AMES, Iowa -- Cherry trees can be grown in Iowa, though some are not reliably hardy in all parts of the state. The trees produce beautiful white flowers in early spring and are a popular choice for edible landscapes. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists tell how to select and plant cherry trees in Iowa. To have additional plant and garden questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Gold,’ BlackGold™ and WhiteGold™ are sweet cherry varieties (cultivars) that can be successfully grown in the southern half of Iowa. ‘Gold’ has golden yellow skin. It is self-unfruitful. Another late blooming sweet cherry variety must be planted for pollination and fruit set. BlackGold™ and WhiteGold™ are self-fruitful, mid to late blooming cultivars from Cornell University in New York. BlackGold™ has dark red skin, while WhiteGold™ is light yellow with a reddish blush. Other possibilities for southeastern Iowa include ‘Hedelfingen’ (self-unfruitful, red fruit), ‘Kristin’ (self-unfruitful, purplish black fruit), ‘Sam’ (self-unfruitful, dark red fruit) and ‘Van’ (self-unfruitful, reddish black fruit).
‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor’ are two of the best performing sour cherry varieties in Iowa. Both varieties were introduced by the University of Minnesota and possess excellent cold hardiness. ‘Northstar’ is a dwarf tree that commonly grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Its fruit have a mahogany red skin, red flesh and are 3/4 inch in diameter. ‘Meteor’ is a semi-dwarf tree. Trees may eventually reach a height of 10 to 14 feet. The fruit of ‘Meteor’ are slightly larger than ‘Northstar’ and have bright red skin and yellow flesh. Another possibility is ‘Mesabi.’ ‘Mesabi’ is a cross between a sweet and tart cherry. Its red-fleshed fruit are sweeter than ‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor.’
Cherries perform best in moist, well-drained, fertile soils. Avoid wet, poorly drained sites. Cherries are susceptible to root rots in wet, poorly drained soils. Trees also should receive full sun. Sites must receive at least six hours of direct sun each day. Sweet cherries bloom earlier than sour cherries. As a result, the flowers on sweet cherries are more susceptible to damage from late spring frosts. When selecting a planting site for sweet cherries, avoid planting in low spots where cold air settles on calm nights. Also, avoid southern and western exposures that encourage early bloom.
Sour or tart cherries are self-fruitful. Self-pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from the anther to the stigma on the same flower, from another flower on the same plant or from a flower on another plant of the same variety. Only one sour cherry tree needs to be planted for pollination and fruit set. Many sweet cherry varieties cannot produce fruit from their own pollen and are considered self-unfruitful. These plants require cross-pollination for fruit set. Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen from one plant to the flower of a different variety. When planting self-unfruitful cultivars, at least two different sweet cherry varieties must be planted for fruit production. While most sweet cherry varieties are self-unfruitful, BlackGold™ and WhiteGold™ are self-fruitful.
Cherries are short-lived trees in Iowa, especially in poor sites. Sweet cherries seldom live beyond 10 to 15 years. Sour or tart cherries may survive for 20 to 25 years. When selecting a planting site, be sure to choose a well-drained location.