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Trees/Cherry tree- late growth potential?


QUESTION: I have a cherry tree, 9' tall, 2-1/2" diameter at base. 1-3/4 diameter at 3 high, but 6 years old.  I learned that I should have watered it much more on a regular basis in the beginning because it needs enough water to reach it's potential height of 20'.  In January, 2013, I started watering it weekly with 4 gallons of water.  In March of 2013 it has shown the most blossoms than it ever has (150-200 blossoms).  Will the tree remain stunted, or can it grow to its big cherry tree potential with regular waterings 6 years after it was planted?

ANSWER: Hi Carl,

In answer to your question about the Cherry Tree, it’s certainly possible to reach that maximum potential of 20’+. From your brief description of the tree taken together with the climate you’re describing I can see that there’s some potential obstacles though.

Before we start talking about proper care for cherry trees I should ask where in California you live. If you live in Southern California then it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to successfully grow most varieties of Cherry. The reason for this is something that is termed “vernalization”, “chilling,” or “winter chill.” A specific number of cumulative hours of chilling (temperatures between 32°F–45°F), are required to break dormancy, which varies from variety to variety. Once the appropriate number of hours of chilling have been achieved by a tree, active growth resumes in the spring, but only after trees are exposed to warm enough temperatures for natural growth processes to begin. Northern California receives between 800 and 1,500 hours of vernalization each winter while Southern California may only receive 100–400 hours. Because you’ve been able to actually grow your cherry tree and get it to bud I’ll assume that you at least partially meet to required “vernalization” requirements, meaning you likely live in Northern California.  

The Basics:

First, it sounds like your being diligent about watering which is a crucial part of this equation.  In addition, I would recommend that you place a 2-3” of mulch over the root zone (If you haven’t already). Mulch, will help maintain a cooler soil conditions and also help the soil retain moisture for a longer period after watering. Successive years of mulching will also start to build the soil around the tree to more suitable conditions.

I also would implement a fertilizer regiment. But before I can offer any advice as to the regiment I would take a soil sample and send it to your local Agricultural Extension Service.  Typically all you have to do pay for shipping and the test is free. The results will give you an idea of what if anything needs to be amended and how much you should be fertilizing.   I would recommend just getting a generic fertilizer formulation from Lowes, Home Depot or a garden center that is designed for trees and shrubs.   Follow the directions on the label and you’ll likely see an improvement in growth and vigor as time passes (2-3 years).

When you’ve addressed the limiting factors that might be hindering a trees growth (water, site/soil conditions, and nutrients) you’re almost there. If you’re looking for fruit production then I’d recommend that you look at the link I’ve attached below. It will guide you through the maze of likely issues you might encounter.
UC Davis website:

This site has a plethora of useful information that I’m sure you’ll find valuable.
Thanks for the question.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for all the information and the UC Davis link.  I live in the Mountain View, CA 94043 (Santa Clara County) area, zone 9 for trees.  I'm trying to find an Agricultural Extension.  I'm not sure if it's a county office or linked to a University?  I also have a mature apricot tree and new lawn that could benefit from a soil testing.  They're not far from the cherry tree.  The lawn soil will also get 3"-4" of ready compost mixed into the top 6"-8" of soil as it's mostly clay.


Hi Carl,

I've also been looking for options for you to send a soil sample. Here in Connecticut and New York they offer soil analysis free of charge to the public. It appears though that UC Davis does not. I was able to find on their website that they offer soil testing but it only appears to be for farms and the fees are pretty steep.

I've included a link below to A&L Labs.  I've used them frequently and they can provide a recommendation sheet that will explain what the results mean and what steps to take to resolve any detected deficiencies. Their analysis is very thorough and reasonable and they have a lab in Modesto. I would call them to get information about how to send them the soil and what methods they prefer you to use when taking samples. The website may provide a lot of that information also if you look hard enough.

Best of luck to you



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James Parker


I can answer questions regarding tree identification, plant pathology (plant diseases), entomology (plant insect problems), soil science, organic horticultural practices, proper pruning techniques, pesticide questions, watering, turf care, fertilizing.


I have 10 years of experience in Forestry and Urban Forestry in Greater New York City working and consulting for government agencies, private residents and large corporations.

International Society of Arboriculture Connecticut Tree Protection Association North Eastern Organic Farmers Association

Bachelors of Science Horticulture Oregon State International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist (NE-6660A) Connecticut Arborist License (S-5496) CT Pesticide Supervisors License (S-5496) NY Commercial Applicators License (CO881265) Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP)

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