Young cherry trees should be kept pruned such that they resemble a vase in order to distribute light and rainwater evenly, older trees require more substantial pruning to remove dead and diseased elements. It is a difficult task which requires sterile pruning shears, a ladder, and protective gardening gloves.
Pruning a cherry tree requires early intervention to determine the tree's future shape and health. Once this shape is set, usually after the tree's second season of growth, the process shifts to one of maintenance and preventative care.
- Maintain equipment
- Head the tree
- Scaffold whorls
Rusted or dull shears can give trees infections by making ragged cuts that heal badly. Wash pruning shears in a water-bleach solution regularly, keep them sharp and store them somewhere dry.
Once the tree passes 40 inches and enters winter dormancy in either its first or second year, cut it down to between 36 and 24 inches so that it will focus its energy on lateral rather than vertical growth. This process is known as heading. Do not head the tree too soon or its growth may be stunted.
In the tree's second dormancy, choose four branches about 2/3 foot apart on the vertical axis with the lowest just over 1 foot above the ground. These branches should form a rough circuit of the header or trunk so that they do not interrupt one another's sunlight. Cut all other branches, then perform this process again the following winter to keep the tree's shape even.
Once the scaffold whorls are in place, maintenance becomes the order of the day. Cut dead limbs, trim secondary branches and guard against canker. Keep the tree in its established shape to make sure it stays it healthy and productive.