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Sour Cherries

Perennial, late summer harvest

The breeding of dwarf sour cherries began in the 1940's by Dr. Les Kerr. The past 50 years of breeding have combined cold hardiness, dwarf stature and good fruit quality into the final product. The cherry releases by the University of Saskatchewan are a great tasting cherry with high sugar content. They also have very good potential for mechanical harvesting which is necessary for commercial fruit production.

The sour cherry was created by crossing the Mongolian cherry with the sweet cherry.  This happened quite frequently in nature.  The sour cherry was then crossed to another Mongolian cherry, a new and improved variety to get the dwarf sour cherry.

Growth Habit

  • Trees range from 1.75 meters to 2.5 meters (5-8 feet) tall.  Some suckering can happen with some varieties.  This amount of suckering increases if the soil around the tree is continually tilled or disturbed.  These trees are unique as they are not grafted and are on their own roots.
  • Sour cherries usually flower in mid to late May.  These trees can be quite stunning in the spring as the flowers open slightly before the leaves emerge and the tree turns into a ball of white flowers. 
  • The leaves are very glossy and shiny which adds some ornamental value
  • The fruit is usually ripe in early August and can range in colour from red to dark red to a black red.  Cherry splitting is caused by dry followed by wet conditions during the ripening process

Planting

  • Plant in a hole that is big enough to accommodate the entire root mass of the tree.  They should be planted about 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches) deeper than they were in the nursery container. 
  • They should be planted about 1.5-2 m (5-7 feet) apart from each other or other plants.
  • Water immediately after planting and water well until established.

Pollination

  • Dwarf Sour Cherries are self-fertile and therefore do not need another plant for pollination.  That means that if you only want one shrub in your yard you only need one, or you can have two of the same varieties and you will still get fruit. 

Pruning

  • Prune in early spring before the bushes break dormancy. Diseased or damaged wood can be removed at any time. 
  • Thinning cuts are better suited to cherries than heading back cut.  A heading back cut (taking the top/tip portion off of a branch) tends to remove vegetative buds and the plant will have nothing to make new shoots from.  Thinning cuts (when you remove an entire branch here and there) is better suited as you won’t be removing a specific kind of bud.  
  • Never remove more than 25% of wood in one season. 
  • Cherries can be selectively regenerated by removing some of the old branches every year and allowing the new branches to slowly take over

Harvesting

  • Cherries can be handpicked or shaken off.  Just beware if you shake the cherries off you are liable to get lots of stems in with the fruit.
  • They should be picked in the cool parts of the morning or evening and refrigerated as soon after picking as possible. 

Cultivars

Many years of breeding has resulted in the release of 6 dwarf sour cherry varieties.  Each variety is different from one another in some way so it gives the homeowner a lot of choices. 

Cultivars

Height

Suckers

Fruit Size

Fruit Colour

Maturity

Other

Carmine Jewel

2 m (6.5 feet)

Few

3.5 g

Black Red

Ripens earlier than the other varieties

Great for processing and eating

Romeo

2 m (6.5 feet)

Few

4.0 g

Dark Red

Ripens mid August

Can have some hardiness issues in  rural areas

Valentine

2.5 m (8 feet)

Some

4.5 g

Medium Red

Ripens early to mid-August

Tart flavour, great for processing

Crimson Passion

1.75 m (5.5 feet)

Hardly any

6.0 g

Dark Red

Ripens Mid August

Some hardiness issues in rural areas, sweetest flavour

Juliet

2 m (6.5 feet)

Some

5.0 g

Dark Red

Ripens early to mid-August

Best for fresh eating out of the bunch, excellent flavour

Cupid

2.5 m (8 feet)

Few

6.5 g

Dark Red

Ripens about a week later than other varieties

Blooms later than the others, largest fruit

Pests

  • Deer, mice and voles have a bad habit of snacking on the bark and new growth of cherries.  If you ever have a dead tree in the spring check the base of the trunk, if all of the bark has been removed in a complete circle you can thank the mice and voles for killing that tree.
  • Birds can sometimes eat or peck at the cherry fruit but they tend to prefer the smaller pin cherries to the sour cherries. 
  • Cherry Fruit Fly or cherry maggots can sometimes be a problem but that is usually only noticeable in commercial situations.  Cherries that have a maggot inside will float in a tub of water so they can be screened out that way.
  • Bacterial Canker is when gum covered cankers appear on branches and twigs.  It’s most common on lower limbs and can cause the branches to die back during the summer. 
  • Leaf Spot is when small purple spots appear on the leaves and the leaves turn yellow and fall off.  This is not usually a big problem as the tree will come back healthy the next spring. 
  • Other less common diseases include powdery mildew, American brown rot and verticillium wilt

Need more information? Check out the sour cherry section of our Fruit Breeding program!

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