should be good for a year, maybe two but depending on how fast it grows you’ll have to upgrade it again at that point. This is an excellent choice for a container tree.

  16. Thanks for the inoformation. Would want to know more about dwarf cherry tree plantation. Am more interested in cherry blossom.

    1. You’re welcome! There are several varieties of dwarf flowering cherry tree that stay small and compact for smaller areas and produce only flowers.

      The one called Prunus ‘Tai-haku’ for example has large single white flowers and grows only to 6-7 feet tall at maturity. Or if you like a weeping variety then the Prunus ‘Snow Showers’ displays beautiful double pink blooms in the spring.

      The best time to shop is in the spring and early summer when the trees in your local nurseries will be in bloom. Then you can choose the colour you like with no guesswork. Some of the varieties are available online but make sure to choose one best suited to your climate zone so it has the best chance of survival.

      I recommend going to a garden center in your area in the spring to figure out which ones are bred for your climate zone before buying one online.

      Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

  17. Being above ground in a pot over a cold winter, do you have to worry about the cold killing the roots or tree?

    1. Being above ground in a pot over a cold winter, do you have to worry about the cold killing the roots or tree? Also, where online do you recommend purchasing a dwarf cherry tree?

      1. Click the “Direct Gardening” image above. Then when you’re on their homepage select “Edibles” and then “Cherries” from the drop down menu. You’ll find a large selection of cherry trees available for shipping. Good luck, let me know how it goes!

    2. Yes, plants are much more susceptible to cold and freezing when planted in containers. If you have long cold winters then you’ll need to protect them somehow. One way is to give them shelter in a shed or garage. Or if that’s not possible then you can insulate/wrap your containers individually using a variety of methods like burlap or frost cover fabric.

      Or you can “huddle” your containers if possible and then pack the spaces with straw, then wrap the whole works in burlap fabric (or bubble wrap works too) and then secure it with twine. This will help keep the cold out a lot.

        1. That’s a brilliant adaptation! I hadn’t thought of digging a container in to the ground as a way to keep it steady in the winds. The added bonus of frost protection really helps the roots survive through the winter. Well done! I have a couple of Stella trees as well, they’re delicious!

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