Growing cherries

Horticulture Hints

There are two basic types of cherries, tart or sweet. Tart or sour cherries are very juicy and slightly acidic, making them wonderful to use in pies and other desserts. Sweet cherries, such as Bing are often eaten fresh or used in salads. Unfortunately, here in northern Iowa, our weather is too cold to grow the sweet type of cherry.

But we can grow tart cherry trees (scientific name Prunus cerasus) in northern areas. As a stone fruit, the pit must be removed before using. There are several cherry pitters on the market that will do large batches of pitting to save time, rather than pitting one cherry at a time. Tart cherries are also great in jams and preserves.

Cherries perform best in moist, well-drained, fertile soils. Avoid planting in wet, poorly drained sites, as cherries are susceptible to root rots in wet soils. Trees should also receive full sun, or at least six hours of direct sun each day.

Cherry trees produce beautiful white flowers in early spring and are also a popular choice for edible landscapes for birds. Plan to either share the fruit with the birds or cover your trees with a plastic netting.

Some tart cherry cultivars that can be successfully grown in northern Iowa include: ‘Montmorency,’ ‘Meteor,’ ‘Mesabi’, and ‘North Star’. Tart cherries are self-pollinating, so only one sour cherry tree needs to be planted for pollination and fruit set.

Tart cherries are classified into two major groups, morello and amarelle. Amarelle cherries, such as ‘Montmorency’, which only have red pigment in the fruit skin while the fruit flesh is clear. Morello cherries, such as ‘Northstar’ and ‘Mesabi’, have red pigment in the fruit skin and throughout the flesh. ‘Mesabi’ is a cross between a sweet and tart cherry, and is sweeter than ‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor.’

Did you know? Sour or tart cherry trees may survive for 20 to 25 years. When selecting a planting site, be sure to choose a well-drained, full sun location, with moist, fertile soil. Avoid wet, poorly drained sites, as cherries trees are susceptible to root rot.

Gardening Questions? Contact McCormick at for information or advice.