Cherry trees produce a lot of fruit compared to other fruit trees, and their delicious fruit is a welcome addition to any garden. Cherry trees are completely dormant in the winter and burst back to life in the spring, however, come spring sometimes nothing can happen.
Underwatering, poorly draining soil, the wrong pH soil, not enough sun, climate, and pests are reasons a cherry tree is not growing. To bring it back to life, give the cherry tree a gallon of water a week, give it 6 hours of sun a day, ensure the soil has a pH of 6 and is free draining, and treat pests.
Pests include insects such as aphids as well as goffers that particularly like to eat the roots of fruit trees. In this article I will explain the symptoms to look for that will indicate what the issue is, and how to remedy each of the factors that cause a cherry tree not to grow.
Before that, it’s important to note that a cherry tree drops all of its leaves in autumn and remains dormant until spring where new leaves begin to grow. When dormant it will not produce new stems or leaves.
Too much water causes root rot
If you experience a lot of rain or overwatering a cherry tree it can cause root rot. If the soil is particularly clayey and not free draining the water can sit in the soil which also causes root rot. Signs of overwatering are yellow leaves and stunted growth when new growth begins in spring.
A mound of soil at the base of the cherry tree will cause rainwater to flow to the side, and less water will get to the roots. In regions of high rainfall, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, it is a good idea to dig a shallow ditch around the base to direct rainwater away from the tree.
- Dig a shallow ditch to divert water away from the root system of cherry trees. When digging, back away from the trunk of the tree at least 5 feet. Also, be careful not to damage the roots.
- Only water it with 1 gallon (4.5 liters) of water once a week and less if you have a lot of rain.
Not enough full sun can cause a Cherry tree not to grow
Cherry trees are unique to other plants. They require full sun, and as much sun as possible. If a cherry tree is situated in the shade or is partially shaded by other trees or a barrier such as a house or a wall it can struggle to have enough energy to grow.
This energy is stored in the interior of the tree over the winter and is used up as the tree starts to produce leaves again in spring. Symptoms of not enough sun are stunted growth, however, even with a little bit of sun, they should produce leaves. But, it can be a contributing factor along with the other reasons on this list that cause no or poor growth.
- Trim away branches from other trees that block the direct sun.
- If the tree is small and young replant it where it will get full sun for 6 hours a day.
- Remove any physical barriers where possible that block the sun.
Gophers are similar to vermin such as rats. However, they live underground. They particularly like to eat the roots of fruit trees. It can be common for a cherry tree to be completely eaten below the ground.
When this happens you won’t notice until the tree dies. Commonly, a cherry tree can be lifted completely out of the ground because the trunk has been gnawed off by gophers. And is no longer attached to the roots. To identify this issue move the trunk side to side to see if it’s rigid and still attached to the roots.
If it’s very loose try to pull it up to see if it’s still attached. If not, dig it up to see if there is substantial damage to the trunk and roots. When you dig it up you can identify gopher holes. They are 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter.
Colonies of aphids can infest cherry trees. As they feast on the leaves the leaves begin to curl and a black residue can be seen on the leaves. Aphids get out of control and create damage that can kill a cherry tree when ants are present.
Ants have a beneficial relationship with aphids and will help them to multiply at an accelerated rate. Stopping ants from getting to your cherry tree will keep the aphids in reasonable numbers where they won’t negatively affect a cherry tree.
- Apply tree grease to stop ants from getting up your cherry tree.
- Remove anything that will be a walkway that allows ants to walk onto your cherry tree.
- Spray the aphids with soapy water and rub them off using your hands.
- A cherry tree that is gopher damaged will generally die.
- Install a wire cage around the hole before planting a cherry tree to block gophers.
Cherry trees need free-draining soil for the roots to function well and provide nutrients to the tree. Clayey soil holds a lot of moisture and also doesn’t allow water to drain easily. This causes not enough water to get to the roots when it’s watered. And where enough water is used to soak the clay it stays for a long time causing root rot.
You can tell clayey soil from free-draining soil by the texture and color. Free draining soil is loose and fairly easy to dig. It also breaks apart quite easily even when wet. Clayey soil is also lighter in color. Signs of poor quality soil are the leaves will be yellow, they will curl, and the tree will have stunted growth.
Applying mulch around the base of the tree can create very good soil, however, it does take 6 months for the nutrients in the mulch to seep into the soil, and transform it from clay into rich, brown, loose soil.
- Dig into the soil close to where your cherry tree is located to see if the soil is clayey.
- Replant your cherry tree with 1.5 ft (0.5 meters) of compost around the entire root base.
- Add a thick layer – 6 inches (15 cm) of mulch such as compost around the base of the tree.
- Feed them with a balanced fertilizer in early spring, when they blossom, and in autumn.
- Use a soil testing kit and add nutrients to raise or lower it to ensure it has a pH of 6.
Not enough water
Once a cherry tree is established it can still need to be watered. When it’s still young it needs to be watered more often. But, once it’s established you generally only need to water it once a week. Signs of not enough water are yellowing of the leaves, stunted growth, and drooping of the leaves and stems of green new growth.
- Water a newly planted cherry tree with 1 gallon (4.5 liters) of water every 4-6 days for the first month.
- After the first month and ongoing give it 1 gallon (4.5 liters) of water once a week.
- Give it a bit more water when the weather is particularly hot or there has been no rain.
Cherry trees can survive in below-freezing conditions and grow in tropical climates. The main thing to consider is that a cherry tree will not bear fruit when they don’t experience enough cold. Also if conditions remain below freezing for extended periods and don’t warm up much in summer cherry trees won’t come out of dormancy.
The easiest gauge to know if a cherry tree isn’t growing because of the climate is using the USDA hardiness zones. Cherry trees also require a certain amount of chill hours to bear fruit.
- Ensure where the cherry tree is located is a hardiness zone of 3 to 8.
- Ensure your location has an average of 6 sunlight hours in spring and summer.
The last possible reason why cherry trees don’t grow is transplant shock. In some cases, plants, and especially trees, get stressed after you plant them in a new location. There are many reasons for this, but the result is one tree may not grow for 1 or even 2 years.
Sometimes a transplanted tree can die. It is also possible that the tree will grow in the first year and remain dormant in the second. There is nothing you can do about this except make the growing conditions a little easier.
- Shade the cherry tree for the first few months after planting or even for the entire first growing season.
- Water the cherry tree when the soil is not 2 inches dry. Avoid overwatering as the tree is more susceptible to root rot when in transplant shock.
- Do not prune or fertilize the cherry tree in the first year after planting.