Can You Grow Cherry Trees in Tennessee? Should You Try?

Are you thinking of growing some cherry trees in your Tennessee yard or gardening space? Tennessee covers two different hardiness zones (5-8), which has slightly different growth needs and temperatures. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton examines if you can grow cherry trees in this southern state.

Tennessee Cherry Trees

If you’re looking for a tree that bears tons of fruit, look no further than the humble cherry tree. They may not be the most popular edible tree to grow, pushed out in favor of other fruits like apples and pears, but they are certainly no less rewarding. 

The state of Tenneessee spans from zones 5b to 8a, and the climate is different for each zone that spans across this extremely wide state. That means that there are a plethora of different growing conditions that you may plant different Tennessee-friendly fruit trees depending on your location.

Those living in the temperate climate of Tennessee may be wondering if cherry trees are right for their backyards or their gardening space. Let’s find out! 

Tennessee Climate 

Large Tree by a Country Road
The mild climate of Tennessee with its above-average rainfall makes it a good place to plant fruit trees.

Tennessee falls under the USDA Zones 5b to 8a. Overall, the climate is labeled as mild, with no extreme temperatures on either end. Winters are cool but not excessively cold, and summers are warm but not excessively hot. 

The average winter temperature for the entire state is around 40F, while average summer temperatures stick to about 80F. The lowest and highest temperatures depend on the region. For example, the temperatures in mountainous rocky Northeast of the state are typically lower than other areas and can experience snowfall in some parts.

There are many different fruit trees that do well in the volunteer state, including apple trees which grow in several different Tennessee hardiness zones, depending on the variety. Peaches, pears, and other types of fruit grow well seasonally here due to the plentiful rainfall. 

The state receives an average of around 50 inches of rain per year, spread across the seasons. This is higher than the average of the entire country, which is about 38 inches per year. Most rainfall occurs in winter and early spring, with fall being the driest season. 

Cherry Tree Growing Conditions 

Close Up of Dark Cherries Growing on a Tree
Which zone to plant a cherry tree depends on the cherry you wish to plant.

Cherry trees, like many other fruit-producing trees, favor moderate climates without extreme fluctuations in temperature changes throughout the year. They are best suited to USDA Zones 4-7, depending on the variety. This makes them suitable for growing in most parts of Tennesee without hassle, and they have similar growing conditions to cherry blossoms, which they are sometimes confused with.

They also need regular watering to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out completely. But due to the consistent rainfall in Tennessee, the rain should take care of all the tree’s watering needs. You may need to supplement in the fall when rainfall dips significantly. But, the tree will largely take care of itself for the remainder of the year. 

Gardeners in Tennessee are lucky to be able to grow both types of cherry with ease – sweet and sour. Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are suitable for Zones 5-7, while sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) prefer colder weather, suitable for Zones 4-6. 

Both need cold winter temperatures for a certain period of time to trigger fruit production, at least 700 hours below 45F. To ensure fruiting, check the winter temperatures in your area and select the most suitable cherry type. 

That being said, once spring arrives, late frosts can cause damage to the emerging buds, limiting your harvest. In colder zones where spring temperatures take a while to warm up, cover your tree with a frost blanket to protect the early blooms, or choose a late-blooming variety. 

Although the recommended USDA Zone ends at 7, Tennessee gardeners in Zone 8 can still grow these trees, with a bit of extra consideration placed on the variety. Choose a cherry that doesn’t require too many hours of cold exposure – some will still produce fruit with only 400 hours below 45F. Also, choose one that can handle slightly higher temperatures in summer to avoid heat stress. 

Growing Cherries 

Red Fruit Growing on a Tree Branch
It is best to plant a cherry tree in the spring in slightly acidic soil where it can receive a full day of sunlight.

Once you’ve decided on the ideal type and variety for your region, it’s time to get growing. Cherry trees are best planted in early spring when the ground is moist. They can also be planted in the fall, but this is not recommended for Tennessee gardeners. This is due to the lack of rainfall during that time of year. 

Let’s start with your foundations, soil. Cherry trees prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH between 6 and 7. But, the most important characteristic of your soil is drainage. These trees are particularly susceptible to root rot and cannot be left to sit in water. Considering they get most of their water from rainfall, and rainfall in Tennessee is higher than average. This means adequate drainage is vital. 

The next factor to consider is sunlight. For the best fruits, cherries require full sun throughout the day. They also need plenty of space to grow and significant airflow to prevent diseases. When planting two varieties next to each other (which you may need to do to facilitate cross-pollination, but we’ll discuss that later), space them around 30 feet apart, with some variation either way, depending on the size of your chosen variety. 

They are beloved by a particular garden resident: birds. Birds love cherry fruits and tend to get to them far quicker than you can harvest. To stop the birds from finishing all your fruits, cover your tree in netting while the fruits develop and harvest early. 

Sweet Cherries 

Sweet Red Fruit on Trees
If you are looking for cherries to eat right off the tree, then plant a sweet variety.

Sweet cherries need to cross-pollinate to produce fruits. This means you will need to plant more than one variety in your backyard for a successful harvest. Those with small gardens can opt for dwarf cherry varieties, which can be planted about 10 feet apart. 

Some of the most popular sweet cherry varieties include ‘Bing’ and ‘Stella’, but there are many to choose from. Ensure your chosen varieties will cross-pollinate with one another to avoid planting two trees and receiving no fruits. 

Sour Cherries 

Sour Red Fruit Growing on a Tree
There are a few varieties of sour cherries to choose from if you plan to cook the cherries into jams or desserts.

While sweet cherries are more common in supermarkets, the fruits are usually eaten fresh. Sour cherries are perfect for jams, desserts, and other preserves. These trees are self-pollinating, making them ideal for smaller gardens. They also produce fruit faster than sweet cherries. They produce in 3 or 4 years compared to the sweet cherries 5 or 6 on average. 

For an early-season sour cherry, opt for ‘Early Richmond’. Popular late harvest varieties include ‘English Morello’, ‘Meteor’, and ‘North Star’

Final Thoughts 

Cherry trees are perfectly suited to the conditions of most Tennessee home gardens. They even feature on our list of Best Fruit Trees To Grow In Tennessee. With the many cultivars to choose from, in both sweet and sour types, there is also plenty of variety. This allows Tennesee gardeners to choose a tree that is not only delicious and suited to their needs in the kitchen, but that also grows perfectly in their regional climate, taking the effort out of care and maintenance. 

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