If you’re just planting fruit trees for the first time, you might want to look at the Learn to Grow Fruit Trees page.
If you want to grow sweet cherries as a fruiting wall, look at our Upright Fruiting Offshoot page.
Pruning and Training Dwarf Cherries (Spanish Bush System)
This system for training cherries works for both sweet and tart cherries. Tart cherries are less vigorous and less upright than sweet cherries, so mature trees will be smaller. When pruning all cherries, it is best to wait for dry weather (48 hours after cuts are made is ideal) to reduce disease. Ideally, prune after bloom or after harvest for best results.
If the tree is an unbranched whip, at bud break, head it back to 20″-30″ above the ground. Spread the developing branches to form wide crotch angles. Allow these primary branches to grow 20″-24″ in length, then head them back all at the same level, which should be about 6″ higher than the cut made at planting.
If the tree at planting time already has good branches (ideally, 3 or 4 evenly spaced branches around the tree) at bud break, head the branches back so there tips are all the same level, 10″-12″ long.
When the secondary branches have reached 20″-24″ long, head them back to 10″, making the cuts all at the same level. Ideally these cuts will be made near or after bloom time. When the tertiary branches reach 20″-24″ in length later this spring, head them back to 10″ above the previous cut, again making all the cuts at the same level. These third training cuts may only be necessary on more vigorous varieties. You may need to thin some branches out for good light penetration. Thin by removing vigorous, upright branches, leaving weaker, more horizontal branches to encourage fruiting.
As the Tree Matures
The secondary and tertiary branches become the scaffold branches in the tree. The fruit develops on weaker wood growing from these branches, and must be renewed on a regular basis. Stub back about a quarter of the fruiting wood each year after the fruit is harvested. Thin vigorous upright branches to maintain light penetration. In the autumn, top the trees at 8′.
For another method of training sweet cherries, see our page on Upright Fruiting Offshoot training.
Oregon State University has publications describing seven different ways to prune and train cherries.