Sour cherry tree location

Hi everyone, I’m new here, and new to fruit growing as well. I have an area in the front of my property, where the pump from my basement empties water onto. The grass in this area is the healthiest, and most lush grass I have on my entire lawn - mainly because of the extra water it gets, and the decent amount of sunlight as well.

Would an area like this be well suited to planting a tart cherry tree? I am in zone 6b. I read that sour cherry trees are hardy, and relatively easy to deal with. I’m hoping that since the grass grows so well in this spot, a cherry tree would also benefit for the same reasons.

The follow up question I have, is what variety do most folks recommend for a beginner? After some research, I’ve narrowed it down to Surefire, Montmorency, or Northstar Dwarf.

I love sour cherries and they are almost impossible to come by in my area. I thought it may be worth entertaining planting my own. I know that it could be 2-3 years before I have a decent yield. I can wait!

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Hello and welcome.

I’m not one of the super experienced fruit growers here, and I live in a very different type of growing area. Other people who know much more than I do will answer, but I’ll tell you the little bit that I can.

I like both North Star and Montmorency. The Montmorency appears to be a favorite sour cherry for many. Quite a few years back, I had a North Star in a 6b/7a location. It fruited well the first spring after I planted it. I’m sure I must have purchased it from a box store type of place and didn’t plant it bare root since it was before the advent of internet ordering and mail orders took forever. I really enjoyed those cherries.

I have a Montmorency now. It’s considerably larger. My growing area is different and it was planted as a bare root. Up north maybe you’d get cherries more quickly, but down here I’ve had it planted for more than 3 years before hoping for a decent crop.

Cherries don’t like to get sudden large inputs of water right before ripening. It can cause them to split. Other folk can tell you better about the advantages and disadvantages of the area you’re considering.

Welcome again, and I hope you have great luck and good fortune in all of your fruit growing endeavors. This place is a wonderful resource with many knowledgeable and experienced members.

First of all, Welcome! :sunglasses:

I’d second Muddy’s answer there. I think the stone fruits in general might tend to crack or water-down with those conditions. Your cherry choices though, seem sound. I’ve looked at those myself. Quite a few of us grow the smaller bush pie cherry, in the Romance series (Carmine Jewel, Romeo, Juliet, Cupid) and though mine has yet to fruit its a real manageable size way to start with cherry.

Have a read around! There is a current discussion on water’s effect on sugars, acid and flavor not far from the top thread.

The one thing you want to watch for is waterlogged ground - fruit trees generally don’t like wet feet as in constant standing water or muddiness. They can take a few weeks of it in a row no problem, but longer and it causes root rot and failure.

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Montmorency is my favorite and after about five to six years starts producing like crazy. Where are you located?

Glad you join us. There is a thread about the taste of sour cherry here. It looks like all things considered, Montmorency got the most votes.

All the advices above are good. I’d like to go a bit further. The biggest pests for cherry are birds. Tall cherry trees are hard to net to keep birds out. I have pruned all my trees in an open-vase shape/open center.

You plan to plant your tree in the front yard. A central lead tree will look beautiful, probably better-looking than an open center one. Just something for you to think about.

Sweet cherries crack from rain, sours, not so much. I’m not sure if the lush grass means there is adequate drainage in terms of Scott’s precaution. Cherries don’t tolerate wet feet, so dig a hole there. If you are getting as much rain as we are and the drainage is bad you will hit standing water by 12" down. You can fill the hole with water and see how long it takes to drain.

Planting a tree on a berm or mound will compensate for poor drainage. The question is only how high the mound- the answer is based on how poor the drainage. .

I’ve heard about some folks getting rain crack on Montmorency type cherry trees but I’ve got one in at a rental in town and an Early Richmond out here that’s been in the ground since '95 and I’ve never had a rain crack on either of these two trees that I know about.

On the other hand, I have a Northstar and 5 Carmine Jewel bushes that have each have had cherry rain crack issues.

Last year was the worst, but I heard we also had the third wettest summer in Iowa’s recorded history so that was no doubt a factor.

This year has also been real rainy here, and I had some that rain cracked, but not really too bad on a percentage basis. But the cracking was only on the CJ’s this year, nothing on the Northstar for some reason. But again the Monty and ER just NEVER rain crack for me.

I will say that I planted the Northstar in 2011 and this year I got the most I’ve ever gotten off of him, just about two gallons…

On the other hand, I harvested 16 gallons off of my 5 CJ bushes (three were planted in '11 & two in '12)

I think the Northstar and the Carmine Jewel are kinda similar too. I think they have some Mongolian parentage or something that is the same.

I really like the bush cherries for the ease of spraying and harvesting, and if you wanted to net against birds that could be done easier than any tree.

My CJ’s are growing bigger than advertized though, the biggest being over 9’ tall and maybe close to that wide. So I’m glad I put them on 12’ centers. Even at that height you can pull the branches down to pick the fruit so it’s not a huge deal, but something that anyone with limited space may be interested in.

I planted a couple Crimson Passion last April as little 12-14" pencil looking things, and by the end of
summer they were 4’ tall.

So the bush cherries grow quick, and produce quick too. It’s just whether or not you prefer the Morello type (dark red/mahogany color skin, flesh, & juice) and are willing to put up with a chance of rain crack. I like them a lot BTW, and our unusually wet past two springs and early summers make it hard for me to fault the CJ’s or the Northstar. It won’t always be this wet here.

If you want a traditional brighter red skin, yellow flesh and clear juice then a Montmorency is the standard that others are judged by. But I want to say about 95% of all tart cherries marketed in our country are Montmorency. (I happen to be partial to my Early Richmond, but I think the ER could never be commercially successful due to the pits being somewhat smaller and so they wouldn’t work in commercial pitters I guess)

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth on the varieties I’m familiar with. But on the location I agree with the folks telling you that cherries don’t like wet feet.

Good luck and welcome!

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Wow - thanks everyone for the replies. This is exactly the kind of advice I was looking for.

mrsg47 - I am located in the NY metro area - north of NYC.

A few other things ----

I had been reading about this Surefire variety, and I don’t know how much is just marketing, but they say it is somehow crack-resistant. The marketing also makes it sounds resistent to frost, and very tasty as well. Can anyone comment on the taste of these vs the mont? We actually like the sour taste and mostly eat these cherries raw, rather than cooked. Would one be better than the other?

As far as looks, someone mentioned it looks nicer to have a central lead, vs an open center. Do both the Surefire and Mont have a central lead?

I may do some tests around the drainage before deciding on this spot. Do these trees require a lot of direct sunlight? Most of the other areas of my yard are pretty shady, and I assumed not good for this type of tree.

Finally, once I do decide to pull the trigger, what is the best time of year to plant this? Should I wait until fall?

Thanks again for everyone’s help.


I prefer Montmorency for taste (pies, brandy etc.). But it is a much larger tree. North Star is a true dwarf and will not get large. I have also found that North Star is much more susceptible to brown rot than Montmorency, at least here in MD where we often have heavy rain about the time the fruit starts to ripen. All in all, if you have the space, I would suggest Montmorency.

I’m an hour north of Manhattan in Putnam county. Montmorency is a low maintenance tree but you better be getting at least 5 or 6 hours full sun on it. Not really worth trying to grow most species of fruit in the understory.

We’re not nearly as cold as you in winter and we are rainier in the SPring. Monty does great. Northstar gets lots of diseases here and most bush cherries do too. Also, based on previous threads, Monty seems to be more productive than many pie cherries. It’s my cleanup hitter.
John S

Hello - original poster here. It’s been almost 3 years since I posted this. Figured I’d give an update and ask another question or two. I did end up planting a surefire cherry tree in the location in question. I think it’s doing relatively well - at least still alive. The first season after planting I got a few flowers - no fruit. Second year some more flowers but only around 3 cherries. Hoping for a better showing in the 3rd year. The tree grew around 10-12 inches each of the last two years. The only issue I’ve run into is that the last two years, towards the end of the summer, the leaves all started yellowing and curling and eventually all falling off what I assumed was prematurely. The branches even now have a waxy layer in some areas that can be scraped off with a fingernail. Not sure if this is all normal or not - but it is still alive.

My main question is about fertilizer now. I think it’s almost time to fertilize this year. I have not fertilized the first two years. I’m not sure what is the best type to use or how much to use. Can anyone recommend something for me? I’m totally new to this. Will try to post some pics tomorrow. Thanks!

I am unfamiliar with this situation. I would check soil. What do the leaves look like? There is probably something damaging this tree.
John S

Be sure your tree isn’t infested with scale. Use a lens after looking up what scale looks like under magnification. Cherries are very susceptible to scale and an untreated tree will stop growing and eventually die.

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A sour cherry tree a few streets away has a sour cherry tree in front yard, about 7 hours sun a day. Provides no care. Was there when they bought house. A little jealous.
The upside is they gave me permission to take as many as I want whenever I want so it’s like having a cherry tree in my yard that’s not taking up any space.
It’s loaded.!
Edit…no cracking IMG_20210617_192010999|690x920



I second this. Northstar is definitely susceptible to cracking from inconsistent water availability. Montmorency much less so (although not, in my experience, not completely immune, either).

Got an email notify so jumped on.

You’re the 2nd person that I know of that’s indicated the Montmorency can rain crack (I wanna say Drew mentioned it years ago?) So I don’t doubt that it happens.

I can’t recall how long we’ve owned the rental in town with the Monty, but it’s been years and knock on wood it’s never had rain crack.

The ER out here has been in ground since '95 (about 26 years) and we’ve seen a lot of inconsistent weather over those years and I’ve never experienced rain crack until I put NorthStar and CJ’s in. And the maddening thing is that it didn’t take only a couple fruit producing years to happen. I wanna say I’ve had cherry rain crack 3 different years at varying degrees of severity.

It was enough to ruin my day, and helped me to decide to not plant an entire field of them.

In all honesty, had I planted the field in question to CJ’s we’d probably have had trouble free cherry growing for many years with only a couple hiccups.

I don’t love that they CAN crack, but they USUALLY don’t :slightly_smiling_face:

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Completely agree.

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Funny that this thread was resurrected today. I am the OP and it’s been almost exactly 6 years from my original post. Today I harvested my best year ever from the tree. Although not as much as I thought I would be getting by now, but definitely getting better every year. I also learned that these rainbow owls and shiny things keep the birds away, so they were able to ripen nicely on the tree.

Still trying to learn what else I can do to encourage more fruit production. This year I didn’t fertilize at all. Not sure if that has anything to do with it or not. I guess the best thing to do is let it go.

One concern I have for the future of the tree is that the bottom of the trunk has a crack in it. Not sure if that’s going to become an issue down the line or what I can do about it.

Here’s some pics of the tree now. There’s still a bunch more cherries on the tree that either not ripe yet, or weren’t really great looking. I may have another half a bowl left. Do you think this tree will be producing even more next year based on how it’s progressing?