A cherry tree is a good choice for home fruit production, but pests can sometimes be a problem. Here’s how I planted cherry trees with a permaculture guild to reduce pests and produce an abundant cherry harvest.
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Growing Cherry Trees
Are you wondering whether to grow sweet or tart cherries? Tart cherries are adaptable to a wider range of climate and soil types than are sweet cherries, according to Lee Reich, garden consultant and author of Landscaping with Fruit.
I grow tart cherries because they tend to be hardier, more disease resistant, and tolerant of my Ohio humid summers and clay soil. They grow well in zones 4-8. I’m growing the ‘Northstar’ variety in my yard.
Sweet cherries, on the other hand, according to Reich, grow best west of the Rockies, in zones 5-9, where the air is drier and the soil has better drainage.
Note: I planted my dwarf tart cherry trees in the parking strip between the sidewalk and the street. It was a useful way to take advantage of that unused strip of grass, especially because the sunniest spot in the yard! Read more about my adventures of planting in the parking strip!
Many people worry that tart cherries will be too sour, but I haven’t found that to be true. They taste sweet to me. Still, the flavor is mellowed through cooking or baking. I enjoy cooking them down on the stove for about 5 minutes with a tablespoon of water. They taste like pie filling without any added sugar!
Planting a Cherry Tree Guild
A guild is a permaculture technique in which a combination of plants works together to enhance production of a primary crop. In this case, our primary crop is the cherry tree. The plants work together to build a healthier fruit tree that may be more resistant to pests and disease, and will hopefully produce more cherries, too!
Support species in a fruit tree guild are planted under the fruit tree, typically within the drip line. The drip line marks the perimeter of the tree’s farthest reaching branches when the tree is fully grown.
The guild plants are chosen for their ability to provide fertilizer, mulch, attract pollinators, and/or deter pests. Often, a chosen plant will provide more than one function, reducing the number of plants needed underneath the fruit tree.
Choose flowers that bloom when your particular fruit tree is blooming in order to attract more pollinators. (More pollinators = more cherry blossom pollination = more cherries!)
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe for planting fruit tree guilds, and it is important to research what plants would support the growth of the fruit tree at hand by finding out what nutrients the tree requires, and what pests and diseases the tree might be susceptible to.
The plants that work well in one cherry tree guild may be different in another due to variations in climate, sun exposure, and soil type, among other factors.
See my article How to Build a Fruit Tree Guild for more information about guilds.
Also catch more tips in 5 Steps to Planting Fruit Trees.
1: Guild Plants That Fertilize, Mulch, & Attract Pollinators
Many plants are rich in nutrients and make excellent fertilizer or mulch for fruit trees. They dredge up nutrients from the soil and accumulate them in their leaves. When the leaves die back or are chopped and dropped, they fertilize the soil (and thus the shallow-lying fruit tree roots).
Some examples of plants that fertilize, mulch, and attract beneficial insects are:
More helpful articles:
- 4 Berry Producing Shrubs that Fertilize, too
- 7 Ways to Fertilize the Garden with Comfrey
- Mulching in the Permaculture Garden
Would you like to learn more about improving the biodiversity of your permaculture garden to reduce maintenance and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
2: Guild Plants that Prevent Diseases and Pests
Cherry trees are prone to several types of fungal diseases. Seek out antifungal herbs to plant around the tree for support. Some of my favorites are:
The Oriental fruit moth, tarnished plant bug, and cherry fruit fly are common pests to cherry trees. They can be controlled by attracting beneficial insects with plantings like:
- sweet alyssum
Surprisingly, I discovered that the birds weren’t much of a bother, but you may need to net your trees to get a harvest. I like the idea of leaving one tree for the birds and harvesting from the others, then rotating the “giving” tree each year.
What to do in case of a pest outbreak
Over time, it’s important to observe your fruit tree guild and be on the lookout for pests or disease. You will have unique conditions to work with depending on the variety/quality of your tree, climate, soil type, etc.
If you see a pest, DON’T PANIC! Don’t rush for the nearest pesticide. I followed the following steps in my own fruit tree guilds. Not only did I get rid of the pest naturally, but I also strengthened the mini-ecosystems to prevent future outbreaks.
1: Identify the pest/disease
Scour the internet, fruit tree growing guides, or local fruit tree experts to identify the pest/disease before taking any action. This database of beneficial insects and pests is a good start.
2: Discover what beneficial insects prey on the pest
Consult your resources above to find the natural predators that prey on the identified pest. For example, a search for ‘beneficial insect controls for Oriental fruit moth’ turns up this website. There, I learn that ground beetles are an important beneficial insect to have around to control this pest.
In the case of a disease, find the antifungal plants or essential oils that you can safely use on your fruit crops.
3: Attract the necessary beneficial insects
After you’ve identified the pest and the pest’s natural predator, discover how to attract these beneficial insects to your cherry tree guilds.
When I searched for ‘how to attract ground beetles”, I found this article with some helpful tips.
Provide the habitat that your beneficial insects require, and you’ll be on your way to growing your very best cherry trees while using natural pest control.
Feel empowered to be your own detective and discover the nuances that make your garden tick.
4: Is your guild lacking in a particular nutrient?
Nutrient deficiencies can make plants weak and more susceptible to pests and disease.
Getting your guilds just right will take observation and trial and error, and as you can see in my case, every situation will be unique.
Cherry Tree Guild Shopping List
Need more ideas for growing a permaculture garden?
- 10 Reasons to Plant a Hedgerow
- Benefits of the Edible Forest Garden
- Create a Food Forest for Low-Maintenance, Edible Rewards
What have you planted in your fruit tree guilds? Have you made any adjustments over time?