Yard and Garden: Successfully Cultivating Cherry Trees In Iowa

March 2, 2016, 5:40 pm | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa - Cherries are a delicious fruit that can range from sweet to sour, but are always a treat. Can they be grown in Iowa? Absolutely. Different climates support different types of cherry trees, but they can be successfully grown in Iowa’s climate.

ISU Extension and Outreach horticulturists help navigate the challenges of growing cherries in Iowa. 

What is a good planting site for cherry trees? 

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 should also 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. 

Cherry Tree

Which sour (tart) cherry varieties perform well in Iowa? 

‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor’ are two of the best performing sour cherry cultivars in Iowa. Both cultivars 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 .75 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 a bright red skin and yellow flesh. ‘Mesabi’ is another good choice. ‘Mesabi’ is a cross between a sweet and tart cherry. Its red-fleshed fruit are sweeter than ‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor.’ 

Sour or tart cherries are self-fruitful. Only one sour cherry tree needs to be planted for pollination and fruit set.

Can sweet cherries be successfully grown in Iowa? 

'Gold,' BlackGold™, and WhiteGold™ are sweet cherry cultivars that can be successfully grown in the southern two-thirds of Iowa. ‘Gold’ has golden yellow skin. It is self-unfruitful. Another late blooming sweet cherry cultivar 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).

Can bush cherries be grown in Iowa? 

Bush cherries are very cold hardy and can be grown throughout Iowa. Bush cherries include Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa), Hansen’s bush cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Hansen’s), and several cherry hybrids. Their fruit can be used in pies, jellies and jams. The white flowering shrubs also make good ornamentals. Plants can be placed in mixed shrub borders or grown as hedges. Their basic requirements are full sun and a well-drained soil.  

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