Results with low chill cherries in Southern California

Could anyone share their positive and negative experience with low chill cherry varieties in Southern California?
-Royal Lee
-Minnie Royal
-Royal Crimson

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I do not have any personal experience with cherries, but I have read about other’s experiences. The Royal Lee and Minnie Royal combination did ok, but it takes time and they won’t necessarily produce like in other regions. I’m not sure how the other varieties do down here, but you’d want to research and make sure that their bloom times are compatible.
But if you want to give it a try, a number of different nurseries around here carry them. Bare root season is coming up for us soon, so keep an eye out.

I’m four seasons in with Minnie Royal and Royal Lee in inland Orange County (Tustin). This year I had my first cherry. One. Cherry. At least it was good! Bloom is quite inconsistent in the early years and thus production is poor (to say the least in my case). Solid bloom for both. Four years ago I was also pretty new at this and can say that I consistently under feed my trees, which could also be a factor. Added Royal Crimson two seasons ago and it’s been a real runt. I’m not sure it made it though this season. Lapins never woke up this year (also 4th season), although our incredibly strange winter last year was likely a factor. Royal Rainier growing but not flowering much (this one in particular was always a long shot).

Overall hasn’t been worth the effort so far. I try to grow things that are much worse in the store (plums, peaches, etc.) so I’m not sure I should be growing cherry at all. But we’ll see how they do in season 5. A few pics below:

Minnie Royal in early bloom (2/28/18):

Royal Lee in very early bloom (2/28/18):

A cherry! (5/4/18):

Good luck!


I had similar results; uneven blossoming with the pollinator, low production, incinerated leaves from our heat. Hard to deal with when you can buy a big bag of cherries at the store for $3. There’s a persimmon in that spot now that gives buckets of fruit.

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I would like to suggest going to your local scion exchanges to obtain varieties to be grafted to your existing trees. This will save time, money, and space. Many of my grafts produced some cherries the very next season.
My main tree “Stella” has 10 other varieties grafted to it.

But you’re not in South California, are you?

2019 experience:
-crown rot from years when I planted too deep, my biggest mistake (along with mixing compost in the soil)
-those planted on gisela 6 are healthy, I like the more precocious rootstocks
-Royal Crimson finally fruited, only because as the original tree I bought was clearly sick, I transplanted a branch onto a more precocious tree in my yard. I picked them too early and they were not good but then I bagged one to protect from birds, and ate it mostly ripe, and it was amazing. I normally like acidic fruit but this was subacid yet still amazingly sweet and flavorful.
-Spraying spinosad worked for the oriental fruit moth (black tips after new shoot growth)
-Sunburn is an issue in So Cal so I am pruning more of an ad hoc spanish bush style, to increase shade
-The cherry roots are superficial so I now use a lot of mulch, but my trees in the past would get crown rot, so this is a bit of a tradeoff and I am learning as I go.
-you do need a lot of varieties to get synchronous bloom and I am still figuring that out also.
-reportedly, crown rot can be precipitated by frost damage. The bark wakes up, starts slipping, then freezes, causing damage. I may plant on a hill to avoid this. I had planted low to accumulate chill but I am rethinking that. I suppose I could wrap the trunks


I ended up doing various grafts. I looked up the pollination partners by S alleles, and I will share them here in case anyone else is doing anything similar:

Minnie Royal S4/S6
Royal Crimson S3/S4’
Royal Lee S1/S3
Brooks S1/S9
Coral S1/S3
Royal Rainier S1/S4
Lapins S1/S4’
Cristobalina S3/S6

So far this year it looks like Minnie Royal, Royal Lee, and Royal Crimson are all developing in synch, and significantly earlier than any other cultivar. It will be interesting to see what kind of overlap happens in the bloom for the other cultivars.

Note: only 1 of the 2 alleles need to be different for pollination to be possible. S1/S4’ means it is self-fertile and the reason is that S4’ can pollinate anything, even itself.


Very helpful @JamesN thank you!

I’m in Orange County. I’ve had Royal Lee and Minnie Royal for many years and they’re both quite big and productive now, most years they overlap blooming. Royal Lee seems to have a very extended blooming period. The cherries are not bad although not really as good as Bing. The problem though, is that I don’t get to eat many because they get badly infested by spotted wing drosophila larvae. I don’t think there is a remedy other than heavy repeated spraying which is not practical with big trees.

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How big are the trees? You could do some pruning to reduce tree height. You could also plant trees on dwarfing rootstocks as another option. It’s possible to keep trees small on standard size rootstocks like mazzard if you chose the right training system KGB, UFO, TSA, etc. and plan from the beginning to keep the trees at a lower height.

For SWD you will have to spray and smaller trees will help with this. Another option is to bag the entire tree to keep the SWD out. This won’t work in the East due to increased problems with rot due to rain and high humidity but in Orange County I think you would be fine. Here is thread that discusses bagging entire trees.

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Thanks, those are good suggestions. I’d be reluctant to cut back the trees after they took so many years to grow and also they provide some privacy to my yard. Dwarfing rootstocks like Gisella haven’t worked for me, I got weak trees that died after a few years. Colt seems to be the only rootstock that works for my soil. I also have to consider my neighbors/HOA reaction to the visual impact of bagging trees, they would probably not like it. But I may try to top the trees to make them more accessible to spraying. It does seem a lot less work and maybe not much more money just to buy the cherries at the store, since I understand I’d have to spray every week or something like that.

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Some additional personal observations that may help cherry enthusiasts in SoCal:

  1. I also have a Royal Rainier that I planted at the same time as RL and MR but for some reason it is much less vigorous than those 2 and is still very small (~ 2 inch diam after ~10 yrs), although also on Colt. It does bloom and produces some cherries that are quite pretty and good.
  2. Interestingly, I also planted a Van on Colt about 2 yrs ago and quite unexpectedly that also bloomed this year and produced 1 cherry. Still very small but maybe winter chill is not a hard and fast rule. It will be interesting to see what it does in future years.
  3. The blooming order and duration I get is something like this:
    Minnie Royal ****
    Royal Lee-------*************
    Royal Rainier-------------****
    Van -----------------------***
    What I meant to show above is that Royal Lee overlaps with all of them most years. It keeps producing new flowers even when some branches already have cherries.
    Anyway, as I mentioned in earlier posts, my biggest disappointment is the SWD infestation that ruins most fruit. I know I could spray but that kind of defeats a big point of backyard fruit, that you can avoid all the chemicals that commercial growers use. And of course there’s the collateral damage of killing a lot of bees which help with my other fruit trees. But the cherry trees are still very ornamental when they bloom and with bright red fruit, and of course the birds love them. So it’s not a total loss…

This is super useful.

Do you still have the trees?

@JamesN I think you mentioned on some threads that you’ve had some good success with Cherries now. How do you keep SWD off/away? Just keep spraying? Do you bag?

I have a lonely Lapins Cherry in a pot that’s just over 2 years old and I see a bunch of bud swell on it this year. IDK if it’s going to actually flower. But am wondering if it’s worth the effort to keep trying. A local grower I met at a CRFG event has been growing in Irvine/Tustin for years and basically told me he gave up on Cherries here because of SWD.

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I have had rare larva damage. Nothing bad yet.

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That’s good to know thx.