With a renewed interest in growing fruits and vegetables in 2021, home gardeners are always looking for new ideas to add into their edible landscape here in Central Kansas. One recent development in fruit that many gardeners are discovering is what we refer to as bush cherries or Canadian Dwarf Sour Cherries.
What makes these cherries different from a traditional cherry tree is primarily their growth habit, hardiness, and production. These cherries are produced on dwarf shrub that attains a size of 6 to 7 feet tall and the plants are tough, earning them the nickname ‘cherry for the prairie’.
These bush cherries are cold hardy to zone 2 or 3 and after time for establishment can provide large yields of high quality and slightly sweeter fruit. The Brix rating (sweetness) for these tart cherries is typically 16 to 22% as compared to standard tart cherry varieties such as ‘Montmorency’ which tend to be between 11 to 16%.
Production can reach as much as 20 to 30 lbs. of cherries once plants are established which is similar to traditional cherry trees and the fruit is easier to pick since the plants are smaller and offer easier access. Some gardeners claim that fruit loss to birds can be less on these bush cherries due to the smaller branches where birds have a more difficult time perching, but bird exclusion is still something gardeners must consider to avoid losses.
Another feature that gardeners enjoy is the spring flowers that are nearly pure white and very ornamental. The flowers lead to fruit by midsummer depending on the variety and weather conditions.
One of the best varieties to try is ‘Carmine Jewel’. This was the first variety released and is still one of the best producers in quantity and quality fruit.
Two other varieties to consider are ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet’. ‘Romeo’ has dark red fruit with great flavor and also matures later than ‘Carmine Jewel’ which can extend the harvest season. ‘Juliet’ is often recommended for fresh eating as it is a sweeter variety with cherries large enough for an old fashioned crank cherry pitter.
Planting more than one variety can help increase pollination and ensure the best production, but these plants are also self-pollinating and so even just one shrub or two of the same shrubs will still produce well.
Protect during establishment
These bush cherries are attractive to rabbits, deer, and other rodents that may chew on the bark. It will be very important to protect plants properly to ensure they become established. Once established, pruning can aid in keeping the plant productive. Thinning cuts (removal of a few oldest branches each year) are recommended to keep plants productive.
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