Cherry Trees in Containers

Cherry trees can definitely be grown in containers, just use a toy tub or something larger in depth and diameter.

Dwarf cherry trees are quite tolerant to the often less than ideal, restricted environment of a container.

When you purchase your young tree, choose varieties that are suitable to your region and tolerant to your particular climate. 

Unripe Cherries 2013My favourites are Bing, Stella, Van, Sunburst, and Rainier. The trees available will be the individual varieties best suited to your region.

Some cherry trees are self pollinating and some are not. If you choose a self-pollinating variety, it’s ok 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 large live tree seedling 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:

Rainier Cherry TreeRecommended 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, this one is for cherry trees.

I use organic fertilizers, iron supplement, finely ground egg shells, tea leaves and glacial rock dust.

You can buy some good fertilizer sticks here.

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 in midwinter and mid to late winter of Dormant Oil spray before any sign of buds open.

It’s imperative that there are no signs of green bud opening. The sulphur will burn and kill anything green. Be wary of over-spray. The plants behind the one you are targeting need to be protected from excess sulphur spray as well.Two Pear Slugs on a Cherry Tree

The sulphur will kill and the dormant oil smother 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 more about what Tanglefoot is and how to use it is explained in detail here.
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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 corners 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 best thing about 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.

This is all that’s needed. When the soap solution touches the slugs they will dry up and fall off. The detergent in the dish soap cuts through their outer coating and they dry up when exposed to air.

More information on pear slugs here.


How to Grow Cherry Trees in Containers — 39 Comments

  1. 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!

    • 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.

  2. 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

    • 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.

  3. 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

    • 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.

  4. 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

    • 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

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

    • 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.

    • 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.

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

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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

        • 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.

  9. 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

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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?

      • 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!

    • 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.

        • 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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